The rule about ‘no bikes at rush hour’ applies particularly here. Don’t expect to take your bike on any train in the weekday or evening peak, even if you’re getting on and off before London. On suburban trains, make sure you keep your bike within sight – frequent stops are manna to the bike thief.
Commuter trains crossing London from north to south, plus the busy Cambridge line. Rush-hour restrictions are strictly enforced around London – these are some of the most overcrowded trains in the country, after all. There are restrictions in the morning peak around Cambridge, too, but otherwise they generally don’t apply north of Luton or Stevenage. Look for a bike symbol on the carriages which points to a storage area.
Official page on the Great Northern website.
Kent and Sussex. SouthEastern’s standard commuter trains have the usual peak restrictions, but these are lifted if you’re travelling in rural Kent and East Sussex without going into London. The company also operates the high-speed trains from St Pancras to Kent, and happily, no special restrictions apply: there are bike spaces at the end (look for the symbol), but in practice the friendly conductors rarely object to bikes being stashed in the vestibules. SouthEastern station staff were at one time notorious for insisting that folding bikes were folded up before going onto the platform; this has in theory been relaxed but don’t be surprised if you’re still asked.
Official page on the SouthEastern website.
Commuter trains in the ’south central’ belt between London and Brighton. A famously sniffy cycle policy, with the most draconian restrictions on folding bikes anywhere in the network: they must be folded before entering the platform, and they prefer “small wheels and folds in more than one place to become roughly the size of a briefcase” (in other words, a Brompton), though they do say they tolerate larger folders “at present”.
Peak restrictions don’t apply in the more rural parts of their network, or against the commuter flow: check the map on their website. (Incidentally, bike spaces are heavily locked down for the annual London–Brighton ride in June, so check your travel doesn’t coincide with that.)
Official page on the Southern website.
South-West London, Hampshire and beyond. Reasonable on-train accommodation on most trains, including commuter routes and those to the South Coast. No booking is required (or available) for these. The usual peak restrictions on peak trains to/from London: check SWT’s map. The bike spaces can and do fill up quickly on sunny weekends in popular locations like the New Forest, so don’t leave it to the last train of the night – give yourself options.
The diesel trains from London via Basingstoke to Salisbury and Exeter have very limited space and booking is essential.
Official page on the South West Trains website.
The London, Tilbury & Southend line. Modern trains with plenty of space to just load your bike aboard; no booking. Ludicrously, they say that “Folding cycles should be transported in a protective carrying case.”
Official page on the C2C website.
Bikes carried without reservation. Limited space, so don’t catch the last possible train before your flight.
Northern Essex, parts of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Run by the Dutch national railway, Greater Anglia is a bike-friendly company running trains throughout East Anglia. Local trains have four spaces each (twice as much as many others), with no booking.
The London–Norwich line takes six bikes in the guard’s van; booking is required in theory but rarely checked in practice. Bikes aren’t allowed on the Stansted Express service.
Official page on the Greater Anglia website.
Yes, you can take your bike on the tube – or some of it! The older ‘sub-surface’ lines (that is, those just below street level) take bikes: the District, Circle and Hammersmith & City, plus the Metropolitan. Bikes are also allowed on the above-ground parts of other lines. Needless to say, no bikes at rush hour.
No problem with bikes off-peak. There’s a maximum of one folding bike per vestibule.
Bikes are (finally!) now allowed on the DLR, except at rush hour.
Official page for Underground, Overground and DLR on the TfL website.
For trains on the inter-city lines out of Paddington (to Reading and Oxford), Kings Cross (to Stevenage and Peterborough), and St Pancras (to Bedford) see our guide to inter-city services. For trains towards Aylesbury and the Chilterns, and stopping trains from Euston towards Milton Keynes, Coventry and Birmingham, see our guide to Midlands trains.