Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => General Discussion => Topic started by: adrian99 on July 27, 2020, 01:30:17 pm

 
Title: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 27, 2020, 01:30:17 pm
Hi, I'm writing to ask if anyone has experience bringing a mountain bike on Amtrak, or more specifically the California Zephyr.

The Amtrak FAQs say that the tire width limit is 2.0". My question is whether my 2.4" (front) or 2.2" (rear) tires could fit in the rack if I deflate them.

I plan to leave from Emeryville and get off at Grand Junction, Colorado, then ride to meet the GDMBR at Salida.

I dropped by the station to ask my question today and the agent said he'd never seen a bike rejected for tire width reasons, but he also couldn't promise anything.

Thanks for any advice or experiences!
-Adrian
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: John Nettles on July 27, 2020, 01:40:20 pm
I have no experience with taking a roll-on bike with Amtrak but here is a thought.  If you are leaving from home, perhaps ask a local bike shop if they have some old crappy tires that are less than 2" they are going to trash you can have for free.  Mount them and then when you get to Grand Junction, just replace the tires with your regular tires you packed (you can twist them into a tight "donut" about 12" round, see youtube).  Yes, it is a pain but it would work.

Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 27, 2020, 01:57:59 pm
Thanks for the suggestion!
I may do this to be safe. 

The other plan B is to ship the bike in an Amtrak box, but then I'd need to bring a pedal wrench to remove and install the pedals!
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: John Nettles on July 27, 2020, 02:08:35 pm
Go to a pawn shop and for $1 buy a 15mm wrench.  You can install the pedals then trash the wrench (or sell it back for 25 cents).

Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: John Nelson on July 27, 2020, 04:48:04 pm
Can your pedals be removed/installed with an allen wrench?
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 27, 2020, 05:41:07 pm
I have old-school pedals and cranks that need a 15mm wrench. Great advice John, I'm on the hunt for a throwaway wrench now!

Thanks for the ideas everyone!

Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 27, 2020, 07:26:57 pm
Hi, I'm writing to ask if anyone has experience bringing a mountain bike on Amtrak, or more specifically the California Zephyr.

The Amtrak FAQs say that the tire width limit is 2.0". My question is whether my 2.4" (front) or 2.2" (rear) tires could fit in the rack if I deflate them.

I've put my bikes with tires about 2.35" in width, both on the Coast Starlight (traditional baggage car bike hook setup, which would be the same as the Zephyr) and the Cascades trains. They seemed to fit okay. I have 26" wheels, so I don't have experience with bigger wheels and clearance. Deflating the tires a bit before giving the bike to the crew member for loading is probably a good idea.

One word of caution: The bikes can sway in the hooks (especially if there's not other bikes around it to stabilize it), the longer the trip, the more chance of sway. This could lead to tire sidewall rub. The more supple the tire, the greater the chance. I had Compass Rat Trap Pass (26" x 2.35") tires on my bike when I traveled by train from Portland to Oakland. When I got the bike off the train, there was a hole in the sidewall, tube bulging out.

Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 27, 2020, 07:29:03 pm
The other plan B is to ship the bike in an Amtrak box, but then I'd need to bring a pedal wrench to remove and install the pedals!

You don't need a true pedal wrench to do this, either a 15mm or an adjustable crescent wrench will do. I've used an adjustable wrench numerous times for boxing my bike on Amtrak. The key thing is sometime before going to the train station, use a regular pedal wrench to unloosen the pedal, then retighten by hand.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: John Nelson on July 27, 2020, 08:26:32 pm
Check your pedals. On many bikes, the space to get a wrench in is very narrow, too narrow for an ordinary wrench.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 28, 2020, 12:48:35 am

I've put my bikes with tires about 2.35" in width, both on the Coast Starlight (traditional baggage car bike hook setup, which would be the same as the Zephyr) and the Cascades trains. They seemed to fit okay. I have 26" wheels, so I don't have experience with bigger wheels and clearance. Deflating the tires a bit before giving the bike to the crew member for loading is probably a good idea.

One word of caution: The bikes can sway in the hooks (especially if there's not other bikes around it to stabilize it), the longer the trip, the more chance of sway. This could lead to tire sidewall rub. The more supple the tire, the greater the chance. I had Compass Rat Trap Pass (26" x 2.35") tires on my bike when I traveled by train from Portland to Oakland. When I got the bike off the train, there was a hole in the sidewall, tube bulging out.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience. What would you do to avoid that sidewall rub if you were to do this again?   Do you think that deflating the tires would help with that?  Now I'm thinking that maybe I should opt for the box just to be safe!

I'm running tubeless for the first time on some nice new tires, so I'd be heartbroken to see a hole in the sidewall from the train trip!


Check your pedals. On many bikes, the space to get a wrench in is very narrow, too narrow for an ordinary wrench.

Thanks!  I'll be sure to try the throwaway wrench on my pedals before I commit to this option.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 28, 2020, 01:37:04 am
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. What would you do to avoid that sidewall rub if you were to do this again?   Do you think that deflating the tires would help with that?  Now I'm thinking that maybe I should opt for the box just to be safe!

I'm running tubeless for the first time on some nice new tires, so I'd be heartbroken to see a hole in the sidewall from the train trip!

Hard to say what I'd do to avoid that sidewall issue. Not use supple tires again, for one. Deflating could help, but I'm no expert.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: aggie on July 28, 2020, 09:43:08 am
Make sure you check with Amtrak that the stations for starting and stopping your trip still offer baggage service.  Amtrak has made many service reductions that include making many stations unmanned.  This means the station no longer offers baggage service.  This means you can't buy a bike box or even put the bike in the baggage car without a box.  Some trains may still have a separate car with bike racks but I am not sure which train have that car.  I had to cancel my trip because they changed the service in major cities.  I wasn't notified of the change even though my fare included the bike fee.  You have to call Amtrak.  The website doesn't include the changes they recently made.  If you just go by the website it may say the station offers baggage service but when you get to the station they will tell you no baggage service is available. 
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 28, 2020, 11:27:20 am
Make sure you check with Amtrak that the stations for starting and stopping your trip still offer baggage service.  Amtrak has made many service reductions that include making many stations unmanned.  This means the station no longer offers baggage service.  This means you can't buy a bike box or even put the bike in the baggage car without a box.  Some trains may still have a separate car with bike racks but I am not sure which train have that car.  I had to cancel my trip because they changed the service in major cities.  I wasn't notified of the change even though my fare included the bike fee.  You have to call Amtrak.  The website doesn't include the changes they recently made.  If you just go by the website it may say the station offers baggage service but when you get to the station they will tell you no baggage service is available.

Damn, it's really terrible that you had to cancel the trip! So frustrating!   Thanks for the heads up. 

In case this is useful information for anyone else:   I dropped by the Emeryville, CA station yesterday (July 27, 2020) and asked the agent for details about bringing a bike.  It's operational there. He also asked where I'm getting off (Grand Junction, CO) and he said that would work.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adrian99 on July 28, 2020, 11:29:00 am

Hard to say what I'd do to avoid that sidewall issue. Not use supple tires again, for one. Deflating could help, but I'm no expert.

I feel silly now. I didn't know what supple tires were, and just figured it out via google and youtube.  I think I'll be OK - I'm using mountain biking tires with reinforced sidewalls.  Thanks.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: Westinghouse on July 31, 2020, 03:39:07 pm
I have carried bicycles on Amtrak. They were always in a box. I cannot imagine why the width of the tires and wheels should matter if it is inside a box. Tri Rail in southeast coastal Florida allows for wheeled-on bicycles. You push the front wheel into a sort of bracket which holds the bike upright. Maybe that will not fit a wide wheel, or something like that. I  leaned my bike against the wall and let it go like that. Of course, it carried four panniers, so it would not stay upright in the bracket, and the front panniers prevented it fitting into the bracket. Too many rules and regulations.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 31, 2020, 08:36:55 pm
I cannot imagine why the width of the tires and wheels should matter if it is inside a box.

Well, it shouldn't. But we've been talking about unboxed bikes on Amtrak, where bikes hang on hooks. Wheel size and width matters here.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 31, 2020, 08:46:11 pm
Tri Rail in southeast coastal Florida allows for wheeled-on bicycles. You push the front wheel into a sort of bracket which holds the bike upright. Maybe that will not fit a wide wheel, or something like that. I  leaned my bike against the wall and let it go like that. Of course, it carried four panniers, so it would not stay upright in the bracket, and the front panniers prevented it fitting into the bracket. Too many rules and regulations.

Many bike "roll on" services require bikes to hang from a hook, so they are not designed around having bags on the bike. Amtrak's California services (Capitol Corridor-San Joaquins-Pacific Surfliner) allow you to roll your bike on yourself into the car you'll be sitting in. But it's still a hook. Some services, like Seattle Metro Sounder Rail, has bikes standing up normally, so bags aren't a big deal.

But the OP is talking about roll-on service on long distance Amtrak trains. You have to bring your bike to the baggage car, lift it in the air (the floor of the baggage car is about five feet from the ground), and give it to the baggage person who will hang it on the hook. They don't allow you to keep bags on the bike. Then again, would you want to lift your loaded four-pannier touring bike up five feet to get it into the baggage car?
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: Westinghouse on July 31, 2020, 09:14:49 pm
Tri Rail in FL has a raised platform with a ramp.That makes it easy to get the bike in the bicycle coach.  The best thing would be to contact the various rail line services you might use. Ask them the details. Like the airlines, they have different rules, regulations and costs. Who would have thought a bicycle would raise issues.

Some airlines charge extra for special handling. Well, I joined the army many years ago just for the chance to live in Europe and see the world. Part of my job was driving a bus and handling luggage to and from and in Rhein Main Airforce Base near Frankfurt-am-Main west Germany. I handled bicycles in boxes quite a few times. I did not notice any difference between handling bicycles and any other types of luggage. It was all the same. The extra handling charge is another way they get their hands in your pockets.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 31, 2020, 09:19:00 pm
The best thing would be to contact the various rail line services you might use. Ask them the details.

Amtrak is America's only long-distance rail carrier, so the rules of unboxed bikes is going to be pretty consistent throughout the network.

The OP was asking advice about using Amtrak, since that's what they'll be using.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: Westinghouse on July 31, 2020, 09:33:02 pm
The last time I used Amtrak was from San Diego to Washington, DC, to West Palm Beach, Florida. They said then they allowed only boxed bicycles. They sold bike boxes in the station. Issues about the width of the tires would seem absurd.

Some of the train employees were so rude, I thought about contacting the police. Let's say I were to cycle FL to CA again. If Amtrak and Greyhound were the only ways back to FL, I would box everything, and stand alongside the roads and hitch hike back. Renting a car and flying are preferable. If Amtrak and Greyhound are the best the USA can do for long distance road travel, I would say they are sad examples of a civilization in decline.

https://www.sinfin.net/railways/world/usa/commuter.html
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: adventurepdx on July 31, 2020, 09:38:12 pm
The last time I used Amtrak was from San Diego to Washington, DC, to West Palm Beach, Florida. They said then they allowed only boxed bicycles. They sold bike boxes in the station. Issues about the width of the tires would seem absurd.

Times have changed. Amtrak introduced unboxed bike service a few years ago. These bikes go on hooks, and tire width is an important factor.  Full information here:
https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard (https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard)

And I agree with you: Amtrak could be way, way better. But it's what we got.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: canalligators on August 03, 2020, 12:36:32 am

...
And I agree with you: Amtrak could be way, way better. But it's what we got.

They've made some real progress in the last 5-10 years.  But yes, they've got a way to go.  I write to my elected representatives about it...
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: Westinghouse on August 03, 2020, 02:33:32 am
I would ask, progress toward what? They called the industrial revolution, progress. It became an unprecedented human slaughter, but we do have automobiles and washing machines and McDonald's. Science says progress has set us on the road to extinction. Amtrak does a good job of taking you where you want to go, or nearly. Progress, so named, can be opposite of what is in your best interests.

It was August 31, 1994 about 6 miles east of Bojanow, Poland. I had cycled there from Paris, France. I had gotten into a wooded area to sleep. Then came the sounds of the battle field. The explosions of mortars, the automatic rifles, the hand grenades all broke upon me suddenly. It was scary. I lay flat on my stomach with my arms curled around my head. I could smell the spent gunpowder and burning metal of the shells. It continued for about 30 minutes, and gradually tapered off to quiet. Then came the extremely loud noise of an old, antique, steam-powered train rattling over rickety tracks. Then came the loud report of a steam whistle. There was nothing after that. My only visitor was a mouse chweing  a bit of carrion off the front tire. The next morning I was ill.
Title: Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
Post by: aggie on August 03, 2020, 11:01:07 am
The current pandemic has forced Amtrak to reduce staff and they have many stations that formerly offered baggage service that are currently unmanned.  Consequently there is no baggage service.  Forget about going online to see which stations are now unmanned.  You have to call.  Many if not most of the train routes use the baggage car to store the bike.  If they don't offer baggage service you can't get your unboxed bike.  If you get a sleeper the meals are awful on all the lines.  Even the long distance western lines are using the same pre-prepared meals they offer on the eastern lines.  The dining room is closed.  Better off bringing your own food.  Staff expects to be tipped for throwing your awful meal in the microwave.  Breakfast is the equivalent of a meager continental breakfast at the cheapest hotel you can find.  I use to enjoy my trips on Amtrak but now with the cut back in service, poor quality food, and indifferent staff I'm no sure it is worth the extra expense to travel Amtrak anymore.