All of our cycling trips this year involved travelling with our bicycles on some kind of a train. Now, granted, it is a stretch to include the Netherlands trip as the bikes were strapped to our car. Ignoring that for a second, we have some useful advice if you ever need to let the train take the strain.
Question One | Can I take my bike on any train?
Simply put, no! Lumo, for example, in their rush to introduce their ultra green, brand new, 100% electric Hitachi trains, forgot to think of the environmental impact of their passengers’ onward journeys. Without any carriages with dedicated bike spaces, full size bikes are a no go here. Stanstead Express are the same, although we didn’t go to the effort of finding out why. Both allow folding bikes as long as they are indeed folded, bagged up, and stored in the luggage rack.
On the London Underground, whereas folding bikes are allowed on any of their services, full sized bikes are either restricted completely (Circle Line, District Line, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan) or allowed only out in the burbs. Interestingly, bikes are allowed between Stratford and Canning Town: a distance of just two and a half miles. With all the faff of escalators, lifts and waiting for the train, I’d recommend just cycling it!
Sticking with London, some mainline services travel through stations that are managed by TfL so must comply with their policy of no full sized bicycles on deep tube sections. Great Northern restrict carrying bicycles between Drayton park and Moorgate, for example.
Finally, you should be prepared for restrictions during rush hour. Generally, this is between 7:30 and 9:30 am and 4:40 to 6:30 pm and only fully folded bikes are allowed. You should check the operator’s website for specifics as it may depend on your direction of travel.
Question Two | Do I need to book?
Yes. No. Apparently not.
Each train operator in the UK has their own rules around travelling with bicycles. Some, like LNER, or Avanti West Coast or the Caledonian Sleeper require a booking and will not let the bike on board without a dedicated ticket. C2C and Greater Anglia in Essex have no restrictions and don’t even particularly care if you find the dedicated carriages. Others companies say you should book, but don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about enforcing it.
With spaces extremely limited, where a train operator says that you should book, it is worth doing. Even if sometimes it isn’t all that easy. At Scarborough Station, after finishing our Coast to Coast ride, we were told that, having not booked in advance, we would be at the mercy of the conductor as to whether we could board or not. It appeared an hour ahead of the train arriving at the station wasn’t ‘in advance’ enough. Luckily the station manager, clearly hearing the ridiculousness of the words being said out loud, took it upon himself to phone the Trans Pennine Express Cycles Hotline to get us booked in.
Persistence pays off
It wasn’t all plain sailing in Thurso either. With the ticket office shut until 9:50 am (?) and the ScotRail Cycles Hotline not open until 8 am, I used the always open internet to book tickets to Inverness. Although the always open internet assured me cycle bookings could be made online, this was not the case. When I phoned ScotRail to get the bikes added to our booking, the representative had to call the ScotRail Cycles Even Hotter Line to secure the last two of four spaces.
Persistence in this case proved to be the right decision. The conductor was emperor like in her decisions as to whether an additional two chancers should board. A first come, first serve thumbs up for the first was certainly no consolation for the second who was told to wait four hours for the following train.
Question Three | How much does it cost?
It costs nothing to transport a bike in the UK.
That said, if you choose to travel to between Edinburgh, Newcastle and London by Lumo, they can arrange a courier to transport your full size bike. Admittedly, I was too disinterested to find out the exact cost, as I would just use LNER instead.
The elephant most definitely in the carriage here is how are they transporting bikes if not by train? Road? Air? Their green credentials are starting to brown around the edges quicker than you can say greenwashing.
Question Four | Do the trains have dedicated bicycle spaces?
Sadly, a lot of trains share bike spaces with wheelchair spaces. And a lot of able bodied or non-cyclist passengers like to hog both so they enjoy the extra space for their fat arses and big egos.
That said, newer trains have specific areas for both (cycles and wheelchairs users, that is) which are identified by their respective signs on the train doors. If you are a regular passenger, you’ll know which part of the platform to wait at. If not, the correct carriage will likely be where you’re not standing. Train companies could definitely give better signposting here.
Inter City trains or those on the West and East Coast Mainlines still have a guard’s van where a limited number of bikes can be strapped up away from the main seating area. The Caledonian Sleeper has six upright bike spaces in a cupboard opposite the luggage rack.
But the cream of the crop has to be ScotRail and their Active Travel Carriages. With around half the space of one carriage taken over by bikes storage. This really is an example of how to integrate green forms of sustainable travel. Take note Lumo. You’re doing it all wrong.
Question Five | Can I sit with my bike?
If, like us, you get separation anxiety when apart from your bike, leaving it any further away than spitting distance is a trigger. On a standard commuter train, It’s unlikely you’ll be a standing or sitting far from your bike. On long distance routes with a guard’s van or cupboard you’ll be in a different part of the train entirely. Consider using a Hip Lock Z Lock or similar for a little peace of mind and remember to take your valuables off your bike.
Question Six | Are there any bikes I can’t take?
According to The Trainline, tricycles are not considered bikes for the purposes of train travel. This obviously makes sense from a purely semantic point of view but it also means they are not allowed on trains. Tandems also aren’t allowed despite having the requisite two wheels. They are probably too long. The guidance is silent on cargo bikes.
On a more serious note, e-bikes are currently allowed on trains. Despite safety concerns over e-scooter batteries and their propensity to catch fire, e-bikes are considered much more robust and safer.