If you’re at a staffed station, ask where to load your bike – a few minutes in advance, if you can. If not, look for a bike sign on the platform, or the bike symbol on a door as the train pulls in. As a very rough rule of thumb, long-distance (InterCity) trains have the bike space at the ‘country end’ of the platform (i.e. away from London), local trains have it in the centre.
On most trains, the bike spaces are just in the normal carriages. But on some InterCity trains, you’ll need to load your bike into a ‘guard’s van’, then jump back out onto the platform and go in via a passenger door. (This includes High Speed Trains, aka InterCity 125s.) On Virgin’s tilting Pendolinos, the bike storage has its own door, but once you’re in you can walk through to the carriage.
It might be a hassle, but an unloaded bike takes up much less space than a loaded one. Removing panniers enables another cyclist to load their bike next to yours. (If the guard’s van is separate, do this on the platform, and pick them up when you go back into the carriage.) You might want to remove expensive lights, too.
Locking the bike to the train is expressly forbidden, just in case you can’t get it unlocked again. If your bike’s in a guard’s van, though, these are generally pretty secure.
Your booking will have been accompanied with a vast array of tickets, including one labelled ‘Attach to bike’. We’re unconvinced by these; they tell potential thieves how much time they have to half-inch your bike. We’ve never been chastised for not affixing one, but if you do choose to use it, we suggest blacking out the destination.
Train companies are fined heavily for every minute they’re late, and timetables are tight. Cyclists causing delays will mean a bad reception for the next bike-toting passenger, and worse bike provision in the future. So don’t hang around; be efficient, and be seen to be efficient. Strolling idly along the platform will annoy the conductor.
When the conductor comes to check your tickets, tell him/her you’ve got a bike, where it is, and where you’re getting off.
On many trains, passengers will be brushing up against your bike. They won’t thank you for mud or oil stains on their new suit.