Carrying your bike on a UK train

Updated

Taking a cycle on a train isn't plain sailing, it can be a daunting task, but persevere it's worth it!

I love travelling by train. It's a different picture all the time, one can view the scenery go by and be at ease. One doesn't have to concentrate on the road ahead and there's no traffic jams. I can have a coffee and biscuit (short bread unless you bring your own) still hurtling through the countryside. On this page- we will show you how to book a ticket for your bike on a UK train, there's also quick look matrix to compare how bike friendly all the UK rail companies are, and a few bits and bob's on how to avoid a few pitfalls travelling with your bike, plus the best part- how to get cheaper tickets.

Taking your bike on a train shouldn't be traumatising, but when you've managed to get your bike on board amongst amongst the swirl of other passengers fighting to squeeze through the same door as you, there's always a sense of repose and relief when you're sat in your seat pulling away from the station. To get to this stage isn't straight forward though, for there seems to be inconsistencies with the train operators cycle policies and reality. Most state they're happy to accept cycles on trains and on the face of it, some of their web pages actively encourage them. That's where the 'white lies' end, for when you read between the lines, you can see a lot of the privatised train companies have a 'dark side' concerning cyclists. To get the information we need to carry a bike on UK trains, I've trolled the train companies cycle pages for you, but lets start with reserving a space for your bike.

For the UK, book your tickets through 'National Rail Enquiries'

Though you can buy your tickets at the station, I find booking your tickets from the National Rail Enquiries site is better (and you get the best price, honestly). I've created an imaginary journey; Newport to Winchester. The process is relatively easy to book a journey for a pedestrian; select a date, time, select the destinations and click . Don't buy the tickets yet, we need to see if your train operator accepts bikes (the UK train companies have differing rules on bikes).

It gets slightly convoluted to get the bike on board now, so let's try and walk you through the process. The next page will take you to your end to end journey with a selection of times near what you wanted. You may notice there's different prices, this usually correlates with the number of 'changes', it seems the more changes there are, the more expensive the ticket, it could also be a premium time. Obviously the less changes we do, the less we take the bike on and off the train. Now, click 'view details' on this page.

The image now shows the route split into each connecting leg of your journey, in our test ticket it's- 'Newport to Reading', 'Reading to Basingstoke', 'Basingstoke to Winchester'. Click the 'plus bike' icon, it will open up a box for the one leg of the journey. That will tell you, type of bikes allowed (if any), how many on your selected train, if it needs a reservation, which company does this leg of the route and which carriages have the cycle accommodation. Nifty aye? But, we're not passed go yet!

This looks OK, the leg of the journey between 'Newport and Reading' accepts bikes, what it doesn't tell me is if there's a bike space available on my choosen train. For this we need to go back to the main page and click (you don't have to pay yet), you should be directed to the specific train operators website (in this case GWR), where you may have to select the ticket journey again, click . You may have to reserve a seat before the bike, but you still don't have to pay yet. Now, scroll down to 'extras' which should have a reservation button for bikes. Success- you can see on this leg of the journey I have reserved a bike. You may notice the operators site have added another leg of the journey; Newport to Bristol Temple Meads and Bristol Temple Meads to Reading. Don't worry about this, it's likely they're just changing drivers (which means you won't have to get off). You should be able to reserve a bike space before committing to buying the ticket, but not all train operators have this function. Yes, I know, how ridiculous is buying a ticket before you know you can get the bike on-board!

Don't get disappointed if it says sorry no bikes available, try again with a different time. Repeat this process for each leg of the journey. Cycle reservations are only valid for one train. Journeys that involve multiple changes or operators will require multiple reservations for each part of the journey. This may take a little of your time, but once you get used to it, it will be quicker than the time it takes you to travel to the station. The ticket person at the station will go through the same process as you would've at home, so getting the tickets at the station is not quicker. If this is not for you or you can't get the result you want (as some operators don't allow booking of cycles through their websites at all, come on it's only 2020, give them a chance), goto any manned station ticket booth, give them your journey and let them sort it out (it will cost more, but they'll deny this- that's another story!), or phone the train operator up (usually premium rates). It may not be possible to reserve a space for your cycle on all the legs of your journey. So you may want to just chance it and take your bike on-board without a ticket (you're not committing any transgression by doing this, but you may be asked to get off if there are too many bikes on board).

Little White Lies

Now you've got your tickets, with a bike reservation/ s, it might scare you to know that; the train company doesn't have to honour the transport of your bike. What! I hear you say. The research I did when updating this page left me gob-smacked by the inconstancies re-transport of bicycles on our privatised rail system. People from other countries looking at the train company list below will see just how disjointed the UK rail system is, as in most European countries the railways are nationalised (that means one website for each country). There are currently (2020) twenty eight train companies operating Government rail franchises in the UK. Each have their own cycle policies and facilities for bikes. Cycle parking at stations has improved tremendously over the years and that's a positive step, but up until now I haven't seen (in writing) the real reason why there's good cycle parking at each station- they don't want you to take your bike on the train. One company suggested that you; "Buy two cycles and keep one at each end of your journey" and another advised they may ask you 'not to bring it (the bike) on board - even at times when bikes are normally allowed'.

I've extensively travelled Europe mostly on trains, their bike culture far outpaces the UK and they've been providing generations of support for cyclists on trains. Cycling is indoctrinated into the population, children in Europe are taught to ride before they're even old enough to go to school, when they attend school you will see hundreds of kids bikes outside. This is reinforced by cycle friendly cities and public transport. It's not uncommon to have thirty bikes on a train, and a few countries even have double-decker bike carriages (click or hover over image to see the Japanese bike carriage).

In 2018 the European Parliament's Transport and Tourism Committee voted to support a proposal to introduce a minimum of eight bicycle spaces on all new and refurbished trains. Our privatised train companies knew this and even consulted with UK cycling bodies, but as usual they followed the 'consult-to-ignore process', ignoring both the European Parliament and public consultation. UK train companies have failed to embrace the cycling revolution and are stuck in an early seventies attitude, leaving their cycle capacity and storage woefully inadequate on our trains and with the Covid19 legacy their anti-cyclist transportation policies have backfired. Let's be totally honest, it's nothing short of a total disgrace, in 2020 the ability to carry bikes on UK trains has gone backwards.

The UK train operators (2020)

Sadley, the train companies web pages don't always give accurate or concise guidance either. Hover or click the icons for more information or see the key to the symbols at the bottom of the matrix. The 'peak time' restrictions are usually in and out of London (or other major cities), these restrictions are normally lifted on Bank holidays (when the UK does most of its track maintenance), weekends, or special events (eg; London to Brighton cycle ride). 'Thetrainline®' have a nice detailed map of the UK train operators (2019). You can book your whole journey (even if the route is run by another company) through any of the train operators websites below.

Train Company
(Click for company cycle page)
Reservation
required
Online bike
Reservation
Reservation
telephone
Number of
bikes per train
Peak time
restriction
0345 528 0253
(with ticket)
0745-0945
1630-1830
0330 060 0500
0600-1000
1630-1930Different restrictions in various areas
03447 369 123
(Option 3)
03457 444 422
(Option 6)For 3 or more cycles
0713-0930
1630-1835
0730-0930
1600-1900
03457 125 678
0700-1000
1600-1900
0345 603 4852
(Option 5) Only two bikes can be reserved
0345 600 7245
(Option 8) Only compulsory London to Norwich & visa versa
0745-0945
1630-1830
0700-0930
1600-1900
0345 7000 125 0745-0945
1630-1900
03450 710 222
0345 6000 650
03457 225 333
0700-1000
1600-1900
0344 811 0141
(Option 3)
0700-1000
1600-1900
0700-1000
1600-1900
0345 6000 650 0715-1000
1645-1900
0730-0930
1600-1900
0700-1000
1600-1900
0345 600 1671
(Option 3)
0333 3211 202
(Option 5)
0730-0930
1600-1800
0700-1000
1600-1900
Key Key

Reservations are compulsory

Reservations are recommended

Some recommended, some compulsory

Reservations are not required

No Reservations folding bikes only

Cycle can be booked with ticket

Number of bikes on each train

The website doesn't contain this information

Contact the train operator to add the bike

Yellow dots means there's a Tooltip here


GWR's new Class 800 IET's

By the end of 2019 the old class 43 HST's will be gone, replaced by GWR's new Class 800 IET's. For a scary quick update of these trains, click here to go to our 'news' section.

The Latest HS trains

DMU train On the latest generation of high-speed British trains their bike compartments are about the size of a double wardrobe. They remind me of that cupboard where you throw stuff you don't want to chuck out, but don't want the stuff to be seen either. They allegidly take two bikes hung vertically from hooks, the fabrication of the hanger is unsuitable for any wheels wider than those of a typical road bike. You can see in the image, there's one gravel bike, one road bike and you can't close doors. While vertical storage is an effective use of space, it deters cyclists from using trains. I've actually seen a 'Dutch type of bike' advertised on the C2C trains bike page, you'd be lucky to get the handlebars in through the doors let alone lift the weighty thing up onto the hooks. The web designers (and C2C boffin's who obviously agreed the design of the page) clearly, have never picked one up.

There is a serious issue lifting your bike onto an overhead hook, on a moving train, with other passengers around you, it's simply not safe. Two of my bikes are electric and even though 'ScotRail' suggest taking the battery off the bike before hanging it, I would still struggle to lift the bike, besides, hanging the bike from the front wheel can damage the bike, the weight of the bike would stress the fork crown (it's not designed to take weight in this direction). And it looks like mountain bikers are out of luck too, the downhill MTB's handlebars wouldn't get through the doors of the bike wardrobe and their tyres are too big for the hangers anyway (no need to go down the fat bike explanation). One train company suggests if your tyre is too big; try letting air out of your front tyre to store your bike in the racks. What a great idea- then you can spend fifteen minutes on the platform (while the other passengers walk past you) pumping your tyre back up with a mini-pump. You could get a quick release spindle to replace the front wheel and use that to hang the bike up (instead of a front wheel). A word of advice- if you manage to get your bike secured into this wardrobe, make sure you try and get it out well before your stop, people has missed their stops trying to get them down especially with other bikes jammed in there.

Turbostar type trains

Turbostar train The turbostar type trains have a few bike storage options (Click or hover over image on right to see options); sometimes they have hangers like the High Speed trains or a dedicated place by the toilets (maybe the rail companies are trying to tell us something) or a tiny space by the disabled area. At least the turbostars have double automatic doors which are much easier to pass through with panniers, but the interconnecting corridor doors are standard, so make sure you enter where the little cycle symbol is on the door. Be aware, some conductors will ask bikeys to remove panniers (as per their train company policies), but this has only happened to me once in three years, bear in mind if you're hanging your bike up, the panniers have to come off (again because of the stress on the fork crown). The position by the large revolving toilet is particularly compact, especially for two bikes, keep them in tight as the refreshment trolley still has to get past. My chum and I have had one instance of the refreshment guy trying to ram the trolley past our bikes.

The 'DMU' trains.

DMU train DMU-storage These smaller trains can be one carriage (like the Settle to Carlisle or Heart of Wales line in the winter) to half a dozen. The bike spaces on these trains are ridiculously awkward and are only suitable for childrens's bikes. The space is only big enough to take ¾ of a full bike, you have to turn turn the front wheel 90° to get it in, people generally just end up standing with their bike next to the bike space. Even though this area is designated for wheelchair users (as first priority) then cyclists, the general public often sit there. They may get up for a wheelchair, but I guarantee they won't move for a cyclist. You can't reserve cycles on these small trains. The cycle storage entrance will have a small cycle image on the door or near the door. Like the HST there should be a small sign about two thirds along the platform either way where the driver stops (like '2/3 stop'), if you stand in the middle of those signs you can watch for the cycle carriage as the train comes in.

London underground

The Metropolitan Railway was the world's first underground railway, it opened in 1863 using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. Obviously the steam engines had to be close to the surface to vent the smoke. When traction technology and tunnelling knowledge improved, the lines could go deeper. Thus, the London Underground is a mixture of deep and near surface lines and is still being added to today with 'Crossrail'. The London Underground only allow full size cycles on surface or near-surface lines. Lifts must be used to descend to (or asscend from) the platform, it's forbidden to use the escalators with bikes. Full size cycles are completely banned between 07.30 and 09.30 and 16.00 to 19.00 Monday to Friday. Outside these peak hours, cycles are permitted anywhere on the:

Circle, District, East London, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

They also allow bikes between some other stations on other lines (generally overground lines), see TFL site for more information. The new 's7' on the Circle, District, and Hammersmith & City lines have great new walk-through cars, they don't have specific cycle areas, but they're easy to get the bike on board and the bike goes anywhere. TFL has also incorporates 'the Docklands Light Railway' (DLR) an automated light metro system serving the redeveloped Docklands area of London. The same Peak time restrictions apply (weekdays only), but apart from those, since 2014 you can take your bike on any station on the DLR.

General information.

Some operators will not accept full bikes at any time, only allowing folding bikes. Folded bikes are usually excepted anywhere on trains (and buses), some operators will ask the bikes to be bagged. If there's a problem with your train they won't carry non-folding bikes on any replacement coach services. You should arrive ten minutes before the train is due to depart. The problem is until the train arrives, other bikeys or the public don't know exactly where the bike storage compartment is. Fear not, the more you travel by train the easier it gets. All that aside, ask the station staff for assistance, they are there every day and will often have a good idea where the bike storage compartment is on a specific train. They don't like you to lock your bike to any part of the train, but bikes have been stolen from inside trains. So, if I left it unattended I would lock it.

There's a good page on a site called 'A2b' featuring most of the major train operators and contact information (although the site may not be 100% up to date), there's even information on some heritage railways. Top tip- book your tickets early, uk rail tickets go on sale around three months in advance. Have a look at an advance fantasy journey, then follow the trend price of the ticket. It's price will drop and will be cheapest around 50 days in advance, as the ticket gets nearer your travel date the price will increase. The most expensive tickets are same day or day before. Consider splitting your journey into different legs (go back to the top of this article to see how the train operators split the journey up), you may get the overall price cheaper. There's a website called 'RailEasy' that will do this for you. There's also loads of discount railcards out there to reduce the price even further.

Is it hassle taking your bike on a train?

I won't lie; yes it is. But even with the hustle and bustle, watching people rushing around their lives- taking the bike on the train; there's no rush for me. Plan your journey in good order and you will have time between your connections to have a coffee and watch the world go by. People always stress trying to get on the train, for some reason they think if they don't hurry, the train will just pull away just as they're still stepping on the train. Even with as much whistle blowing as you like, the train won't move unless the doors are shut. If you do miss a train and it's the rail service's fault- perhaps the connecting train was late or your train was cancelled - your reservation will generally be honoured on the next available train. Even if it is your fault, speak to conductor they're 'people guys' and will usually be sympathetic to your cause and let you on. You could of course, end up sat next to the 'village idiot' verbalising absolute bile, or the 'person with a hygiene issue', or you could sit near the most interesting person you've ever met in your life (and that has happened a few times too), but if you don't get out there, you'll never know. To me, taking a train to a start point of a tour (however many days), is the start of my holiday. Despite the bother of getting your bike on the train, once it's on, it's totally worth the effort, and becomes all part of the travelling experience.



Go to top