Author Topic: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak  (Read 833 times)

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Offline adrian99

maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« 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

Offline John Nettles

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #1 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

Offline adrian99

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #2 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!

Offline John Nettles

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #3 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).


Offline John Nelson

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2020, 04:48:04 pm »
Can your pedals be removed/installed with an allen wrench?

Offline adrian99

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #5 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!


Offline adventurepdx

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Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #6 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.


Offline adventurepdx

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Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #7 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.

Offline John Nelson

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #8 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.

Offline adrian99

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #9 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.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 12:50:58 am by adrian99 »

Offline adventurepdx

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Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #10 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.

Offline aggie

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #11 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. 
« Last Edit: July 28, 2020, 09:54:04 am by aggie »

Offline adrian99

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #12 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.

Offline adrian99

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #13 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.

Offline Westinghouse

Re: maximum tire width for bikes on Amtrak
« Reply #14 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.