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  1. #1
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    Loaded touring bike as checked baggage on Amtrak

    I plan to take my bike on Amtrak. I'd like to fit everything in the Amtrak bike box. It's a long haul trucker with loaded panniers front and rear and camping gear on the racks. Does anybody have experience with something similar? I'll show up at the station on the bike and pack it. So not much time to rehearse and regroup. Can I squeeze my stuff in the box with the bike?

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    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    The Amtrak box($15) is considerably larger than a standard bike box so it'll take your gear. I'm pretty sure there's a weight limit of 50 pounds. The fine print says 'bike only' for what that's worth. I stuffed some gear in the box with the stationmaster helping me, but best to do that out of sight of prying eyes. Bring your own quality box tape. Their's is not the best. Make sure there are no lose parts in the box in case it arrives, as mine did, with a large hole torn in it.
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    I took my bike to Pittsburgh this November. I thought I was going to be able to put my panniers in the box but there was not enough room. All I got in there was the bike a dry bag and my helmet. I checked one pannier and took the other one and my handlebar bag as carry ons.

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    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    I went this route on a trip last spring. Even though I didn't leave much on my bike, I did leave my tools and some spare parts and maybe a couple of odds and ends. When I retrieved my bike at the other end, there were comments on how heavy it was (in comparison to other bikes that had been on the train), and it was clear that the baggage handlers had been commenting on the extra weight before I claimed it. No one chastised me for it or anything, but it was clearly noticed. On the other hand, my bike is on the heavy side when there's nothing extra attached to it, so it's possible that if I had completely emptied or removed my saddle bags, it still would have been "the heavy one." Also my bike box was in pretty good shape at the end of the trip, but I saw some that were a little more battered or torn. I would definitely want to make sure everything in that box was securely attached to the bike with the understanding that that box will not likely remain upright and could end up upside down a time or two during loading/unloading.

    My goal was to make sure that my bike box was the only checked item, and that everything else would go into a duffle bag I brought for that purpose or would somehow stay with the bike. I was successful, but I decided that was not the way to go. Overloading the bike box wasn't worth the risk of having it refused or aggravating the baggage handlers. Taking everything else as carry on meant squeezing a large, unwieldy bag on to the train and having everything I might want on the train mixed in with everything that I wouldn't need until I got to my destination.

    I think you can check up to two bags on Amtrak with no extra charge. I think that's in addition to a bike box. I decided next time to check as much as I could and only carry on to the train what I wanted to use on the train. If I'm going to trust baggage with my bike, I figure I might as well trust them with everything. The biggest issue I can see with this is the necessity to bring some kind of duffle large enough to stash my gear in, and to bring some kind of carry on bag. Not ideal, but I think it'd be worth it.

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    No. All that stuff won't fit. And anything small (e.g., pedals, skewers) you put in the box you risk losing if the box tears. You also risk exceeding the 50 lb. weight limit.

    As noted, you can check two bags. You can also carry on at least one and maybe two. Both times I crossed the country with my bike on Amtrak I checked the bike and a duffle bag with most of my gear and carried on two panniers with some clothes, camera equipment, etc.

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    Amtrak employees vary, some station managers and staff recognize that they need to provide good customer service to keep the operation running. Others see their position as an opportunity to show how much authority they have. Thus, what works at one station might not work at another.

    The box will not hold your bike and all four panniers. You should also assume that the box and bike need to be below the 50 pound limit.

    After your bike box, you only get one more free piece of checked luggage. (Yes, your box was not free luggage because they charged a fee for it but the Amtrak station manager told me that it counted as one.) I have used a very large duffel that will hold my four panniers to get them all loaded as one piece of luggage. (This meant that I had to haul that big empty duffel folded up on the rest of my trip.) I was specifically told that I could not strap panniers together to consolidate them into fewer pieces of luggage but I think this has worked at some other Amtrak stations. I carried a small weight scale so I could keep that giant duffel below 50 pounds, the excess weight I put in my carryon duffel. But, I suspect that you can get by without needing a scale, they will probably tell you if you are over weight and let you move stuff out of your bag to your carryon. (Since I have a scale for airline travel, I brought it.)

    Make sure you can get your pedals off before you get there. Some shops put them on really tight, so you might want to make sure before you leave home that you carry a wrench that you know will do the job. I carry a long arm Allen wrench for that.

    If you have a tall frame, make sure that you have extra time in case you need it to make it fit in the box. I had to shift several steerer tube spacers from below my stem to above my stem to lower the handlebar enough to fit. I also had to loosen one bar end shifter and rotate it within the handlebar to get it to fit in the box.

    20IMGP3290.jpg

    If things are tight in the box for height, you may need to let air out of your tires too.

    The purple thing on my front mini rack is my folded up big duffel that I had to use to consolidate my panniers into one piece of luggage.

    20IMGP3292.jpg

  7. #7
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    The last time I shipped my bike on Amtrak, I had to remove the bars and the stem. The box I was given was pretty narrow and there wasn't enough room to turn the stem sideways and still fit in the box.

    I would suggest bringing a Sharpie or some other type of marker. You'll want to clearly label your box with your name, a contact number, and "This Side Up" arrows. Better yet, bring some orange stickers to slap on the box. When my bike was unloaded, it ended up lying flat on the baggage cart... with every other piece of luggage from the train stacked on top of it! Luckily, it was after my trip and there was no major damage.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    I put a lwb bent in the Amtrak box, plus one pannier and a rack pack, 49 pounds. A standard DF should leave plenty of room for two panniers and a rack pack. Four panniers, probably not. One of my panniers, checked, and loaded with electonics and other expensive stuff, was delayed for two days. They sent it to my home via Fedex. That was very stressful, as I feared it had been lost or pilfered. There were lots of phone calls. If I ever check panniers again, I'll tie a bright colored ribbon to them, and a bigger ID tag than the one Amtrak provides, hoping to make sure they can be seen by the handlers and not left for a day or two lingering in some dark corner of the baggage room.

    I checked a bike on a Greyhound trip once, $50. It did not get transferred in Chicago and arrived a day after I did. Luckily, it was at the end of my tour, not the beginning. Come to think of it, Chicago is where Amtrak 'lost' my pannier. Avoid Chicago. And if traveling by bus, make sure the bike gets transferred, or do it yourself. Of course, if the driver decides there's no room in the bin for your bike, tough luck.
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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    The boxes are quite big and everything would probably fit, but I have always put only the bike in the box and carried the rest on. As was said it would be really easy to exceed the 50 pound limit with all of your gear in the box.

    Strapping two panniers together to make them into one carry on piece has worked for me. I managed to carry on 4 panniers as two carryon pieces that way.

    I have used a cheap collapsible duffel that will take all my gear when travelling by air and I don't see why it wouldn't work with Amtrak. I usually do that to get home after the tour and typically pick it up the last day of the tour. Walmart sells one that I like. It packs small enough that it can be easily mailed home and is cheap enough that it wouldn't break my heart to dispose of it especially after it has been used a few times. Another option I have used is to buy a suitcase at a thrift store for $6-7 and dispose of it when I get to my destination.

  10. #10
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    FYI...There was a thread within the last year or so about how Amtrak allegedly came out with a new bike box that is smaller than the previous generation.

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    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
    FYI...There was a thread within the last year or so about how Amtrak allegedly came out with a new bike box that is smaller than the previous generation.
    Thread is here: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...ak-Box-Shrinks

    There was never any information about what the old measurements were versus the new, and it was never clear to me that there was definitely an official change in box size. It may have been an anomaly or just misremembering the the size of the box by the OP. At the time I pulled the specs off the Amtrak site as 69 x 41 x 8.5 inches. Amtrak now says 70" x 41" x 8.5". http://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard

    In the 9 months since that thread was started, I haven't heard of anyone having trouble with the box size. I'm guessing that if your bike fits within the measurements stated on the Amtrak site, you will be fine. I was worried that I'd have to loosen/remove the fender of my 58cm LHT to make the length cutoff, but it turned out not to be an issue. It fit fine, but I don't remember how snug it was.

  12. #12
    Senior Member adventurepdx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walter S View Post
    I plan to take my bike on Amtrak. I'd like to fit everything in the Amtrak bike box. Can I squeeze my stuff in the box with the bike?
    The short answer (as confirmed by most folks who have commented): No.

    The rules state that there can be nothing but the bike in the box, and the box can't weigh more than 50 pounds. I've been able to strap my helmet to bars without an issue, and they let you keep your waterbottles on the bike, so long as you empty the water bottles. But if they see you putting other stuff in the box, they're going to stop you from doing it. (And if you somehow do manage to get other stuff in the box, the Amtrak employees will give you grief if they see it when you take your bike out of the box.)

    And they can be pretty strict on that 50 pound limit. One time I decided to keep my tent strapped to my rear rack and pack the box. All well and good until I start to get on the train and get pulled aside by personnel. Apparently they felt that the box was too heavy, weighed it, and yep, it was over 50 pounds, so they say. Out comes the tent, with much chiding by the baggage crew.

    And as some have pointed out: make sure you can get the pedals off the bike before you get to the station, because you ain't gonna get any help from the baggage handlers. And while the bike boxes are capacious compared to what you'd get from the bike shop or an airline, some modern bars are too wide to fit in the box by simply turning them, so you may have to remove them as well.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Just to follow up on the shrinking box, I checked the Wayback machine to see if I could find a larger box:
    Bike box dimensions in November 2009 were the same as I saw last April.

    The new measurement, which appears to be one inch longer than the old one, appeared some time between May and August 2012. My guess is that the poster of that original thread either ran across an odd batch of boxes, perhaps an emergency stash used to fill a gap in stock, or perhaps they remember a larger box from days gone by (pre 2009). Or maybe between one trip and the next, they got a bigger bike, and forgot that it was going to take up more room in the box.

  14. #14
    nun
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    The boxes are quite big and everything would probably fit, but I have always put only the bike in the box and carried the rest on. As was said it would be really easy to exceed the 50 pound limit with all of your gear in the box.

    Strapping two panniers together to make them into one carry on piece has worked for me. I managed to carry on 4 panniers as two carryon pieces that way.

    I have used a cheap collapsible duffel that will take all my gear when travelling by air and I don't see why it wouldn't work with Amtrak. I usually do that to get home after the tour and typically pick it up the last day of the tour. Walmart sells one that I like. It packs small enough that it can be easily mailed home and is cheap enough that it wouldn't break my heart to dispose of it especially after it has been used a few times. Another option I have used is to buy a suitcase at a thrift store for $6-7 and dispose of it when I get to my destination.
    If I was the OP I'd put the bike in the box and then strap the panniers/tents together so they could be checked as one or two pieces of luggage. Then carry on your handlebar bag.

    After my summer long weekend trip to Portland and journey back to Boston on the Downeaster I'm going to do a longer bike/Amtrak tour this summer, probably riding into NY state and coming back on the Lake Shore Limited. A lot of the worry in packing a bike and your gear for travel seems to revolve around just dealing with the weight and volume of stuff. I think I actually appreciate having only 2 light bags more off the bike than on it.

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    Thanks for all the helpful details! I'll leave just the bike in the box and do the rest as checked/carry on.

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    The system we use for Amtrak as well as air travel is to leave the empty panniers on the bike and into the box. The contents of the panniers go into a lightweight duffle bag, the rack pack and bar bag. Amtrak boxes, while large, are not very sturdy. I'm not sure how well they would handle the weight even if you could get everything inside it.

    This is actually an Amtrak connector bus. The boxed bikes are in the cargo bins, and our gear is easily managed as "carry-on."




    Reassembly at an Amtrak Station. Everything from my front and rear panniers, including my helmet and bike shoes, fit inside the large light weight duffle bag (my wife also has one). For air travel the contents are shuffled a little differently, but the number of items to handle are the same. This way I only have 3 pieces of luggage to manage, not six (4 panniers, rackpack, bar bag). The duffle can go as checked baggage, and the rackpack and bar bag as carry on. The duffle, weighing about 6 ounces, goes into the bottom of a pannier for the return trip. It is worth carrying the small additional weight.
    Last edited by Doug64; 01-16-13 at 02:45 PM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Western Flyer's Avatar
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    You can check two bags in addition to your bike at no extra charge. You can also carry two bags on board and stow them in rack near the entrance to your sitting car. In addition to that you can carry on a very generous amount of airplane type carry-on items to store over and under your seat and if you have a sleeper you can take one suitcase sized items per person into your cabin. And if that is not enough luggage allowance I think some time reading the Ultra-light evangelism thread is in order.

    I think some of the East Coast trains are not quite as accommodating.
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    Sometime in the last year, new baggage regulations went into effect at Amtrak. One of the consequences of this is that where I used to tape boxes together and have them counted as one, that is no longer permitted. (Now I wrap two boxes in the cardboard from a third fruit box and that is somehow permissible.) Anyway, the folks suggesting a duffel bag to carry panniers are much less likely to have trouble than someone who tries to just attach the panniers.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
    Anyway, the folks suggesting a duffel bag to carry panniers are much less likely to have trouble than someone who tries to just attach the panniers.
    Yeah, true. I have strapped panniers together and they were fine with it, but I am sure it will vary from one case to the next.

  20. #20
    nun
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    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Yeah, true. I have strapped panniers together and they were fine with it, but I am sure it will vary from one case to the next.
    Pun intended ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
    The system we use for Amtrak as well as air travel is to leave the empty panniers on the bike and into the box. The contents of the panniers go into a lightweight duffle bag, the rack pack and bar bag. Amtrak boxes, while large, are not very sturdy. I'm not sure how well they would handle the weight even if you could get everything inside it.

    This is actually an Amtrak connector bus. The boxed bikes are in the cargo bins, and our gear is easily managed as "carry-on."
    I am planning a trip in May, I called Amtrak and they told me that I would not be able to put a bike box on the Amtrak bus. I do know know if different buses have different criteria or not. When I called, I was put on hold and a couple minutes later they got back with a firm "no" and said it was because the contractor that provided the bus would not allow it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Western Flyer View Post
    You can check two bags in addition to your bike at no extra charge. ... ...
    Was that before or after they changed their policy? I checked two besides the box in July 2012 because at that time you could check three for free, but they have since changed their policy.
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...=1241267362251

    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    Yeah, true. I have strapped panniers together and they were fine with it, but I am sure it will vary from one case to the next.
    I wish I was that lucky.

    To repeat my comment above from post 6: ... what works at one station might not work at another.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Western Flyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
    I am planning a trip in May, I called Amtrak and they told me that I would not be able to put a bike box on the Amtrak bus. I do know know if different buses have different criteria or not. When I called, I was put on hold and a couple minutes later they got back with a firm "no" and said it was because the contractor that provided the bus would not allow it.



    Was that before or after they changed their policy? I checked two besides the box in July 2012 because at that time you could check three for free, but they have since changed their policy.
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...=1241267362251

    You can still check two bags @ 50lbs each for free, plus an additional two for $20 each. You can still carry two 50 lb bags aboard the train, but they need to be slightly smaller. I took Amtrak three times in 2012 with my bike boxed twice and once handed my bike less panniers to the conductor on the Amtrak Cascade where they have special bike hooks in the luggage car for $5. The previous year I took the Amtrak bus and they had a couple of shelves under the bus where I just slid my bike, pedals and handlebars remained in place ($5), and only had to remove my panniers which were stowed in the baggage compartment (NC).

    The one time I got a sleeper, I kept my panniers in my room.
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    Senior Member Rob_E's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Western Flyer View Post
    The previous year I took the Amtrak bus and they had a couple of shelves under the bus where I just slid my bike, pedals and handlebars remained in place ($5), and only had to remove my panniers which were stowed in the baggage compartment (NC).


    Are you saying this was a North Carolina Amtrak bus route? Do you remember which one? I know there are places in NC that Amtrak runs busses but not trains. And knowing which ones I can take my bike on would expand my options for localish trips.

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    Last time we did it we took two tandems. We went to the station a few days before our trip and they just gave us 4 used boxes for free. We took them home to pack, taped two together and put tandems in each with some panniers as well. Our train was leaving at 5 AM and I wanted to take a cab to the station to avoid having to park a car, so we dropped the bikes off at the station the night before departure and checked them in (can do 24 hours in advance) and then just took a cab to the station in the wee hours of the AM. For us it was a lot less hassle this way.

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    Senior Member Western Flyer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post


    Are you saying this was a North Carolina Amtrak bus route? Do you remember which one? I know there are places in NC that Amtrak runs busses but not trains. And knowing which ones I can take my bike on would expand my options for localish trips.
    I put my bike on the Amtrak bus in Eugene Oregon. I have found the 800 number folks don't know much about their buses and bicycles and trying to contact the local station can be trying. Good luck!
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