Smaller Bikes, Bigger Adventures
We have a soft spot for small towns, especially when we’re looking for a new place to explore by bike. And one of the things we love most about Amtrak is the ease with which we can access these smaller destinations. Of course, many of these small stops have no checked baggage service, which means that, as much as we love the new Trainside Checked Bicycle Service, there’s no way to de-train at a small station with a bike. Which is when the humble folding bike becomes our adventure bike of choice.
Smaller Wheels but More Opportunities
A few years ago, we wrapped up a bike tour by hopping the Empire Builder back to Portland. We had ridden a long loop around Montana and ended in the small community of East Glacier. We hiked a bit in the park, stopped in all the small shops, and ate almost every meal at the excellent Mexican restaurant in town. And then we folded up our Bromptons and easily carried them onboard, thanks to the fact that our beloved folding bikes take up less space than a standard suitcase and fit on a luggage rack.
Folding bikes aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but they really excel in these situations where your desired cycling destination just happens to not be a baggage stop. If you’re a folding bike aficionado like we are (or are interested in a new adventure), consider routing your next (folding)-bike-and-train trip to Dunsmuir, California or Alpine, Texas (the Coast Starlight stops in Dunsmuir, and the Texas Eagle stops in Alpine).
We love Dunsmuir for the simple fact that it’s surrounded by an incredible wealth of all things outdoor. Forests for hiking, backroads for biking, and some world-class trout-fishing waters. On our last visit, we also made our way slightly East to the community of McCloud, at one end of the new Great Shasta Rail Trail. This beautiful trail is still in process (there are a few bridges in need of repair – including the bridge from the movie “Stand by Me”), but you can ride several miles at either end and marvel at the bright red cinder rock and the tall forests.
The first time we passed through Alpine, we instantly loved the small college town that serves as a jumping off point for Big Bend National Park. Unlike Dunsmuir, Alpine is surrounded by high desert ranch- and range-land, but those wide-open landscapes provide unique opportunities for hiking and biking. It’s a long trek down to Big Bend from Alpine, but if you’re up for a small-wheeled adventure, we highly recommend stopping in Terlingua Ghost Town and hanging out on The Porch (you won’t get lost, there’s only one).
A Few Tips
Bring the smallest bike possible. Folding bikes are a fantastic way to explore the smaller destinations along Amtrak routes, but it’s important to note that not all folding bikes are equal. You’ll want to make sure you follow Amtrak’s regulations and only carry on a folding bike with small wheels and a compact fold.
Remember your fellow passengers. When we travel with our folding bikes, we make sure that the rest of our gear is packed in a way that we can easily store it at our seat, rather than hogging all the space in the luggage rack.
Carry a small cable lock. We have never had any problems aboard an Amtrak train, but we do know that things can sometimes wander away. Keep the honest people honest by carrying a small cable lock to secure your folding bike while it’s parked in the luggage rack.