Boxing a bike on Amtrak

Let’s be honest here: I’ve been a little reluctant to take my bike on any train that doesn’t have roll-on service — that is, a train where you can just show up with your bike, roll it up to the baggage car where there’s a hook waiting for it, and then pedal right away when you get to your destination. I’ve been a little intimidated by the logistics of having to deconstruct my bike to put it in a luggage box, which is still required for any long-distance Amtrak line.

But I have conquered the beast. And it’s so easy that I sort of can’t believe I’ve been avoiding it.


I showed up to Union Station in Portland yesterday — in the sunshine no less — and proceeded with my loaded bike to the baggage counter. Here’s how it works:

  1. You pay $25 for a bike box. Don’t be intimidated by previous bike boxes you may have used. These boxes are huge
  2. You take the pedals off your bike, put them in a bag, and tape them somewhere onto the frame (or, as I did, the rack)
  3. You loosen or remove the handlebars so that you can turn them sideways.
  4. You roll your bike into the box and tape it up. Done!

In Portland they even have tools you can borrow, so you don’t need to provide your own pedal wrench. I don’t know that every station would be so friendly, though, so it’s probably still a good idea to have your own.

amtrak bike boxes(this is what my luggage looked like all boxed up, plus carry-on pannier+backpack)

You’re allowed 2 pieces of checked luggage for free, so in addition to the one for my bike I also bought another box for $5. That way I could put my various panniers and other bags into one box and turn 4 pieces of luggage into one.

And that’s it! Super easy. And then when you get to your destination, your boxes show up and you can simply reverse the process: put your pedals and handlebars back on, re-attach all your bags, and away you go!

amtrak bike box(this is the extent to which I had to deconstruct my bike. See? Totally not intimidating — only the pedals removed and the handlebars turned)

The hardest part, for me at least, is sleeping on an overnight 16-hour train ride. Someday I will master the ability to sleep in weird places, and then I will be a much happier traveler:)

American River Bike Path

(though regardless of how much sleep I do or don’t get, it’s SO FRICKEN AWESOME to get to my destination and be able to ride off on my bike:)

So here I am, a little sleep-deprived, but ready for adventure! :)


  1. Finally! ;-)

    But me being me, I do need to correct a detail: The cost of a bike box is not $25. Yes, you did pay $25 for what you did, but it breaks down to $15 for the bike box, $10 for the checking of the boxed bike. While this seems like a nit-pick, it is important: If you show up with your own bike box, or manage to snag a free box (it does happen in some stations!) (though rarely PDX, but take a peek by the cardboard recycling first), the fee to check the bike is just $10.

    The real important thing to remember is not only does the train you’re on have to have checked baggage, but both the departure and arrival station have to have checked baggage service as well.

    Full deets here:

  2. Emmmm … I’d still stay this is intimidating.

    “You take the pedals off your bike”
    Last time I had to do this, it took 5 hours of torquing, finding various tubes, clamps, and having enough burly people to hold down various parts of the bike. Tools broke in the process and I had to find a place to buy a new pedal wrench in a foreign city, too.

    • 5 hours? Really? It kinda sounds like there was something else going on with your pedals — even a tight pedal shouldn’t break a pedal wrench! :) Lame.

      Taking your experience into account, I’m wondering if it might be helpful for other people considering bike/train travel to have a practice pedal-removal session before traveling to help make the station bike exchange less stressful.

      That being said, the Amtrak fellow at the Portland station was well-versed in pedal-removal, so at least sometimes there will be a helpful person at the station:)

  3. Pingback: Trip plannin’ (Or, how to get ready for a bike trip) – CarFreeRambles

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