When we tell people we came by train with our bikes, they’re surprised and delighted. Surprised that the message is getting out that the Amtrak Surfliner is the best way to travel the 250 miles from Irvine to SLO.
There’s room for 7 bikes on this train, all of them on the first car, but our Business Class seats are in the last car, so we’ve got a long unsteady walk the length of the train as we balance our panniers and bike helmets on our way to our seats.
I only saw our two bikes onboard, but I only checked at Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Stations, as the conductor suggested I do, “That’s where the most foot traffic is;” his hint on avoiding bike theft. I had a better idea and after using the awkward seatbelt to hold the bikes in place I slipped a cable lock around them for extra security. They weren’t traveling anywhere without me now.
So that left 5 empty bike storage slots, but the young man at the Irvine Station in line ahead of us was turned away because he didn’t have a reservation for his bike. The conductor found us on his list and we rolled right on. So there’s a flaw in the system, because the other bike could’ve easily been accommodated.
I didn’t see these instructions on how to alternate the bikes — one facing forward, the next facing back — until after I received the verbal instructions from the attentive conductor.
We’re traveling with the Bontrager integrated panniers and top bag, they’re small, but pop on and off with a single button push — easier to carry than 3 separate bags, too. Stuffing the one big bag into the overhead took 2 tries the first time, but now I’m an expert.
Then we just relaxed; we had a 6.5 hour ride ahead of us. The Orange County stations seem to fly by and soon we’re treated to urban sights like the LA River.
Eventually, we arrive at Santa Barbara then Goleta and the scenery changes; we’re traveling tight along the coastline for the next few hours.
As we approach the San Luis Obispo Station we’re eager to unlock the bikes; the panniers pop back on with a single click and in minutes we’re able to hop on the bikes and ride to our hotel. Just in time, too, the weekly Farmers Market is about to wind down. It’s a big and lively affair with lots of barbecue; a country band with fiddles and a clarinet are bangin’ out the tunes. The whole town seems to be here; the joint is jumping and we’ve only just arrived.