This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Folding Bikes and Train Travel Part 2 " The Test Ride"

    As I mentioned in the previous post, I bought the Dahon Expresso specifically to take with me on train trips.  Not only would it be nice to do some cycling at my destination, it is really nice to have your own wheels when you get there.  I have reached a point where my parents are aged and my father, being a cancer survivor for nearly 30 years, has regular medical issues.  Consequently I like to visit them on a regular basis, but they live far enough away that it is a real pain to drive (especially since Chicago is smack in the middle of the route) but it is a really pleasant train trip (again, because Chicago is smack dab in the middle and makes for some entertaining layover time).  So taking my bike with me is a great answer.
    Amtak's policy on folding bikes is one simple paragraph  :

"Folding bicycles may be brought aboard certain passenger cars as carry-on baggage. Only true folding bicycles (bicycles specifically designed to fold up into a compact assembly) are acceptable. Generally, these bikes have frame latches allowing the frame to be collapsed, and small wheels. Regular bikes of any size, with or without wheels, are not considered folding bikes, and may not be stored as folding bikes aboard trains. You must fold up your folding bicycle before boarding the train. You may store the bike only in luggage storage areas at the end of the car (or, in Superliners, on the lower level). You may not store bikes in overhead racks."
So I knew there should have been no problem,  If you are unfamiliar with Amtrak, nearly every car has a luggage rack, either on the lower level near the entrance or at the end of the car.  Some cars have additional floor space at the front to accommodate large carry on pieces and wheelchairs.   So the only restriction is to not put the bike in the overhead storage above the seats. Having worked in the offices Burlington Northern earlier in my career, I know there is more to running a train than punching tickets and smiling at the customers, so I expected that some train or station personnel may not remember the paragraph about folding bikes in the middle of 20 or 30 pages of baggage regulations they are required to learn.  I thought it best to print a copy of the policy and carry it with my tickets.  Armed with the policy and tickets, I left home on my Dahon with my overnight bag on the rear rack.
     Reaching the station downtown, I quickly folded the bike up and wheeled it into the station without a problem.  I left it next to one of the benches where it barely drew a glance from the other passengers.

Sorry about the pic, but I only had my cell phone with me.
   Boarding the train in Kalamazoo was no problem, the bike weighs less than 35# so lifting it up the stairs with my bag over my shoulder was no problem.  I had made sure I was among the first to board so the luggage area wasn't hard to manage, and was able to leave it on the floor near the head of the car .  No problem, I found a seat, settled in with a magazine and enjoyed the ride to Chicago.  About two hours later, detraining was not a problem, but moving down the platform to the station was where I learned that it was much easier to control the bike while pushing rather than pulling.  The wheels don't want to stay perfectly level to each other, and pushing with the joint and crank forward is needed so the rear wheel can freewheel and you don't end up in the awkward and abrupt "bike jail" situation.
    I had scheduled less than 2 hours to catch my connection on this trip and decided to stay in Union Station for lunch and settled down at the Snuggery Bar for Martini's and friendly conversation with a man traveling from Boston to Seattle.  I made certain that I was early again to the loading gate and went smiling on towards the train, so far no train or station personnel had lifted an eyebrow over the bike.  When I went to the loading platform, I was greeted by a very rude and dishevelled looking woman in uniform who announced I had to go straight back to the station, she "had been given no equipment to handle a bike."  When I reached in my pocket for the  copy of the baggage policy, she set her jaw and said, " back to the station" with a wave of her hand, called for the station manager on her handheld radio, turned her back to me and walked away.   Boy was I pissed, but I knew better than to force any more of a confrontation so I returned to the station and waited for the station manager.  She finally showed up minutes before the scheduled departure, I explained what happened and the policy, showing her a copy.  She explained that she would talk to the conductor but that she only had authority over the station, the conductor had authority over the train.  I said, "that's fine, but neither of you have authority over your company's policy, and I have that right here!"   She walked away in a huff.  A few minutes later a couple trainmen were waving at me from the platform explaining they had "made room."    When I boarded, just before departure, the luggage racks on the car were less than half full and the floor area left for oversized was completely empty.  
    Obviously, I am glad I thought to print out a copy of their policy.  I've got to admit that my 3 Martini lunch probably made my hair more red than normal, but there was no reason for a bike to bring out that woman's canine side.  People like that shouldn't be working with the public.
    Aside from that incident, the rest of the trip was a breeze.  Snapping the bike together and riding to my parent's house was no problem.  I visited for a couple of days, using the bike for a few trips around the hometown and running some errands. The return trip was entirely pleasant, there were no problems with boarding or detraining, there was plenty of space for the bike and no problems with Amtrak personnel.  On the trip back, I had scheduled a 3.5 hour layover between trains, so I left the station, clicked the bike together and in a few seconds was on the street where I rode through The Loop over to lake Michigan and took in the beautiful afternoon on the lakefront trail there.  I had plenty of time for a decent meal downtown and returned in time to catch the train back to Kalamazoo where I arrived home without incident.
     In the final analysis, I'm glad I bought the bike, will use it a lot in the future and be sure I have a copy  of that baggage policy when I do.

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