Petty Etiquette

Dear J-

Here on the Caltrain there is a simple method for stacking your bikes: if you get off sooner, your bike migrates towards the top of the pile. Depending on the car, there are six to eight bike racks with a stated capacity of four bikes per stack (this is more when you put the bikes head-to-tail so that adjacent bikes’ handlebars don’t overlap, and I think can be made up to five per stack without serious space encroachment). Getting on is a little like solitaire; I like to look for the tallest stack that will accommodate me, but since I hop on and off at unpopular stations, usually the best I can do is be the second or third on the stack. The people heading up to 4th & King or down to Palo Alto usually have better luck finding a space.

I just wanted to point out today’s peeve, which is folks who hop on and put their bike on an empty rack without considering who might be going where — granted, I understand, especially if there’s several unmarked bikes occupying spaces and you have no idea where you’re supposed to go (there is a corollary peeve, which is simply stated: if you’re on top of another bike, pull your bike off the stack as soon as you’re leaving the penultimate stop, assuming the person underneath needs to get out too: I get this a lot when someone goes on top of my bike; they’ll be standing there smiling at me while I awkwardly smile back and fume inside). But if you’re on an empty stack then that’s fewer stacks to accommodate long-haul riders.

I dunno. For the most part I have no problems with it, and the system works pretty well. I’ve only been bumped off one train for capacity issues, and life is pretty good if I only have these petty things to complain about. I get to spend a lot of time in my own head thinking about these mysteries of bike traffic and etiquette so hey, maybe I should write a book or something. Or maybe not. What I like best about advice is not heeding it, since what worked for someone once at a specific time isn’t always going to work again (then again, these folks think they can sincerely help someone else, and isn’t that worth the struggle?) or even elsewhere. We have a good ways to go yet, and plenty of road ahead together.



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