Trains from London Euston to Birmingham, the North-West and Scotland. Booking is compulsory; if you arrive at the station without one, you may be able to book at the ticket office, but don’t count on it. Most trains are tilting ‘Pendolinos’ with a bike compartment at the country end. The door can only be operated by staff: get help from platform staff before boarding, and (crucially) find the conductor once you’re on the train and tell him where you’re getting off. A few trains north from Birmingham are five-carriage Voyagers with an easily accessible bike compartment at one end, and though these are less hassle, we’d recommend booking here too.
Official page on the Virgin Trains website.
Runs long-distance services that don’t pass through London, so their trains should be really useful to the cyclist. Would that were true…
Most of CrossCountry’s trains are four/five-coach ‘Voyagers’ with a tiny bike space in the middle: two reservable hanging spaces, one unreservable space. Making reservations is pretty much essential. (If you’re caught out, you can surreptitiously fit a bike in the super-generous luggage space just beyond, but we didn’t tell you that.) Their medium-distance Midlands services, from Birmingham to Nottingham, Cardiff, Leicester and Cambridge, are just local trains with a free-form bike space in the middle, and in practice you don’t need to reserve on these.
Official page on the CrossCountry website.
Long-distance trains from London King’s Cross to Leeds, the North-East and Scotland. Dedicated space in a guard’s van, for which booking is required: ask the staff where to load your bike, because both ends of the train are used. East Coast station staff can be sticklers for regulations where cyclists are concerned; book, arrive in plenty of time, and don’t give them any excuses to refuse you.
Official page on the Virgin Trains East Coast website.
An alternative to East Coast if you’re heading to York or the North-East, and one of the best-kept secrets of the railways. Lots of bike space at each end of the train, and no need to book, though as ever we’d recommend it if it’s crucial to your holiday. They even sell special cycle-rail holidays around Yorkshire – how enlightened is that?
Official page on the Grand Central website.
Trains from London to Selby and Hull. Four bike spaces in theory, but we think you could manage six in practice. Booking is preferred though not always necessary.
Oh, GWR, where did it all go wrong?
Runs trains out of London Paddington to the Thames Valley, Cotswolds, West of England and South Wales, plus local trains in those areas. A few years ago their bike provision was exemplary. Now… it’s pretty terrible.
New Intercity Express Trains are being introduced which only have two bike spaces per five-coach train. (Or rather, they have four, but GWR are only allowing two to be used.) Advance booking is compulsory. You may be lucky enough to catch one of the old High-Speed Trains (‘125s’) which have space for six bikes in a separate compartment, at the end of carriage A (the ‘country end’) but with no through access to the passenger seats.
On Thames Valley commuter services the situation is brighter: you can carefully stash your bikes in the vestibules, or sometimes a two-bike compartment in the centre carriage. Local trains in the West have limited space and are first-come, first-served, but the conductors are usually friendly and helpful. Many of these services are now using cast-off Turbo trains from the Thames Valley which have more vestibule space.
The Cardiff–Portsmouth line has just two spaces per train; making a reservation is strongly recommended in the summer months.
Official page on the Great Western Railway website.
From London to Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield, plus local trains around the East Midlands. You need to book for the London mainline and for the Liverpool–Nottingham–Norwich route, and in theory there’s only two bike spaces per train, which is pretty miserly.
However, some of the London trains are High Speed Trains with more spaces. The Liverpool–Norwich services are also sometimes formed of two units coupled together, so four spaces in all. You won’t be able to book these extra spaces, but the staff are less fussy than Virgin (say) or CrossCountry, so you might be lucky. On London trains, the bike space is at the country end of the train. Folding bikes are, on paper at least, meant to be stored in the luggage racks.
On local trains, you can just load the bike and hop on. Space is again limited to two per train, though we’ve sometimes seen more even on EMT’s tiny little single-carriage trains.
Official page on the East Midlands Trains website.