7 things you need to know about taking your bike by train in the UK
Trains connect Britain’s great cycle routes, putting you at the trail-head for thrilling mountain bike tracks or sublime journeys through the countryside. If it’s a working day, combining the bike with the train is usually the cheapest and greenest way to travel.
Just peddle up to the station and your bike can be taken on the train for free. But there’s certain restrictions and reservations to know about. Here are seven bite-sized tips for taking your bike on the train.
1. Bikes Travel for Free
Here’s the great news: there is no charge for taking your bike on the train. Yep, bicycles don’t need to pay and you don’t need to pay for them. Compare this to the cycle mad country of the Netherlands, where you must buy an additional daily ticket for taking a bicycle on the train. Not only is it free to travel with bikes on the train in Britain, many railway stations have secure free bicycle parking.
2. Peak Time Bike Restrictions
Bikes can be taken on the majority of British rail services. However, during peak travel times (weekdays 07:00 – 10:00 and 16:00 – 19:00), full-sized bikes are not permitted on commuter services to and from London. This includes all London Overground trains. They are also prohibited on weekday local rail services to and from Cardiff between 07:30 – 09:30 and 16:00 – 18:00. Note that these restrictions only apply to full-sized bikes. So if you’re using one of these services it’s still possible to travel with a commuter friendly folding bike.
3. Commuter Friendly Bikes
Fully folding bicycles with wheels up to 20″ are allowed on all trains without restriction. These bikes are also excluded from all rules regarding reservations. You must be able to carry the bike onto the train and sometimes place it in the luggage racks. Fully folding commuter bicycles have rapidly increased in popularity and are available from all major cycle outlets. Popularity and competition have seen the price decrease significantly and an entry level bike can be found for £130 to £300. High-end folding bicycles range from £500 – 1000.
More expensive bikes are usually lighter to carry and quicker to fold away, which becomes important on busy trains. When buying a folding bicycle, test whether you’re comfortable carrying the bike for around 400meters, as this may be required at some train stations.
4. Bike Reservations – What You Need to Know
While bikes go for free, they sometimes require a reservation. All trains have limited dedicated bicycle space, typically three to six spaces per service. In general, trains with a seat reservation system also have a bike reservation system. These tend to be long distance mainline and intercity services. Different operators have different rules.
- Bicycle reservations are compulsory on Greater Anglia, Virgin Trains East Coast, East Midlands mainline services, Great Western Railway services to and from London, TransPennine Express, ScotRail, Southwestern Railway trains to and from London, and Virgin Trains. (Book your bike here).
- Bicycle reservations are recommended but not compulsory on Arriva Trains Wales long and medium distance services, Caledonian Sleeper, CrossCountry, and Hull Trains. Bikes without reservation can travel subject to space.
Reservations are not available for operators not listed above and the majority of local services, for example, Northern rail services and Southern railways. On these trains, bicycles are permitted provided there is space. They must be stored so they don’t obstruct aisles or doors.
5. Locating the Cycle Space
Where bicycle reservations are compulsory or recommended, the train will have a dedicated cycle carriage. Ask platform staff for the location of the cycle space so you can board the correct carriage.
6. Bikes on Replacement Bus Services
Only fold up bikes can be taken on rail replacement bus services. Check in advance to see if there’s any planned engineering work, especially if you’re travelling at the weekend. Otherwise, it may be a long cycle home.
7. A Bicycle Made for Two?
Four legs can peddle much faster than two. But if you’re cruising on a tandem, there’s a good chance that your two-person bike won’t be allowed on the train. The same applies to bicycle trailers and tricycles. There are some exceptions. Tandems can only be carried on Greater Anglia trains and Virgin Trains East Coast trains where you’ll need to book two cycle reservations.
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