On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

Carrying bikes on trains

Posted on November 5, 2009

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Stockport Number 2 Signal Box

Yesterday, I set down my observations and thoughts regarding the carriage of bikes on buses. Perhaps naturally, my thinking has taken me into the area of carrying bikes on trains. On paper, that’s an easier proposition because most trains have some space set aside for bicycle storage. You may need to pay extra for carriage with a long-distance express operator (Virgin Trains, for example) but it is included in the walk-on ticket price for most operators. The exceptions to this usual level of provision are some commuter services in the southeast of England where you have to sneak on folding bikes as luggage, a draconian state of affairs in my opinion.

Mind you, carrying any bike on a busy train is not the easiest thing to be doing. That’s what I faced when I needed to convey one from Skipton to Macclesfield in 2000. Thankfully, an obliging Northern Spirit train conductor allowed me to carry it on even when there were bikes already on board and the DMU, like many, had only two spaces. Then, there was getting around Leeds station. There are lifts there now but this was before the major refurbishment that gave us what we see today and you needed a helpful station attendant to take you around use goods lifts and shop workers neglected to close the doors after them and the lift at platform level with us on the bridge! That made an already involved exploit a little more anxious than was needed. Saying that, I still caught my train to Manchester and another to Wilmslow due to rail engineering works. The Manchester changeover must have passed off with no trouble because I have no memory of it but getting from Wilmslow to Macclesfield involved a man with a very large taxi, a Ford Granada/Scorpio estate. If that wasn’t there, things would have been far more tricky.

That whole episode captures quite a few of the challenges that you have to overcome to get anywhere on the railways with a bike in tow. If there are engineering works, then you could be facing the obstacle that is the non-carriage of bicycles on buses or coaches. Even if there aren’t, there’s getting around train stations and Leeds is now both brighter and easier to get around than it use to be. Nevertheless, ticket barriers have been added and they are a new obstacle to be overcome that isn’t exclusive to Leeds since their use is spreading in the U.K. and beyond with Dublin’s Heuston Station now having them in Éire; thankfully, a certain amount of presence of mind has given us wide gates for those carrying wide articles with us. Finding space on a train is an ever-enduring issue and might be one that is never resolved completely. In fact, modern trains have been getting less good at conveying luggage anyway, so much so that Virgin try to encourage you not to bring along too much; it is best not to attempt moving house by train then unless your worldly goods are none too numerous, not a situation in which I find myself anymore.

All in all, you can take a bike around with you on the next parts of Britain’s railway network though there’s a spot of extra effort needed. It isn’t simply a matter of grabbing your bike and jumping on a train for a day out in the country. After a busy week of work, that may be sufficient to make you go for a walk instead and that’s partly how I got into hillwalking; the fear of punctures and mechanical failure hasn’t helped either. For a longer trip away or moving home to take up a new job like I was doing in the story above, the effort is worth it and does work. It just needs planning and patience rather than spontaneity. After all, the temptations of car use of bicycle hire are ever-present too.