What is a Biketrain?
A biketrain is a lot like a car pool for bicycle commuters, but without the car, the cost, the gas, or the traffic jams.
With the closure of the Viaduct, biking – to work or to wherever – is going to be one of the better ways to get around town.
SE Seattle Biketrain meets up on a regular schedule to commute via a predetermined route, enjoying safety in numbers. Rides are designed for newer cyclists who would like to gain skills, confidence, and local knowledge from the friendly, experienced urban commuter conductors who lead the rides. Our initial route runs from Columbia City via Beacon Hill to Downtown Seattle, and is designed to travel whenever possible on low-traffic streets, and to minimize hills (as much as is possible in our hilly city). We hope to extend the route to Othello Station and further south.
Biketrain is organized into one monthly weekend orientation ride and one weekly commute (weekday) ride. Rides begin in Columbia City , stop near the Link light rail station on Beacon Hill and end at Westlake Park. Details here.
Seattle Biketrain runs solely on volunteer efforts. We expect to secure modest sponsorship funds to pay for promotional materials. Seattle Biketrain is modeled loosely after NYCBiketrain, and some language in this FAQ is taken directly from them, with permission.
I haven’t ridden a bike in years, and I’m a little nervous. Can I ride Seattle Biketrain?
By all means, yes! Biketrain was created for you. We recommend joining our weekend orientation ride. But before you join any of our rides, take these four easy steps:
Consider starting with bikeshare. Download their apps prior to our ride and familiarize yourself with how they work. As of this writing, Lime bikes have a larger footprint, but Jump recently announced it will expand its range farther south. All Jump bikes are electric-assist, and some Like bikes have electric assist – easily identifiable by the battery pack on the rear rack. We recommend using an electric-assist bike because there is no way around hills in this town! As of January 11, 2019 Lime is offering a promo code, “Limerain,” that will give users a $3 ride credit good until the end of this month. Check back for other promo codes. Lime also has a “Refer a Friend” promo code that can be found in the app.
If you plan to ride your own bike, visit your local bike shop to make sure your bike’s brakes, gears, and wheels are in good working condition. BikeWorks in Columbia City offers a basic safety tune-up for $45.
Review Cascade Bicycle Club’s summary of Washington state biking laws.
If you can ride a bike but it’s been a while, go on a short ride or two away from car traffic. Earlier weekend hours in parks or on trails tend to be a little quieter and less crowded. For example, ride the short loop a couple of times in Seward Park. This will let you get comfortable on your bike. Practice signaling (even if no one’s around). Ride slow, and keep plenty of distance between you and other cyclists as well as people walking, and watch for dogs and children. Biking is pretty safe compared to a lot of other everyday activities we all do without thinking about them. But practicing these few simple habits will help make riding safer and more enjoyable.
RSVP. Check out our ride schedule and RSVP. You’ll receive instructions to confirm your e-mail, and then we’ll follow up with a short welcome e-mail and ask you to sign a waiver.
I don’t ride very fast. Will I be able to keep up?
Yes. Our first priority is making sure new commuters are comfortable and supported on the road. That means riding at speeds that are comfortable for you and other newer riders. The more you ride, the more stamina you’ll develop, and with experience, your commute will get faster — if you want it to. But there’s no rush.
Who will I be riding with?
You’ll be riding with two or three volunteer leaders, who are friendly, experienced urban commuter cyclists, and however many other new riders show up. Sometimes, you might be the only new commuter in the bunch. Other times, there may be several newer riders. Some people may ride because they enjoy the company of other like-minded commuters. Whoever you ride with, you will always be in good hands, with volunteers who are happy to help get more people on bikes one ride at a time.
What kind of bike do I need?
Any bike that you feel comfortable riding and can control easily is suitable for commuting, especially when you are just starting out.
Using bikeshare to try commuting is a cost-effective and convenient way to try out bike commuting, and offers the additional benefit of being available in e-assist. We strongly recommend you plan on using an e-assist bikeshare bike, and are working to make arrangements to ensure there are plenty of charged bikes available at the Columbia City and Beacon Hill stops. Even if you have your own bike, consider using an e-assist bike. Because hills. While we’ve designed the route to minimize climbing, there is no way to ride on low-traffic streets from Columbia City to Downtown without encountering some climbing. We’ll take it slow and won’t leave anyone behind.
If you don’t mind the effort of the inevitable climbing, you can get very good deals on used bikes at Bike Works. And, many bike shops put their rental fleets up for sale once a year – ask around. These are good sources for finding a bike that has been well-maintained, was probably chosen to be a rental bike because it’s reasonably sturdy, and is not stolen. If you go elsewhere for a bike, like Craigslist or OfferUp, use BikeIndex to make sure the bike you’re considering isn’t stolen.
New riders often get advice that they need a really lightweight, fast, expensive bike with lots of fancy features. You don’t! You just need to make sure the bike is the right size and the seat is adjusted for your height, and is comfortable for you to ride, and you’ll be fine. If you want a faster or fancier ride later on, you can always trade up.
We plan to look into connecting people with adaptive bikes; please e-mail us if you’re interested.
Do I need to memorize all the rules of the road before I ride the biketrain? There’s no quiz. But we recommend that you check out these basic bike laws. Importantly, learning and putting to use good cycling habits can make for a safer ride, and other cyclists and pedestrians will appreciate your consideration and predictability. We will review basic safe riding practices at the orientation ride.
I think I’m ready to ride! Anything else I should know?
Just a few basics. If you are riding your own bike, a bell is essential. If you are planning on riding at night, state law requires you use a white front light that is visible for 500 feet, and a red rear reflector. A rear red light is strongly recommended. If your workplace doesn’t allow bikes inside, invest in a good lock like Kryptonite or TiGr. The price is well worth the lower likelihood of finding your bike stolen and having to take the time and money to replace it. Tips for locking up are here. This is another reason to start out with bikeshare, as you don’t need to worry about locks to get started.
Nonessentials you may want to consider later: fenders are helpful for keeping you and your bike clean, especially for post-rain rides. Racks and panniers also come in handy for toting work essentials and make that grocery stop on the way home even more convenient. We discuss these options on our weekend orientation rides.
Again, helmets are required by law.
Do I have to attend an orientation ride?
No, but it is strongly recommended as there’s more time to ask and answer questions, discuss riding norms, and make sure we are all on the same page.
Are there other benefits to riding with the biketrain besides safety in numbers and the social aspect?
Yes! One is local knowledge. When you ride with people who already know the route, they can point out all the perks and pitfalls along the way: whether it’s that great bike shop or cafe along the route, a tricky arterial crossing, or that annoying stretch where potholes lurk in the shadows.
Another benefit is that you’ll learn good riding habits. When you ride with experienced cyclists, you pick up their habits and techniques – how to avoid railroad or streetcar tracks and how to cross them safely, for example, or riding on the left side of a one-way street to maximize your visibility to drivers.
The ride is in the morning. How do I get home at the end of the day?
People’s evening schedules vary a lot more than their morning schedules, either due to their work hours or after-work commitments and errands. Chat with your ride leaders and other experienced riders in the morning to see if anyone is going your way home at the end of the day –they may be happy to meet up if their schedule allows. If you use bikeshare, you can always take a bus or Link home.
On our weekend rides, we’ll also review putting bikes on busses. For people who attend our weekend ride, we’ll also either provider a map for a low-climb low-traffic route back to Columbia City, and/or a few leaders will ride back that day. Consider using bikeshare which would allow you to ride to work in the morning and take transit home in the evening.
If you have a non-traditional commuting schedule, you are welcome on the weekend ride, which you might still find helpful for getting started.
Do I need special clothing or gear?
Not really. Wear clothing that is comfortable for you. Pants or leggings that taper/get narrower toward the ankle are best; A-line skirts or dresses and kilts work well, too. Avoid shoes with laces if possible. Remember, this isn’t a long, athletic bike ride where it might be more important to maximize efficiency and so forth. This is just a ride to work, and while it is physical activity, it is not a competitive athletic event. You probably don’t need padded shorts or clip-in shoes, and, especially if you ride an e-bike, you can probably ride in clothes you’d wear to work. You may want to invest later in some products that are made with biking in mind.
I’m an experienced bicycle commuter. How do I volunteer?
Join a weekend ride or weekday ride to meet the organizers. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org in advance so we know to expect you. We are looking for people who are interested in helping new riders get comfortable riding, and who know that bike riding for transportation does not require a fancy bike, a ton of gear, and who are strong advocates for building safer bike infrastructure like protected bike lanes and high-quality neighborhood greenways. If you like what you’ve read in this FAQ, that’s a good sign.
How do I start a biketrain in my neighborhood?
Talk to us! If you want tips on getting things up and running we recommend you arrange to meet us to chat after joining a weekend orientation ride so you can see things in action. Email us at email@example.com.