Most camping trips require that you travel some distance in the first place to "get away from it all." If you live any where near the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal you are extremely lucky because you can literally start your trip from your door. The tow path in D.C. begins just south of Georgetown University. I was in town on business for a few days and when that finished up I stayed with a friend near Dupont Circle. A simple three mile ride from Dupont Circle (in a massive downpour) put me at the start of the tow path.
If you live in the D.C. area and want to experiment with bike camping, an overnight trip would be a great way to get your feet wet. For me the trip was a bit more complex because I had to get to from NYC to D.C. in the first place - with my bike.
I travel to D.C. several times a year for business and typically I take Amtrak. However, if you want to take a bike on Amtrak you have to first find a train that will accommodate you. From NYC there were two trains per day that offered the chance to take your bike but two things were not ideal. First the time the trains left were not great - one left at 3 AM and the other at 7 AM. Second, you have to put your bike in a box in order to take it on the train.
The time and box did not excite me so I started looking at bus options. Fortunately there are numerous bus options when traveling on the east coast of the U.S. - at least the portion of the east coast from Boston to D.C. Major companies like Greyhound are well known and do provide service, however I found that Greyhound also required a box to carry a bike.
In the past I have taken a few "Chinatown" buses and I do recommend that everyone take one at least once. Consider it a "bucket list" type of experience. You definitely want to say you have done it once and you are likely to have a story or two to tell because of it. The only major downside I have found is that their fleet is a little older and it shows, and I have had an eccentric bus driver or two when riding via a Chinatown service. Fortunately from my experience Chinatown buses are not too picky about what you take on a bus and I have seen people store bikes in the luggage compartment without issue.
However, some other players have stepped into the bus arena in recent years. Two of the major companies are Megabus and Bolt. After a quick search on the Megabus site I learned that they are not bike friendly. To quote exactly - Unfortunately megabus.com buses are unable to carry bicycles.
Bolt however is bike friendly. To quote exactly:
Can I take a bicycle or golf bag?
We do allow them and consider them to be oversize items as long as space is available in the baggage area. The oversize item will count as your one bag allowed under the coach. You’ll be responsible for placing the item in the baggage bin. We will not charge you an additional fee for oversized item provided it is within your limit of one bag under the coach. BOLTBUS is not responsible for damage to oversize items or items that are not placed in normal luggage or a carrying case.
I signed up for Bolt and as it turns out both on the trip down and the trip back I was not the only one to have a bike. On both trips one other person had a bike and they did not give us any grief at all. So, Bolt gets a big thumbs up from me if you wish to travel with a bike on the east coast.
It was a bit of a struggle to find bike friendly options and I hope that going forward increased demand will wake some companies up and get them to consider more bike friendly service. It would seem with the number of people riding bikes in major cities that a mass transit company would set itself apart if it advertised as being bike friendly. Some city buses have bike racks on them and I don't see why trains or buses could not install racks that would make it possible to easily carry your bike without having to disassemble it or box it up.
Do you have mass transit bike advice? Feel free to comment.