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Taking your bike on the train this Autumn

While summer may now be a distant memory, the easing of Covid restrictions has at least reignited the prospect of an autumn filled with activities (which were muted this time last year with the arrival of the second lockdown).

Cycling, growing apace over the previous 18 months, will remain a central part of hobbying and commuting – indeed, you might be looking to travel further afield with your bike now things have opened up. Placing your bike in/on your car may seem enticing then, but in the spirit of cutting down on emissions, why not try incorporating trains into your cycling lifestyle this autumn?

Many train companies have jumped on the cycling explosion and have launched special carriages with more spaces for bike storage, including Scotrail and LNER, with the latter’s Azuma trains even having room for tandems. Other companies may have slightly stricter policies but taking a bike on UK trains is free and a great way of extending your cycling horizons. Here we go through the important things to keep in mind if you are thinking of taking your bike on the train.

Before beginning, it must be said that many companies have restrictions on when and what bikes can be taken on. Trikes and tandems for example are usually excluded from trains because of their size, and normal size bikes are often restricted during Peak hours (Monday to Friday, 6:00 until 10:00 and 16:00-19:00 [excluding bank holidays]), especially on services for large cities. However, folding bikes are never restricted.

Some companies will also require reservations for space when you are booking, including Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, TransPennine Express, ScotRail, South Western Railway, Avanti West Coast, Caledonian Sleeper and Hull Trains. Other services recommend reservation but it is not compulsory, including Transport for Wales, Lumo and Grand Central Railway, while many others do not require reservation at all, including Northern, Southern, Southeastern, Overground, Chiltern, Gatwick Express, C2C, Great Northern, Heathrow Express, Island Line, London Northwestern Railway, Merseyrail, Stansted Express (only folding bikes allowed), Thameslink and West Midlands trains.

The process of booking also depends on the company, along with how many slots they will have available that day. For example, some reasons for declining a reservation include that all the bike storage places could have been already booked online, or that the service only operates on an in-person, first-come, first-served policy for bike storage.

It is also advisable to check whether the station you’re getting on at has step-free access, or check how many flights of stairs you may need to carry the bike up and down (it might make sense to start or end your journey at different stations if this is a problem). Alternatively, you can ask station staff for help getting your bike on and off the train.

Similarly, prepare for getting your bike into the storage space being more of a hassle than anticipated – most bikes are stored vertically, which can be difficult to achieve if you have a heavy bike or there are lots of people onboard. Again, you can ask for help here from station staff, but it may help to get used to lifting your bike upright, as well as taking off any panniers or baskets that may stop the bike from fitting in.

Another option is to ship your bike via a courier service, with some companies doing this for less than £30, but in the spirit of being green, it is always best to leave cars out of it. If you can’t get your bike on the train, then many stations offer secure bicycle parking free of charge (some of the larger stations around the country are introducing Cycle Hubs which may require a one-off fee for access, including a electronic fob to store your bike there.)

Trains can expand your cycling ambitions, as can having an electric bike (the ARCC Intelligent Drive Pod has a potential range of up to 52km with the 6.0 Ah Bosch battery and, when equipped with a spare battery holder or the ARCC folding bike bag conversion, is only really limited by how many extra batteries you can carry).

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