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    Tandem on Canada Via Rail? Update?

    Apologies if I missed a definitive thread when I searched, but I didn't find anything newer than 2010. We are in preliminary stages of thinking about a trip to the Canadian Maritimes for our Summer tandem expedition, and might like to take the train, maybe Sarnia to Moncton <ride> Truro to Sarnia, give or take. The Via Rail web site doesn't give specific info on whether we'll be able to check the tandem.
    http://www.viarail.ca/en/bike
    We're S&S coupled, so COULD break it down, but then we have to store the boxes, and we'd be tied to arrival and departure from the same Canadian destination. Thinking if we can roll her on, instead, that would save some hassle. I guess we could split in half and claim it is two unicycles if that would get us on...

    Would appreciate any experience or advice. Also, not to hijack my own thread, but routes/highlights/destinations also appreciated. Currently thinking Moncton>PEI>Pictou>Cape Breton (Cabot Trail)>Truro... ca. 2 weeks of riding.

  2. #2
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    I've taken a single bike on Via Rail back in 2003 (Toronto, ON to Sackville, NB). I remember that if you were going to be changing trains, then the bike had to be boxed. I used a cardboard box that I threw away once I got there, and got another for the trip home (which I did with the bus). Via Rail even sell extra-large cardboard bike boxes that a single bike can fit in with the front wheel still on, but I used a regular bike box from a bike shop.

    My wife grew up at the top end of the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, and her family still lives there so I know it well. You definitely need to visit that area. After coming over from mainland Nova Scotia, head up the west coast of Cape Breton - awesome riding all the way as long as you get decent weather (they can get some crazy winds, especially around Cheticamp). The Cabot Trail itself is not actually too demanding if you're somewhat used to riding in the hills - there are a lot of flat sections between the big climbs, which are only 200-400 metres of altitude gain. North Mountain (east of Pleasant Bay) is the tough one - multiple kms at around 10% gradient which you may have to walk; plus Smokey (south of Ingonish), but that one is much shorter than North.

    At the top of the Cabot Trail, between Cape North and Neils Harbour, make sure that you take the slightly longer route via White Point - far more scenic than the shortcut over South Mountain. If you want to feel like you've ridden to the end of the world then turn off the Cabot Trail at Cape North towards Bay St Lawrence, then go onto Meat Cove. The road to Meat Cove is unpaved, and a bit of a wild roller coaster along the rugged shoreline, but the little community of Meat Cove at the end of the road is pretty cool and the journey to get there is unforgettable (if a little rough going on a tandem). If you can leave your stuff in the Cape North / Dingwall area while you do this out-and-back ride then it will make it much easier.

    If you ride back to the mainland afterwards, I would take the route through the middle of the Bras d'Or Lake, via Grand Narrows.

    Make sure that you catch some live celtic music while you're in Cape Breton. Mabou, Inverness, and Cheticamp all have regular concerts/dances, plus the Normaway Inn near the Margarees. I can certainly put you in touch with the people who'd know more about this if you PM me.

    Between Truro (or New Glasgow) and Cape Breton Island, the old Route 4 is mostly a separate road from the main TransCanada Highway, so it's nice and quiet to ride on. There is one section east of Antigonish where you have to ride on the TransCanada for a while, but there is a nice wide shoulder.
    Last edited by Chris_W; 03-12-13 at 04:00 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris_W View Post
    I've taken a single bike on Via Rail back in 2003 (Toronto, ON to Sackville, NB). I remember that if you were going to be changing trains, then the bike had to be boxed. I used a cardboard box that I threw away once I got there, and got another for the trip home (which I did with the bus). Via Rail even sell extra-large cardboard bike boxes that a single bike can fit in with the front wheel still on, but I used a regular bike box from a bike shop.

    My wife grew up at the top end of the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, and her family still lives there so I know it well.
    WOW. That is what I call a "REPLY"! I am going to study this with a map and digest it. Thanks.
    J.

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    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    A couple more things that I thought of adding:

    Bikes are not allowed on the long bridge between New Brunswick and PEI. I believe the situation is still that you ride up to the offices at the start of the bridge, and they arrange for a van to take you and your bike across. It was pretty straightforward for me and my single touring bike, I assume that they can also take tandems.

    Make sure that you eat some of the local lobster and/or crab while you're there. Different parts of the coast will have different timing for the seasons for each, so you'll probably have to research this when you get there to get the freshest stuff available at awesome prices. Head down to the wharfs when the boats are coming back in, normally early afternoon, for a chat to the local fishermen, which will give you the full-on local experience.

    If some of my route suggestions were a bit cryptic then just ask and I'll happily elaborate.
    Last edited by Chris_W; 03-12-13 at 04:08 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 2frmMI View Post
    WOW. That is what I call a "REPLY"! I am going to study this with a map and digest it. Thanks.
    J.
    Chris has been there more recently than I had and has local knowledge so his suggestion supercedes any that I would make. Cape Breton should be taken slowly. Don't rush. Cabot Trail can be done in a single day (300km). Don't!

    We took 5 days to "do" the Cabot Trail 15 years ago. It's a lovely ride, particularly when the weather co-operates. The snow crab is really tasty when in season. Staying at the Keltic Lodge would be a nice splurge. We stayed at a seashore resort around Dingwall way back.

    There is/was a ferry between NS and PEI. Probably more interesting than being trucked across the bridge. Check the ferry schedule.

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    Thanks again Chris, and thanks to you, too, scycheng! Friends in Toronto already recommended perhaps skipping the bridge in favor of the ferry, so we're rethinking our choice of train station - maybe Truro, maybe Amherst. They also recommended the Northumberland shoreline. So many choices, so little time... Also, looks like we can check our tandem on the train for a $40 fee. Probably worth it re. not having to disassemble/reassemble. Still some details to sort out there, since we'll need to change trains a couple of times I think. We've also had it suggested to us that advance lodging reservations may not be essential, which goes against my cautious, senior, nature, but would eliminate one of the hassles of coming to a final plan.

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    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    I'd agree about taking your time - you could easily spend one or two weeks just in Cape Breton. Personally, I'd try to find a way to avoid the return leg from Cape Breton back to Truro so that I had more time for the rest of the trip. Taking a bus might be a problem with the tandem, but there are also several local operators who shuttle people in vans to the Halifax airport from Cape Breton, and you might have luck finding one of those that can take you and the bike to Truro station.

    We did all of the 300 km of the Cabot Trail in a day on the tandem a few years ago while visiting my wife's family, along with one of her brothers. It's a classic challenge for the local riders, but certainly not the way to do it for people seeing it for the first time.

  8. #8
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    For what it's worth, I needed to use VIA Rail to get back from Cornwall to Cobourg in 2009 after completing the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure Tour. Only certain trains would take bikes, so I had to plan my timetable around their schedule, not mine. I was riding a Catrike Road recumbent trike, and VIA took it as is. No box, no changes to pedals, etc., not even wrapped. I just locked the wheels so it wouldn't shift around in the baggage car, and it came through the journey unscathed. $20. Not a bad deal. Hope this helps. Mike

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    Mchell:
    thanks for the advice. It seems a telephone call to a Via agent might be required.
    J
    Last edited by 2frmMI; 03-13-13 at 09:35 PM. Reason: Spellcheck... Errrrrg!

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    We checked a Hase Pino tandem from Toronto to Gaspé, Quebec. Took a chance and just wrapped it in their heavyduty plastic bags (two of em). Made it there and back no problem.

  11. #11
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    They say they have tandem boxes, but I have yet to see one. The boxes are large but tandems have a problem fitting. If just in Atlantic Canada to east of Montreal they have let the bike get wheeled on like the old days. Bikes going through Montreal station face no nonsense rules and if no box would have to have wrapping.

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    Used to be Conspiratemus
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    The train from Sarnia to Toronto (which goes through Kitchener) does not have a baggage car normally.* You would have to get to London and catch the Windsor-Toronto train (or cross into Canada from Detroit and get on the train at Windsor.) Only one train each day each way has a baggage car to take bicycles. The good news is that train goes on to Montréal (as a new train number from Toronto but it's the same train set) so your bike stays put in the same baggage car. In Montréal you change to the overnight train to the Maritimes. Checked baggage goes right across the station platform from one baggage car to the other so no real risk of loss or damage.

    When we used to take our old uncoupled tandem by train, baggage agents with both VIA Rail and Amtrak would always help us fashion a large box out of two of their regular bike boxes. Other than removing pedals and turning handlebars, no unpacking or wheel removal was needed. The crew will load and unload it for you -- you just have to hop on the train.

    *I say "normally" because in recent years there have been experiments with a "Bike-Train" service on VIA Rail's short-distance "corridor" trains. In summer, they put specially equipped baggage cars with hooks or racks into the consists of some of their trains. The customer loads his own bike and collects it at the baggage car door at the destination. It's not "checked" baggage the way a bike normally is. I don't think they've ever had this service to Sarnia since it's not a popular bicycle excursion destination from Toronto. And tandems are not carried, for space/geometry reasons.

    If you are planning a train trip to the Maritimes, best to do it soon. Ridership on the overnight "Ocean" has been declining for decades and the service was recently cut back to 3 days a week. VIA Rail's mandate is to operate a fast(-ish) intercity service between Southwestern Ontario and Québec City. It also has to operate a punishingly money-losing service across the vast emptiness of Northern Ontario to provide the only ground access to dozens of otherwise isolated First Nations communities. And the western end of that run (to Vancouver) is a hugely popular tourist attraction. All the towns served by VIA in eastern Québec and the Maritimes are easily reachable by pretty good roads so the writing is on the wall for passenger trains to the East Coast after nearly 150 years of operation.
    "I did not know that!" -- J. Carson

  13. #13
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    Thanks Anthony, Gary, and Conspiratemus! We are accumulating the group wisdom on all of this so we can execute as best we can. The train remains a bit uncertain, and as I mentioned, a call to a baggage agent at ViaRail seems prudent. And Consepiratemus: thanks for the Sarnia vs. Windsor tip: could save us a lot of hassle if indeed bikes are easier from Windsor.

  14. #14
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    I can confirm that it's not possible to take bikes on the trains that go via Kitchener (I used to live in nearby Waterloo, and had to get a friend to drive me and my boxed bike to Toronto to start my trip).

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    Has the ridership been declining on the "Ocean"? It is maxed out at times - and no cars were added to increase numbers when they were. Games are being played and it is not important to the overall agenda. Like the Sydney - Halifax train, it runs at maximum capacity at times - that one was cut regardless by PM Mulroney.

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