Anatomy of a Multi-Modal Commute By Alan Barnard

Alan Barnard is back again with another Guest Article…

I recently transitioned from a mix of telecommuting and car commuting, to multi-modal commuting using bike, bus, and train. In the process we eliminated a car and we’ll cut our annual automobile mileage by approximately 75%.

I’m fortunate that my monthly transit pass is valid on city commuter buses, county commuter buses, and Amtrak commuter trains and motor coaches. These options make it possible to start my commute as early as 5 a.m. and finish as late as 7 p.m. To come and go at convenient times for my changing work schedule, I often mix it up, taking the rain in the morning and the bus back in the evening, or vice versa. It’s been a real adventure, trying out all the options, figuring out where, when, and how to fold and stow the Brompton to make the various connections required to complete my 60 mile round-trip.

Here’s one example of a typical commute day:


* Out the door at 6:40 a.m., ride 5 miles to the Amtrak station.
* Board the train at 7:05.
* Depending upon whether the bike rack is full or not, either load the bike into the rack, or fold it up and carry it upstairs and place it between a pair of seat backs.
* Arrive at the downtown station at 7:35.
* Unfold the bike, exit the train, and ride the 6 blocks to the office.
* Bikes are not allowed in the front entrance of the building, so partially fold the bike and roll it in as a “cart?.
* Take it up the elevator to my work area, finish folding it and stow it under the desk.
* Get cleaned up and start work before 8:00.


* Partially unfold the bike into “cart? mode. Exit down the elevator and out the front door by 4:00 p.m.
* Completely unfold the bike and ride 10 blocks uptown to intercept the commuter bus where it first comes into downtown. Doing so gets me on the bus ahead of the busiest stops near the capitol where it quickly turns into standing room only.
* Fold and cover the bike to put it in “stealth? mode for the bus. Get on the bus at 4:15 and take a seat near the front where there’s room to stow the bike.
* Chill for an hour.
* Arrive in the suburbs at 5:15.
* Exit the bus, unfold the bike, and ride the 5 miles to the house.
* Get cleaned up and sit down to dinner before 6:00.

“No Bikes Allowed? : Ha!

This may all sound like a lot of work, but actually I find it quite enjoyable. It’s a great way to get in an hour’s worth of low intensity exercise every day, and the downtime on the train/bus helps me to unwind from 8-9 hours of intense work on the computer. Overall I’m spending an extra 40-45 minutes on the road, but 60 minutes of my total travel time is on the bike which in my mind doesn’t count, so I’ve actually gained a net 15 minutes. Plus, my old two-hour round-trip commute by car only added to my daily stress quotient; now I look forward to my commute and arrive relaxed and refreshed, which, even without the other benefits, makes it well worth the effort.


  1. Zak

    Very cool, that folding bike is awesome. Luckily I can park my bike in my office. The next job might require a folder.

  2. Ghost Rider

    Hello, Brompton!

    Alan, that’s a great article — it really captures how a multi-modal commute works…good stuff.

    Shame how many transit authorities and office buildings don’t really allow bikes, though, and such policies just add unnecessary complexity to a commute that is good for the environment and good for an employee’s health! You’d think in this day and age when “going green” is all the rage, some of these companies would rethink policies like that, but it hasn’t happened across the board yet. Keep on keepin’ on, I say!

  3. KingSlug

    I like the article. I use the bus and bike and before had used the bike and train. I think many do not see the advantages of riding public transport and the bike. I could ride the whole 10m to work but I would be sweaty, so I ride all but 3.5m (down hill) going in and can ride the ten home or a variation depending on what I want to do. Bravo.

  4. Blakcloud

    Great article on your commute. If you ever decide to write another article may I suggest a review of your bicycle. I would love to know how a folder works for commuting. How it rides, how easy is to fold, how are the smaller wheels on the city streets.

  5. Phil

    “my monthly transit pass is valid on city commuter buses, county commuter buses, and Amtrak commuter trains and motor coaches”

    Where do you live that this is available?

  6. Mase

    Any photos of the bike in “cart” mode?

  7. Dan

    Has your commuting system inspired any of your coworkers to give it a try?

  8. Jamis_Bater

    “Plus, my old two-hour round-trip commute by car only added to my daily stress quotient…”

    Amen to that. I can honestly tell a huge difference in my mood between when I ride to work and when I’ve driven (and more importantly my wife can as well). I’m so close to selling off our second car I’m beginning to scare myself. Although that car is my Jeep that I’ve had since ’93, it’s been paid off for years now, and runs really well. That corny Mary MacGregor song is running through my head:
    Torn between two lovers
    Feeling like a fool
    Loving both of you
    Is breaking all the rules

  9. Alan B.

    “Where do you live that this is available?”

    Roseville, CA. Somehow the three local transit orgs got together and agreed to share monthly passes. It seems so unlikely that I still feel a little guilty — as if I’m cheating — when I use my RT pass on Amtrak or PCT…LOL.

  10. Alan B.

    “Has your commuting system inspired any of your coworkers to give it a try?”

    I’ve had a number of people quizzing me about the bike, what it does, how I use it; I think it’s only a matter of time..

  11. Alan B.

    “Any photos of the bike in “cart? mode?”

    It’s essentially the same as in the second photo, but with the handlebar unfolded. In that semi-folded state, it rolls along on its casters with the luggage still attached on top. I’ll try to post a photo soon.


  12. jody

    I have a similar commute. 60 miles round trip. Luckily the bus comes within 3.5 miles of my house and drops me right at work in the mornings. And luckily our buses have bike racks on the front. I’m not sure what I’ll do the day the racks are full though, since I don’t have a folding bike.

    Thanks for the extra inspiration to make my commute a daily habit.

  13. 2whls3spds

    Bromptons rule! I am about to pull the trigger on one. My company has been freaking out over the massive fuel cost increases and is begging and pleading with us to come up with any ideas that will help save on transportation costs. I can roll Amtrak between the city where my job site is and fairly close to the town I live near. It will be less than half my current fuel costs, the travel time is the same. Just have to make it on Amtrak’s schedule…but it means I get off early on Fridays. 😀


  14. chris ramey

    Inspiring article, thanks. People here in the desert cite the weather as a deterrent to bike commuting. oh well.

    sent from: [FID302134]

  15. Dan

    Those folding bikes are the best! I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while (even though I have no need for it).

  16. Alan B.

    “Bromptons rule! I am about to pull the trigger on one”

    You won’t regret it. In my opinion, for the person that needs to take a bike on a train or bus, the Brompton is the best compromise between a clean, compact fold and “regular” bike performance.

  17. Charles Stepp

    I’d love to have a brompton, but they’re a bit pricey…How about this:

    No. I don’t work for them or own one…but I’m so close to having that fist fight with my wife to get one…

  18. AR

    I recently began a similar commuting odyssey in the DC-Metro area. My commute involves riding my folder to the train station, taking the train into the city, and then riding from the downtown station to my office. Thankfully, my employer (the Federal government) has awesome bike accommodations. We have access to a great bike storage room that is basically the best parking space in the building, as well as lockers and showers at the gym. It’s a great arrangement. The only problem I have had has been with our local commuter train. The conductors are extremely rude to anyone bringing on a folder (even though it is permitted in their regulations) and the system has yet to really work out a solution for this issue. The higher-ups, however, do seem committed, so I continue to hope. Overall, this mode of commuting has been great. I can bail out whenever the train breaks down and take Metro, or I can bring my bike onto a bus. It is so convenient and even fun!

  19. Rick

    Love the Multi-Modal commute. I use a Montague folding bike to do mine in to Boston every day. It means I can get some work done on the train and still ride the last 3 miles when I get in to the city. Makes my morning so much more enjoyable.

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