Can I take my bicycle on a train?
The short answer is simple: yes, you can take your bike on a train in the UK. As ever the devil is in the detail. Most intercity trains will take a maximum of three non-folding, full-sized bicycles. Almost all trains will refuse to carry tandems, and all train services will refuse trikes.
I’m a big fan of combining cycling and train travel, especially on an adventure like cycling the Kennet and Avon Canal. The trouble is that in the UK, train operators are privatised, and service provision is fragmented, at best. Some companies allow bicycles (meaning full-sized, non-folding bikes, in this context) on all services, some allow them only on certain services, and some don’t allow them at all. Bizarrely, it is possible to get a bicycle reservation on a train service that doesn’t permit bicycles! What this means in practice is that you have to be switched on when planning on taking your bicycle on a train.
I’ve gone through every single train operator in the UK, listing their bicycle provision and restrictions further below. Bicycle reservations are required on most trains, but are free of charge. For more information, including details for individual stations, visit the National Rail PlusBike page.
The realities of taking your bike on a train in the UK
It can seem daunting to take your bicycle on a train, but in practice it isn’t all that bad. To be honest, it really isn’t a brilliant experience, but broadly speaking most people should be able to cope with it. The trouble comes in on most newer high speed trains, where bicycles go inside a cupboard, and are left hanging from the front wheel. The Cross Country trains have cupboards that at first seem cramped, until you see the minute cupboards used on the new Hitachi trains, run by the likes of GWR. My bike has 700c x 38 tyres on, and I don’t consider myself to be physically weak, but I struggle to get my bike into that cupboard. Once your bike is safely stowed away, do yourself the enormous favour of locking it. Train operators all say you’re not allowed to lock the bike to the train, but I usually do so. In a worst-case scenario, I’d lock my bike’s frame and front wheel together. Though I’m not aware of a bike being stolen off a train, if you don’t lock your bike, by the time you see someone wheeling it along the platform, your train will be departing, and it will be too late to do anything about it.
What to look out for when you take your bicycle on a train
Always check for engineering works on the line, as that all too often means rail-replacement buses being laid on. Usually, those won’t take bicycles, but I’ve had such a bus driver take me and my bicycle before, so it’s a case of pot luck.
Bicycle reservations for trains
Usually, on slower, local or regional trains, bicycle reservations are often not possible. An example is the newly-reopened Exeter to Okehampton line, useful for getting you and your bike to the Granite Way. In my experience, when such services aren’t busy, train staff will often allow more bikes on. In fact, on the GWR Tarka Line, up to Barnstaple, to the start of the Tarka Trail, we once had 12 full-sized bicycles loaded! When reasonably possible, I prefer to take these trains. Typically, cycle reservations aren’t possible on these trains, so you do run the risk of not being able to get on a particular train, but in reality I’ve very rarely suffered from that.
The smaller, regional trains tend to have dedicated bicycle storage, with your bike being stored upright, on both wheels. Some carriages only take 2 bikes, but most tend to take at least 4. These trains are more likely to have level access, so rolling your bike onto, or off the train is a simple affair.
To board, look for the (small) bicycle sign next to a set of doors, then once on board, to your immediate left, or right (depending which way the train is round) there will be an area with fold-down seats, where bicycles go when the seats are folded up. You will find it useful to take a bungee strap, to help secure your bike.
Train fares aren’t cheap, sadly. However, there are ways you can save money. For starters, have a look at what rail cards are available. For example, a Devon And Cornwall Railcard costs £12 per year, but automatically gives you a third off the price of trains throughout the two counties (off-peak services only). There are a number of other railcards available. More importantly, there is ticket-splitting.
With rail fare prices being so high, splitting your ticket can save you a lot of money. For example, currently, an off-peak return ticket from Plymouth to Bristol Temple Meads is £64.70 per person, without any railcards. By splitting the tickets, you can make that same journey, on the same train, for £40.65, saving you £24!
How does it work? Well, in this example, you actually book two return tickets – one from Plymouth to Taunton, and the other from Taunton to Bristol. You will end up on the same train, in the same seat, while paying less. It can get a bit complex, but fortunately there’s the Ticket Splitting web site to do the heavy lifting for you.
Just a word of advice: you can book your tickets through that site, but you’ll struggle to make bike reservations through it. I tend to call in person at the local train station, and tell them I want my tickets splitting. Station staff have always been helpful when I did so, and over the years it’s saved me quite a bundle.
Trainline – best avoided
There’s a very handy website called Trainline. Regardless how useful it might be, I suggest that you don’t book tickets through them. The reason is simple: if the train was cancelled, and you wanted a refund, Trainline will charge you £10 for that refund. Yes, even though it’s not your fault.
A far better option is to walk into a ticket office, and buy a ticket in person. When speaking to the ticket office staff member, ask them to split your ticket, to save you money. Some stations don’t have ticket offices, or sometimes you can’t get to a ticket office in time. In those cases, use TrainPal. They also do bus tickets for some services.
Avanti West Coast
They accept bikes on all Avanti West Coast trains, which tend to run between London Euston and Glasgow or Edinburgh, as well as links to Birmingham New Street, Bangor and Blackpool. Their network map is here and their bicycle policy is here. Unusually for a UK train operator, they accept not only normal bicycles, but on their Pendolino services they also accept tandems.
C2C (not to be confused with the cycle route of the same name!) runs between Fenchurch Street and Shoeburyness, serving 26 stations in East London and South Essex. Their route map is here, and their bicycle policy is here. C2C doesn’t require cycle reservations at all, but also don’t allow non-folding bikes on their trains during peak times.
UPDATE: After previously refusing to carry ebikes, on spurious “health & safety” claims, the Caledonian Sleeper now reversed that policy, and is carrying ebikes again. Linking London with Scotland, the Caledonian Sleeper is usually an overnight train. Their route map is here, and their bicycle policy is here. Bicycle reservations are required for the Caledonian Sleeper, and they may at times ask you to bag your bike before loading.
If travelling on the Fort William service, you will be required to move your bike at Edinburgh Waverly, usually at around 4am.
Linking London with Birmingham, and more, the Chiltern Railways network map is here, and their bicycle policy is here. Bicycles are permitted on their trains, but not on peak services. Bicycle reservations are not required.
As the name implies, Cross Country covers much of the UK. Their network map is here, and their bicycle policy is here. Bicycle spaces are normally limited to 3 bikes per train, with two of those requiring reservation. The last, unreserveable space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Highly unusually, you can even reserve spaces via their Twitter account (@crosscountryuk) or Facebook Messenger.
EMR – East Midlands Railway
EMR permits bikes on their trains linking London to the East Midlands, but they have quite a few time-related restrictions, so do check their bicycle policy first. Their route map is here. Cycle reservations are required on EMR services.
Grand Central Railway
Bicycles are permitted aboard all Grand Central trains, but reservations are required, and they’d like you to do so 24 hours before travel. They can carry 3 bikes per train, and their bicycle policy is here, while their route map is here.
ThamesLink / Great Northern
There are severe restrictions on bicycles on these trains. Reservations aren’t possible, and their bicycle policy clearly states that even on services they permit bikes, they may refuse you from boarding, or ask you to leave the train. Their network map is here.
Mostly linking London Paddington with Penzance, but with a few other routes, GWR’s new Hitachi high-speed trains can take maximum 3 bicycles, and you will find it helps to have a narrow bicycle, while having excellent upper-body strength, as their new trains appear to have been designed by someone who hates cyclists. Reservations are required on their high speed trains, but can be made up to just a few minutes before the train departs. Local services don’t require cycle reservations, and it’s not possible to reserve a space on their local trains. Some of their local trains can carry as many as 8 bicycles, though it does vary. Their bicycle policy is here, and their network map is here.
Just to prove how much they hate cyclists, GWR has designated the tiny bicycle cupboards on their Hitachi trains as combined cycle or luggage storage – the photo is of the signage on one of those trains. What this means in practice is that, even if you have a valid cycle reservation, it is possible that you won’t be allowed to board one of GWR’s Hitachi HSTs if some other passenger piled their luggage in the bicycle cupboard!
Covering mainly the area east of London, to the coast, there are severe restrictions on which trains you can take a bike on. Some of their services require reservations (to be made 24 hours in advance) but others don’t. Some of their services can take up to 6 normal bikes. Their bicycle policy is here, and their network map here.
Limited to the Isle of Wight, these trains can carry maximum 4 bikes, and no reservations are possible, and their network map is here.
LNER – London North East Railways
With services all the way to Aberdeen and Inverness, from London, the name doesn’t really you an idea of the area served by LNER, but their network map is here. They allow bikes, but require a reservation to be made in advance (and “helpfully” limit that to one bike per customer, so no chance of you riding 3 bikes at once!). Their bicycle policy is here.
London Overground and Tube
You can take standard bicycles on some of these services. Full details, which vary considerably between destinations, are here.
Avoid this bunch of cycling-haters, who don’t allow non-folding bicycles on any of their trains at all. Please note: When booking a ticket online, through another operator’s site, it’s entirely possible to end up with a bicycle reservation for a Lumo train. They will not honour that reservation!
A small operator, limited to the Liverpool area, Mersey Rail requires no cycle reservations, and claim they have cycle spaces at each end of their trains. Their bicycle policy is here, and their network map here.
You get a mixed bag with Scot Rail. Some of their services allow maximum two bikes, which have to be wrestled into a small cupboard. Some of their other services even allow tandem bikes, while on one service they have arguably the best bicycle provision of any UK rail operator. Reservations are needed for some services, but not possible for others. Have a look at their bicycle policy, and their network map is here.
South Western Railway
Like several other operators with services into and out of London, South Western Railway has restrictions for bike on trains that apply during peak times. They also have a “bicycle restriction policy”, which is linked to from their bicycle policy. Their network map is here.
South Eastern Railway
No bicycle reservations are required, and bikes are allowed on all the off-peak South Eastern trains, but you may be surprised at what that means in practice. Go have a look at their bicycle policy. Their network map is here.
Be very careful with this operator: they don’t allow bicycles on peak-time trains, and no reservations are possible. They explicitly state they may prevent you from boarding with your bike if the train is busy, and the way they deal with demand, when cycle events happen in the area they serve is to simply impose a blanket ban on full-sized bicycles on their trains during such days. Their bicycle policy is here, and their network map is here.
Bike reservations are required, but you can even make one via their Twitter account (@TPEAssist). They want you to make a bike reservation at least 15 minutes before your train departs. Their bicycle policy is here, and their route map is here.
Transport for Wales
Bicycle reservations are required, and must be made at least 24 hours in advance, which is really unhelpful. At peak times, on several routes normal bikes are not permitted. See their bicycle policy for more details, and their network map is here.
West Midlands Railway
They have space for only two bikes per train, but clearly state that – provided the train isn’t busy – train staff may permit more bikes. They don’t permit full sized bikes on trains arriving at or departing from London Euston during peak times. Their bicycle policy is here, and their route map is here.