Shuttle Bike Ride Basics

What is a Shuttle Bike Ride?


  1. A space craft designed to transport humans from earth to outer space and back.
  2. A vehicle designed to transport humans and their bikes from point A to point B, for example, a bus or car with a bike rack on it.

For the uninitiated, a first-time bike shuttle experience may be confusing.  You’re used to beginning and ending a bike ride at the same physical location and being on your bike for the entire trip.  But what if you want to skip the climbing part of your ride and do just the downhill part?

You Need a Bike Shuttle!

There are three ways to get a bike shuttle.

  1. Hire a shuttle service to transport you and your bike to the top of a mountain.
  2. Get a bunch of cars with your friends and coordinate shuttles and return rides to cars at the top yourself.
  3. Have your significant other drive you and your buddies to the top of the mountain all day long.

Seems Simple Right?

I’m always amazed when somebody shows up to a shuttle ride with a passenger vehicle and then proceeds to pull their bike out of the trunk to assemble it at the bottom of the mountain.  Or the carpoolers that show up with a truck with five guys packed inside and the entire bed full of bikes.

How to Coordinate Self-Shuttle Bike Rides

In order to do a shuttle ride by yourselves, you need to be able to transport people back to the top of the mountain.  Let’s examine a some successful bike shuttling scenarios.

Scenario 1: 5 guys, 5 trucks that can hold 5 guys and 5 bikes.

In this scenario, the 5 guys can pack all their bikes into one of the 5 trucks and drive to the top of the mountain 5 times using a different truck each time.  The last vehicle is used to transport everyone back to their trucks with their bikes.  It’s possible to do 4 trips down the mountain, returning only once to retrieve the vehicles.  This is an ideal scenario because everyone drives to the top only once.

Scenario 2: 5 guys, 1 truck that can hold 5 guys and 5 bikes, 1 passenger vehicle that can hold 1 bike.

In this scenario, again all 5 guys can ride together in the truck with their bikes.  But each time they come down, three guys stay at the bottom with all of the bikes while two guys drive back to the top to get the truck.  They both then drive back down and repeat the process.  This works but it’s time consuming because every trip down the mountain requires two shuttle rides back to the top.

Scenario 3: Everyone shows up with a vehicle that can transport 1 extra person and 1 extra bike.

This scenario is perhaps the most confusing to newbie shuttle riders.  This doesn’t mean that your vehicle is CAPABLE of transporting other people and bikes.  It means that it WILL transport a person that did not come with you to the ride AND their bike.  In other words, you have an extra seat and you have an external bike rack with an extra open spot on it when you show up.

Showing up with a passenger vehicle and your bike in the trunk does not equate to having an extra spot in your vehicle.  But if you plan ahead and can make it work with one of the other scenarios described, you may be OK.  They key point to remember is:  Don’t assume that you have a spot in anyone else’s vehicle if you don’t have one in yours.

Let’s Examine How Bike Shuttle Rides Often Don’t Work

Scenario 1: Everybody shows up with a car that cannot transport other bikes.

Sure, most passenger vehicles can fit at least four people in them.  But if everybody has that kind of vehicle, and nobody has a bike rack or none of the bike racks can carry an extra bike, then they are all useless.  Far too often people show up to bike shuttle rides like this.  Think about it: If you all drive your vehicles to the top, how are you going to get back to your vehicles?

Scenario 2: One person has to leave early.

It’s OK if you have to leave early on most rides, but if you’re part of the shuttle ride chain, your friends are depending upon you to drive them back to the top to get their cars.  And they’re probably also thinking that the whole group is going to do multiple runs down the mountain.  It’s NOT OK to be that guy who leaves your car at the bottom all day and never drives anyone back to the top (unless you’re all paying somebody to drive a shuttle vehicle).

Scenario 3: Somebody shows up with a low fuel tank.

You don’t want to be that guy who has to go to the gas station in the middle of a shuttle bike ride day to refuel.  Make sure your gas tank is FULL before you show up to a shuttle ride.

Scenario 4: Somebody gets injured.

If the person that was supposed to drive you back to the top is injured and you have no way to get back to the top, you’re both screwed.  For that reason, it’s important to have a redundant amount of vehicles available at the bottom.  Can you imagine making your injured friend wait an additional hour or more wait while you found a way to fetch your vehicle and then take him to the hospital?  And seriously: think about why you’re doing the shuttle ride to begin with. Typically you’re going to be riding full speed ahead down the mountain.  The chances of getting injured on this kind of ride is much greater than your usual cross country rides.

Plan Ahead and Don’t Be “That Guy”