Anatomy of a Multi-Modal Commute

Ready for Anything

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 train 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 down time 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.

My old two-hour round-trip commute by car did nothing but add to my daily stress quotient. Now I look forward to my commute and arrive relaxed and refreshed; even without the numerous other benefits, this makes it well worth the effort.

5 Responses to “Anatomy of a Multi-Modal Commute”

  • Mike says:

    Hey Alan,

    I finally did my first multi-modal commute this morning. I started about 2 weeks later than I had planned. Had some minor problems getting my bike locker :VA dept of transportation (VDOT) sent me the wrong bike locker key and that took a couple of weeks to resolve.

    My bike route is a combination road, MUT, and shortcut through a closed road. The MUT has sections with broken glass. I found this out during one of my practice runs. – better than finding the broken glass on my commute. BTW – Learned the hard way that broken glass makes very short work of Schwalbe stelvios. Let’s see how my Specialized Nimbus Armadillos handle the broken glass. Scenery wise, the route is nothing spectacular, but I left the house early enough to watch the sun color the sky a spectacular red! I just don’t notice stuff like than I’m fighting traffic. I am not looking to my bike ride home – Weather forecast is from 20-30 mph winds from the west and I’ll be riding right into the teeth of the wind.

    My bike is outfitted with Dinotte headlight and tail lights. In addition a Blackburn Mars 2.0 tail light is mounted on the rear rack and a Planet Bike Super Blinky is mounted on my helmet. Either I look like a moving Christmas Tree or a low flying UFO :).

    Your website looks awesome!


  • Andrea says:

    It is so wonderful to see an increasing number of people discovering the beauty of a folder in a multi-modal commute. I commute daily from the Maryland ‘burbs into DC and my folder (a Dahon Speed Pro TT) has made the commute fun, fast, healthy, pollution-free, and flexible. With my folder, I have so many options available – bus, commuter train, Metro. It is wonderful to have this flexibility, especially in an area where these systems are not as reliable as they should be. As gas prices and the cost of living continue to increase, I am meeting more and more people who are ditching their cars (and even public transportation) for a bike. Bike trails and lanes in the DC-Metro area, once only lightly used, are now filled with cyclists. It’s a great sight!

  • Alan says:

    Hi Andrea,

    It’s great to hear you’re seeing so many new cyclists in your area! I’m seeing the same around here too. Many appear to be non-enthusiasts – this is good! A good portion of the bikes appear to be older models that have recently been taken down out of the rafters and dusted off to be used for transportation. I hope the trend continues!


  • Jim says:

    Is it possible to take a bicycle, say, from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, IL via the Amtrak Empire Builder? Anyone know for sure?

  • Multi-Modal Commuting | The Rambling Rider says:

    […] had considered doing a commute similar to what is described here, using a folding bike, so that my commute would then become bike to the station, ride the Metro, […]

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