- Taking a bike on a train
- Taking a bike on a rail replacement bus
- Taking a bike in a car
- Taking a bike on trams/underground/light rail
While a bike can take you from door to door, it can also be part of a longer journey involving a train or car. This takes a bit of planning but it can be done. Here’s how.
Most of the UK’s train operating companies will carry bikes on trains free of charge, though some place restrictions on this during peak hours. Some companies require the cyclist to book in advance while others operate on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Check the company’s policy. An up-to-date list of UK train operating companies can be found via the National Rail enquiries site. The best way to get up-to-date details on cycle policies is to google the name of the train operating company and “cycle policy”. (A summary of the various cycle policies was published on the website of A to B magazine in 2012, but some of the info there is now out of date.)
Making a cycle reservation
Cycle reservations usually need to be made at least 24 hours before the journey.
Cycle reservations can be made online when buying a ticket via train companies who use the WebTIS online booking system, e.g. FirstGroup (including TransPennine Express and Hull Trains) and Chiltern Railways. ScotRail is reported to offer the same functionality while also offering free postage of tickets to your home address, though I havn’t used this site.
The Hull Trains website returns (the wrong) generic error message if it doesn’t like your password (e.g. if your password is not strong enough or if it contains an invalid character – if the password you create is not accepted, try a different one). GWR’s site implements the cycle reservation function poorly so is not worth using. There is a discussion at YACF forum about the advantages and limitations of various sites.
Prior to 2017, cycle reservations were available via the East Coast Trains website. That franchise was subsequently given to Virgin who relaunched the website during August 2017 without the cycle booking functionality. That issue is discussed at the CyclingUK forum.
Cycle reservations can be made in person at a train station ticket office, though you may need to use a smartphone (or similar device) at the station to book advance ticket deals (available online).
Folding bikes should not need reservations as they can be treated as luggage when they’re folded. Note that some train companies refer to ‘Bromptons’ in their cycle policies when they mean ‘folding bikes’.
At the train station
Ask station staff which carriage bikes go in. If they don’t know, wait for the train to pull up and look for the bike symbol on the train doors. With some trains, bikes go in an end car, either at the front or at the back of the train. With others, bikes go in a carriage towards the centre of the train.
On the train
Some trains carry bikes horizontally, others carry them vertically. Vertical storage requires the cyclist to balance the bike on its rear wheel and hang it on a hook (as pictured).
On some commuter routes cycle spaces contain flip-up seats. Be aware that passengers using these seats may not realise that the space is intended for cycles and may object to a request to move.
Full size bikes are allowed in the luggage hold on some rail replacement bus services (which are usually coaches), however, in practice the driver decides whether s/he will carry it. When the bike is in the luggage hold, it is not secured to anything so it can slide around when the driver brakes. Coach companies should allow a folding bike just as they would allow any piece of luggage of that size. You may want to carry a slip cover or a bag for the folding bike so it can be stowed as luggage without the driver or other passengers worrying about other luggage being dirtied. Bags and slip covers are available for popular brands of folding bike.
A bike will fit into most cars if the car’s parcel shelf is removed and the back seats are folded down and bike’s front wheel is removed. It can be surprisingly tricky because the handlebar sticks out and flops around, so leave plenty of time and get help if necessary: the job is much easier with two people. When unloading the bike, remember to reconnect the front brake after refitting the wheel. Of course, none of this is necessary with a folding bike, which should fit in a car boot.
Check the relevant operator’s website for any policy restricting cycles. The policy may state that only folding bikes are allowed and then only if they are covered. Bags and slip covers for popular brands of folding bike are available to buy online. A small folder such as a Brompton will fit in a bin bag; this ought to be enough to satisfy a tram operator’s requirement that the bike is covered. A list of UK light rail operators can be found here.