Bikes and trains are a great combination. Commuters get a seamless door-to-door journey; tourers and explorers can explore parts of the country outside normal cycling range.
But with almost 20 train companies, and many more types of train, getting your bike on board can be complex. Our detailed guide will reduce your train pain.
Bike arrangements vary from company to company: check our area pages to learn the drill on the line you’ve chosen. We’ve included the two-letter code for each company, which you’ll often see on timetables and train booking websites.
Booking a space for your bike is worth it on many long-distance trains, and compulsory on a few. It’s free with your passenger ticket. You can do it in the flesh at big stations; over the phone direct to the train company concerned; or on a few train company websites such as Chiltern Railways and Great Western Railway. (East Coast, which was the first to offer online bike booking, no longer does.) Don’t use the Trainline – not only does it not book bikes, it charges you a booking fee.
Any website will sell you any ticket; you don’t need to use the company on whose route you’re travelling. Booking is rarely required on local or commuter trains.
You should book at least 24 hours in advance, but earlier if you can: bike spaces on long-distance trains often fill quickly.
Anywhere near a major city, but especially London, bike carriage is restricted at peak times. Most commuter train companies have an outright ban on (non-folding) bikes at peak hours. Long-distance trains may let you on, but you’ll usually need to book.
Even if you can find a space, squeezing a bike into a packed train of commuters is no fun for you or them. If you can, travel off-peak – it’s cheaper, too.
The dreaded words ‘rail replacement bus service’ usually translate to ‘no bikes’. On occasion coaches are used, with an undercroft that will carry bikes, but don’t count on it. Check your journey carefully to ensure there’s no buses, particularly at weekends and Bank Holidays when most engineering work takes place.
You don’t always need to take your usual bike with you. Can you just hire one at your destination? It’s not just Boris Bikes; several mainline stations now have Brompton hire ‘docks’, while Bike & Go offers bike hire from stations in the North and East Anglia.
Some commuters have cheap bikes that they leave overnight at the London station, so there’s no need to take them on the train every day. Or, of course, you can buy a folding bike, which will fit on any train – see our special page.
This guide is based on our long experience taking bikes on Britain’s trains, but the situation can change quickly. If you have suggestions or updates, let us know by posting in the site forum.