10 tips for the Caltrain Bike Car

Caltrain is the commuter rail service between San Jose and San Francisco funded by Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco Counties and operated by Samtrans. With 92 trains each weekday and bike capacity ranging from 48 to 80 bikes per train, Caltrain this year carries 53,000 passengers each day, 6,000 of whom bring their bikes on board the train. Commute time trains depart from both San Jose and San Francisco each day at 96% to 125% seated capacity.

Mountain View Caltrain evening commute

Caltrain staffers are creating a series of “Bikes on Caltrain” videos for Caltrain riders. They’re taking feedback to gauge common themes and possible issues for their first video “Bikes on Caltrain: How to Board/Disembark.”

I don’t routinely ride Caltrain anymore so I might have missed a few things, but here’s the list I submitted to Caltrain’s survey:

  • Cleats on metal stairs are slick. Rain magnifies that slickness. Be careful.
  • Panniers, helmets dangling from handlebars, etc. get in the way. Remove them when stacking your bike
  • Turn off your stroboscopic lights before boarding the train.
  • Don’t bring your good bike.
  • If you bring your brand new Scott Addict SL (retail over $12,000), don’t gripe when somebody stacks their bike on top of it.
  • Conversely, when stacking, at least pretend to be a little bit mindful of the protruding mechanical bits on the other bikes.
  • Giants game day = Caltrain bike cars jammed with coolers, backpacks, drunks, etc.
  • If your bike is at the top of the stack for a busy station, remove your bike early so everybody else can get at their bikes.
  • Seat space is at a premium. Don’t store your backpacks there.
  • On gallery cars, don’t block the stairs to the upper level with your bike.

What are your top 10 tips? Tell Caltrain to include them in their video.


  1. Here’s my tips:
    – Move all the way to the back of the car so all riders can board quickly
    – Alternating the direction of handle bars can help keep the aisles more clear
    – Use the bungie cord at the edge of the rack if you are first, so the ones in the middle are available for the last bike
    – On gallery cars, after loading your bike wait out of the way downstairs until all entering bikes have cleared the narrow passage by the stairs
    – If your bike is covering another one for the same station, claim your bike early so the other bike can be picked up too

  2. I would add:

    Don’t leave the damn bungee cord hanging when you are done! it just gets caught on everyone’s bike. I find it so ridiculously annoying that people can’t figure this out. All these smart engineers and tech people … how many times do you need to get your spokes, derailleurs, pedals, etc caught before you figure out you can *easiily* solve the problem by hooking the end of the bungee up to one of the loops on top of the rack. It’s not that hard.

    Don’t leave your helmet and U-lock on your handlebars, Makes it really annoying to “mesh” your bike in.

    On that note, note your pedal placement and rotate them accordingly so they mesh with the topmost bike already on the rack. Don’t rack your bike sloppy so that you are wasting space; mesh them together tightly like a puzzle, and as previously mentioned, this often means switching directions for sequential bikes.

    If you don’t have a bike, stay out of the bike car! Don’t know why this is so hard for non-bicyclists to figure out and I really wish Caltrain would enforce this. Tired of watching completely oblivious non-bicyclists just plop into the previous few seats in the bike car.

    If your bike is on top of others going to the same station, get down well before the stop so those behind you don’t panic that you are a no-show and have to unrack your bike so they can get off in time.

    In the end: just think and be considerate. Not that hard.

  3. Bicycle theft from Caltrain happens regularly. The thieves take up the seats in the bike car and look for bicyclists sit where they can’t see their bikes. Thwart them by always sitting where you can watch your bike. If there are no seats left, then sit on the floor. Caltrain transit police do not respond to reports of bicycle theft, so protecting your bicycle is your responsibility.

  4. A few more tips:

    – If you’re not going all the way to the last station, try not to put your bike in an empty rack because that eliminates a place for someone going farther than you to place their bike. For example if you’re going from SJ to Sunnyvale, try to find a rack where the last bike is also going to Sunnyvale. If that’s not available then find a Mt.View rack, or Palo Alto. Anything but an empty rack. Leave as many options open as possible for riders boarding after you.

    – when waiting to get off, wait in the bike car. Do not block the stairways or the vestibule. Though take care when …

    – if you’re getting off at a busy station with a lot of people waiting on the platform, be ready to get off quickly. If you delay a split second you might get pushed back by people trying to board.

    – Get to know your fellow riders. They’ve often got useful info to share.

    – if your bike folds, please fold it up on the crowded trains to avoid bumping people with non-folding bikes.

    – When waiting for the train to arrive, wait where you won’t block people getting off of the train. Avoid blocking the Clipper kiosks.

    – When you get off the train, don’t stop immediately outside of the door to mess with your bike/backpack/etc. That blocks people behind you. Instead push your bike a few feet away to get out of the crowd first.

  5. Destination tag for your bike, or at minimum, put your bike with a bike going to your destination or in front of a bike going a stop further.

    Wish Conductors at SF would keep the bike cars clear for cyclists instead of letting parties claim all the floor area.

    People with luggage sent to the luggage car.

    IF you have a folding bike and are in a commute train go tot he luggage car instead of taking up a full space.

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