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Commuting: Taking your bicycle by train

We’re total advocates of getting from A to B by bike, but sometimes you need a bit of help to cover those extra miles in between.

A regular 30 mile cycle to work just might not be practical, so why not hop on the train? With our hints and tips, you can find out everything you need to know to transport you and your steed speedily and safely via rail.

There is usually a compartment that has space for storing bikes. Copyright Matthew Black, from Flickr.

Combining cycling and traveling by train is a great option for commuting, not to mention weekends away and longer trips – particularly if you don’t drive.  There are however restrictions on when you can take your bike on the train, and helpfully these often vary from train company to train company.

A good overall starting point is the National Rail website, which lists the key information you need to know about taking your bike on the train, and links to all the train companies. You can check what the restrictions are on the service you plan to use.

Bike storage on the train

Different train rolling stock will have different set-ups for carrying bikes. This might be a separate compartment with a rack where you can book spaces in advance, or an area on the main train without seats where bikes can be tied into place with the straps provided.

Some services, usually the smaller regional or suburban ones, don’t have anywhere out of the way for your bike. This usually means you have to stand awkwardly with it in the doorway, shifting every time the train stops to let people on and off. Bikes aren’t supposed to block doors or aisles, so do you best to keep out of the way.

Some train carriages have places to hang your bike, which keeps the space needed to a minimum. Copyright Adam, from Flickr.

On some trains, the space for bikes is also the space for wheelchair users. They obviously have priority, so be prepared to move your bike if someone needs the space.

Restrictions

Most of the train companies running services to and from the major cities will place restrictions on when bikes can be carried. This is usually linked to peak commuting times. For example, South West Trains has a restriction in place that means that no bicycles are allowed on services that arrive in London between 7 and 10am, or leave London between 4 and 7pm.

Booking

On some of the longer-distance or intercity services, there are bookable spaces for bikes in a separate compartment. At peak times, these are often booked up, so whenever you are planning on travelling, it’s worth booking a space for your bike in advance. It’s free, you can reserve a space at the same time you purchase your ticket, or you can call and add it at a later date.

London Underground

Folding bikes are fine at any time on the Tube. However, full sized bikes are only allowed on certain lines, and are not allowed on at all during peak hours; Monday to Friday 7.30 to 9.30am and 4 to 7pm.

Have a look at the Transport for London map which shows when and where cycles are permitted.

Folding Bikes

Getting a bike that folds up is an option that many commuters go for. Brompton and Tern are two of the best-known options, but there are others out there. These bikes fold down small enough that train companies are happy for them to be carried on peak services, free of charge.

This means you can cycle to the station, fold it up, hop on the train, unfold it at the other end of your journey and cycle off past all the traffic. A few of the train companies have additional restrictions, such as that the bike must be covered or that it should be able to be stowed as luggage.

Some train companies, like South West Trains, also do long-term rental of folding bikes, so you don’t even need to fork out for one yourself. Rates start from as little as £2 a month for season ticket holders.

Folding bikes are a great solution for getting around town, and most train companies don’t have a problem with you taking them on at peak times

Events

If you are planning on traveling with your bike, it’s also worth a quick check to make sure there are no special restrictions in place due to events, engineering work, maintenance, etc. For example, Arriva Trains Wales won’t allow cycles on their services if there is an event on at the Millennium Stadium.

Cycling by Train leaflet

Produced by National Rail and Brompton Bicycles (them of folding bicycle fame), this immensely handy little leaflet lists all the major train companies, their bike carrying policy, and even the company contact details. Genius!

Have a look at the Cycling by Train leaflet.

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