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New fast ferry to Bremerton sails Monday, but bikes with fenders, disk brakes won’t fit – UPDATED

Bike rack image from Kitsap Transit.
The new Kitsap Fast Ferry routes. Bremerton starts Monday. Kingston is scheduled for July 2018. Southworth in 2020.

Kitsap Transit is set to start service on the first of its new walk-on fast ferries to downtown Seattle Monday.

The first route will provide a much faster alternative to the Washington State Ferry to Bremerton (about a half hour vs an hour on the state ferry). You can reserve a seat online, though limited walk-up tickets will also be available.

But many (most?) people hoping to bring their bikes on the new ferry may find that their rides don’t fit on the custom hanging bike racks installed on the Rich Passage 1 vessel, the Kitsap Sun reports.

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Bikes with fenders (!), fat tires, some kinds of front racks, or disk brakes will not fit, Kitsap Transit cautions. E-bikes are also not allowed due to weight concerns. And it seems unlikely many cargo or family bikes will fit even if they don’t have e-assist motors, fenders or disk brakes.

Kitsap Transit is aware of the issue and is working with the vessel manufacturer on a solution:

“We have shared our concerns with the boat’s manufacturer and their engineers are working on a fix for the Rich Passage 1,” said Kitsap Transit spokesperson Sanjay Bhatt. “Once we have an idea of what that fix looks like, we will be able to give the bicycle community an update on our timeline for retrofitting the vessel.”

UPDATE 7/14: “Passengers departing Bremerton can use a newly installed test bike rack at the head of the gangway to see if their bicycle fits in the fast-ferry’s bike racks,” Kitsap Transit said in a press release. “Kitsap Transit is also coordinating with King County on the installation of a test bike rack near the dock for passengers departing Seattle. Based on community feedback, Kitsap Transit is expediting plans to retrofit its fast ferry over the winter to accommodate a wider variety of bicycles and exploring the options with bike-rack designers.”

Kitsap Transit recently hosted a workshop with West Sound Cycle Club to try several different bikes on the racks to see what fits.

“We got some useful feedback that we relayed to the firm that built the racks and is working on a solution,” said Bhatt.

Here’s another angle of the bike rack design:

This seems like a classic case of designing a clever bike rack that works really well, but with only one type of bike. But disk brakes are already very common and are only becoming more standard across the bike industry. Fat tires are very popular these days, as well. And this is rainy Western Washington, so almost everyone has fenders on their bikes if they are using them for everyday, year-round transportation.

Ironically, many people who ride fenderless road bikes that will work on the bike racks also wear bike cleat shoes, which also are not allowed on the ferry.

For comparison, the King County Water Taxi bike parking has more deck space to work with, so bikes can simply be held upright by floor racks like this:

With a bit of work, you can even get your bike on the little Kitsap Transit ferry from Bremerton and Port Orchard. If you are very tenacious, you can even get a big family bike on it, as demonstrated by Madi Carlson of FamilyRide.

Hopefully the manufacturer can come up with a design that at least works on most people’s bikes, though hanging bikes will always be a barrier for people who are not able to easily lift them. Some more deck space would be needed to accommodate bigger family and cargo bikes that cannot be hung, though the hydrofoil vessel also has some rather specific weight balance considerations that could make heavy bikes harder to accommodate.

For now, at least people have the option to take their bikes on the state ferry instead. Or people starting their trips in Kitsap can lock their bikes in Bremerton and take a private bike share bike when they get into Seattle.

However, bike parking is an absolutely critical issue for the Seattle-to-Kingston route, which is scheduled to start operations in a year. That ferry will revolutionize Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula bike connections to Seattle, cutting about 1:30 of biking out of the trip from downtown Seattle to Kingston.

If you are headed to Port Gamble, for example, the trip by Fast Ferry and bike will only take about 1:15. That’s about 15 minutes faster than driving (assuming you can even make it on the first ferry with your car) and about an 1:45 faster than it takes to bike there today (using Google Maps estimates).

Biking from downtown Seattle to Port Townsend with the Kingston Fast Ferry will take about 3:30 and shave 11 miles off the trip. So Port Townsend will be about the same biking distance from downtown Seattle as Snoqualmie Falls.

So here’s to hoping Kitsap Transit and the manufacturer improve the bike carrying capacity of these ferries. Because they could do wonders for regional bike transportation, both for commuting and for regional adventuring.

Here’s the current warning for people trying to bring bikes on the Bremerton Fast Ferry.

Bicycles are welcome aboard on a first-come first-served basis. Crews will direct passengers on secure placement of their bikes in one of the 12 exterior racks. The current design of the existing bike rack (each with inside openings of 2.25″) makes it impossible to safely secure bikes with fenders, disc brakes, or balloon tires. Vessel weight restrictions also prohibit electric bikes. Shoes with metal sports cleats are not allowed in passenger areas.

UPDATE: More on how the bike rack design came to be, from Bhatt:

We hear the concerns about the bike racks on the Rich Passage 1 not fitting some bicycles with disc brakes, fenders or balloon tires. We are working with the shipyard that built the vessel to see if we can come up with a better solution that will cover a broader variety of bicycles. Because we don’t know what that solution is yet, we don’t know how much it would cost or what it would entail.

As the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. The RP1’s bike racks were designed in 2009, before significant shifts happened in bicycle braking technology and consumer preferences. In the past two years, disc brakes have become popular on road bikes. Electric bikes also are catching on, but we can’t allow them because they are heavier and could throw off balance our required weight ratios for operations.

It’s also worth noting that it would be difficult for the bike racks on our current and future vessels to accommodate “all or most bikes” because there is no standard in the bicycle industry: There are more than a dozen categories of bicycles, including road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, cruiser bikes, city bikes, BMX bikes, folding bikes, recumbent bikes and tandem bikes.

Designing for such diversity forces tradeoffs: Wider bike racks would accommodate more types of bicycles but take up more space, reducing the vessel’s bike capacity (fewer bikes). Our design for the RP1 and future vessels provides bike racks for 10 percent of passengers (i.e. 12 racks on the 118-seat RP1), a common industry ratio.

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24 responses to “New fast ferry to Bremerton sails Monday, but bikes with fenders, disk brakes won’t fit – UPDATED”

  1. SGG

    What a bunch of poor excuses. Look at the King County Water Taxi. You can put any bike on there. This is a classic example of having someone design a bike rack who they themselves would never use. People don’t understand and it would take a modicum of effort and time to review best practices. So now the result is a lack of function on the ferry and likely significant resources wasted designing and building a rack that no one can use. Also, they need to get over the bike cleat thing.

    1. Meredith

      Technically bike cleats aren’t allowed above the car deck on Washington state ferries either, and I can assure that this is NEVER enforced

      1. Perry

        The sign on the ferries says “No Sport Cleats” I’ve always assumed that means baseball / soccer/ football cleats. My spd’s don’t protrude below the rubber on the shoes.

  2. Steven Lorenza

    To anyone following this at all, it’s clear that Kitsap transit has no idea what they are doing. And saying that fenders are trendy since 2009 is laughable.

    They promised the voters that federal money would fall from the sky. Instead they just bonded about 4 years of future revenue, which they will need to cover subsidies of $40-$70 per round trip ride, to pay for capital costs the feds won’t.

    This service will bleed cash a few years, voters will reject the next tax increase, and it will mostly go away.

    1. Meredith

      Maybe, maybe not. They have timed the start of service to coincide with the decent into madness that will be the Colman dock replacement project. A lot of current Bainbridge/Bremerton riders are likely to want to avoid that madness and the foot ferry gives them more options

      1. Steven Lorenza

        The problem is operating costs not ridership. Foot ferries are also being reshuffled during construction at colman dock.

        And 118 people at rush hour? That’s about a city bus and a half.

      2. Steven has a real point here. These boats aren’t like trains that can carry very large numbers of riders per-trip, an efficiency that (ideally) justifies their high up-front costs. Handling high ridership requires running a lot of boats, and each trip is expensive to run. Train lines that don’t achieve high ridership have the same problem; here the lack of potential to bring per-rider costs down is built into the technology.

        Worse still, when it comes to the long-term viability of this service, is how much of that cost goes to fossil fuels. My understanding is that the per-rider carbon footprint is very high. That means it will either get more expensive or more politically fraught as real measures to control emissions come into play. That’s one thing for occasional inter-city trips, but if we’re talking about it growing into a mass daily commute option, it gets more significant.

        I guess we’ll see. I don’t know whether the electrification potential of boats is more like ground vehicles (where it’s practical across an ever-growing range of applications as battery technology improves) or airplanes (where there’s apparently very little potential for high-speed, high-capacity electric vehicles).

      3. Meredith

        I know you were referencing capital costs, my point is that Kitsap taxpayers are somewhat more likely to keep funding this venture if it helps them avoid the nightmare boondoggle of having to take WSF during the Coleman dock replacement. Frankly some of them might have to, the navy is throwing a fit right now because they have 100+ employees who are going to start missing the Bremerton ferry due to the proposed schedule change… http://www.kitsapsun.com/story/news/2017/06/13/colman-dock/393197001/

      4. Meredith

        Also (and I’m also a Kitsap/Seattle commuter) the impact on the foot ferries is going to be minimal compared to the WSF boats. They’re getting shuffled in August to the North end of the terminal, with minimal impacts for a while from there.

      5. RossB

        Generally speaking, what kills transit ideas is when they are woefully underfunded, or simply not as popular as people expected. The former is common when building things (for example the monorail, or the initial Sound Transit light rail plan) but rare when it comes to maintenance. The latter is common as well (e. g. building a light rail line to distant suburbs and having way lower than expected ridership). This in turn leads to funding shortages and cutbacks in service (e. g. running the train a lot less often).

        For these ferries, I doubt the first problem will come up. I figure they did the math, and know how much it will cost to run the ferry. As long as they fill the boats, they will be fine.

        For Bremerton to Seattle, I assume the boats will be full fairly quickly. These boats aren’t that big, which means they should all fill up. At worst I see the very early ferry (5:40 AM) not filling up, but that seems like a very easy problem to solve (simply run it later).

        I have less confidence in the Kingston ferry. There just aren’t as many people there. You have to drive a ways to get more people, and those people have other options (like taking a ferry from Bainbridge).

        Southworth is somewhere in the middle. Again, not many people there, but at least if you are in Port Orchard, you might head there (instead of Bremerton).

        Which basically means the most expensive run (to Kingston) will likely be the least popular, and thus the most likely to be cut (if it comes to that).

  3. Andrew Sapuntzakis


    granted, they won’t address the problem for those who can’t raise/lower their bikes, and I don’t know how well they’ll stand up to sea spray, but brakes and fenders should clear.

  4. My favorite part is when they say that ebikes are too heavy to be allowed on board. Um. If they’re allowing cars on and not counting the people within, that’s like a child from a van deciding if they want to stay inside or go out on the deck.

    1. bikes@sea

      It’s a passenger-only ferry. I don’t recommend you try to drive on.

  5. William

    I think the cycling community should give Kitsap Transit a break. They have screwed up, they have admitted this, and they are trying to fix the problem. Contrast this with Sound Transit that has spent billions on light rail and ended up with train cars with a very inefficient design in terms of the use of space that has limited room for bikes, requires the rider to be able to lift them and precludes oversized bikes. Maybe I missed it but I am not aware of a similar mea culpa coming from the inflated bureaucracy of Sound Transit – instead they just arrogantly responded that is what we have to live with.

    1. Steven Lorenza

      Urban light rail and a far flung passenger ferry are quite different. But as someone who lives in Kitsap and works in Seattle I can assure you that most people view Kitsap transit also as an inflated bureaucracy. Albeit one that isn’t providing actual infrastructure like sound transit. A tiny transit agency hires a spokesman….and this is the best response they come up with? Rather than saying we messed up and are fixing it ASAP, it’s “those demanding cyclists and their fads (fenders!!) no one can keep up with.”

      1. William

        Well if the cycling community are happy with crummy bike carrying facilities akin to those on link light rail trains, it will be a pretty simple and cheap fix to install the same type of “hooks” on the new Kitsap ferry instead of the current design.

        Are they charging extra for bikes – if not then cyclists are getting a free ride

      2. Perry

        William, your imprecise language creates a lie. Cyclists are not getting a free ride. Cyclists will pay exactly as much as every other passenger on the ferry. I’m willing to cut Kitsap Transit some slack and give them some time to correct before passing judgment.

      3. William

        @Perry, Yes my language is imprecise but it is not clear why you or anybody else should expect the ferry should carry bikes for free since they take up space that could in principal be use for additional passengers. If there was an extra charge for bikes then cyclists would have stronger leverage to demand improve storage solutions.

      4. Perry

        William, The expectation is that Kitsap Transit will provide the service to commuters that it advertised for the bond measure. I didn’t have a vote on whether it would cost extra to bring a bike on board nor did I have a vote on how many bikes spots were available. KT made those decisions using, hopefully, surveys and business models that satisfied the most customers to get the seats on the ferry consistently filled. I don’t complain about the $1 charge for bikes on WSF despite their lack of dedicated bike storage and I don’t think most other cyclists do either.

  6. Josh

    “Balloon tires” ? Seriously, people are commuting on 1930s roadsters?

    If balloon tires were suddenly popular again, that would be an unexpected development. But 2.5″ and larger mountain bike tires have been popular since long before 2009.

  7. Apu

    I don’t think we need to jump on Kitsap Transit too hard about this, but it highlights a fairly common mindset in the US wherein most people – even transit agencies, apparently – subconsciously associate biking with recreation rather than transportation/commuting.

  8. Eli

    I have an idea. Let’s make a ferry that won’t fit common luggage, and have our PR person explain that:

    “Once we have an idea of what that fix looks like, we will be able to give the suitcase community an update on our timeline for retrofitting the vessel.”

    Saying “bicycle community” rather than “our customers with bicycles” feels like a lack of cultural awareness that the desire to take a bicycle on a ferry doesn’t implicate being part of some minority spandex club.

  9. […] bicycle racks that are unable to fit bicycles with fenders, disc bakes, or fat tires, much to the ire of cyclists more used to the roomy King County Water Taxi accommodations. As a consolation, the state ferries […]

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