Crossing Europe On Trains, Ferries… And A Bike Called Reggie: Part Three

The cycling-public transport mini-series of posts continues…

It kicked off with my own story of how I managed to transport myself and Reggie the bike back from Nordkapp in August 2015 using an assortment of trains and ferries; that was Part One. Prompted by changes to their bicycle-carrying policy by one of my local train services here in Yorkshire, the follow-up post looked at the situation across Britain when it comes to transporting your bicycle on a train; that was Part Two. Here is Part Three and I am handing the topic of bicycles on public transport over to you; some very positive experiences… and some less-than positive experiences. Feel free to add your own thoughts via the ‘comments’ section at the foot of the page.

Let’s kick off on a positive note. Over to you Les;

Name: Les Tocknell

How would you describe your experiences of combing cycling and train travel: Excellent

Why? We travelled from Gloucester UK to Znojmo in Czech Republic by train and ferry (Harwich to Hook). We booked our bikes on the British side and had lots of room for our bikes and it was free. We used the Tube to connect Paddington and Liverpool Street stations (it was Sunday). In the Netherlands the space was, surprisingly, limited and we had to pay. We paid again on moving into Germany but space was greater. From Dusseldorf we took the night sleeper to Vienna. Loads of room for bikes but they ended up in Innsbruck… Reunited some hours later we travelled to Znojmo with plenty of space and no charge on Austrian railways. The funny thing is, those slightly crowded sections in Holland were the best because the camaraderie amongst cyclists was great. We met and chatted with all sorts of folks. We’re going again next month. Dresden and the Elbe trail to start, then across Bohemia to Paradise and maybe a bit of Poland. When we’ve had enough, we’ll probably catch a train back to Dresden. Easy on Czech railways. We love ferry crossings, too.

So Les’ experiences reflect my own positive journey back in 2015 through Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Britain. Let’s now focus on the latter of those countries and hear from Brian;

Name: Brian Leach

How would you describe your experiences of combing cycling and train travel: Average

Why? Train provision on UK trains is patchy. I prefer those [journeys] where generally you don’t need to remove panniers. So for example I can take the train from Winchester to Portsmouth and then the ferry to France or Spain without removing them. Similarly Winchester to Waterloo then Kings Cross to Edinburgh. My pet hate is the Cross Country trains. The bike space is very limited and means all bags have to be removed so that the bike can be hung from the front wheel. There is then the issue of putting the panniers back on with perhaps several people by the door ready to get off. Booking space is another issue. Unable to get a space back from Edinburgh last Monday until midday.

Similarly ‘patchy’ are the experiences of Richard;

Name: Richard Thornton

How would you describe your experiences of combing cycling and train travel: Average

Why? I’m just coming to the end of a week in Romania where, due to illness, I’ve used the trains with my bike rather more than I had planned to. I think it’s really valuable to be able to combine rail and bike travel, cut out certain sections if you wish, reach a destination more quickly, or simply admit you’ve done enough for the day and complete the journey by rail. I could talk for hours about using trains in Romania, however to keep it brief: the ‘Express /Intercity’ type trains only nominate one service every so often to carry bikes, there may be 2 trains per hour to your destination but only one in 6 might allow you to take a bike on. There doesn’t see to be any logic to it (although they are marked on the timetables) as they’re all the same type of carriages (I blagged my way onto a non-cycle train and it had a designated cycle door and storage area!). This makes it hugely frustrating to arrive at a station and face a three-hour wait while several trains you are unable to use leave for your destination. Having said that, taking a bike on the regional/slower trains which serve rural villages is simple and staff have always been happy to accommodate my bike on these trains. People might not realise [but] you must buy a ticket for your bike in advance (in addition to your own), it’s only a small fee but not always obvious.

So it sounds as though the confusion that can often be the bane of using the trains with your bicycle in Britain can also be the case in Romania. Back to a positive story and Brenda;

Name: ‘Brenda in the Boro’

How would you describe your experiences of combing cycling and train travel: Excellent

Why? Many years ago (about 30) we travelled with our children – tandem, bicycle plus trailer bike and a trailer full of camping gear by train to Cornwall where we had a wonderful 10 days, cycling 360 miles… Then hurricane Charlie hit and we decided to return home. It took us 24 hrs and 7 trains to get home. There was extensive flooding throughout the country, so we were diverted many times. I can remember the station master taking us through Birmingham to get us on the tight train transfer. We arrived in York just before midnight and were unlucky as a strike began until the next day. I took out the sleeping bags and we camped in the waiting room until the mail train came in and we got on that just before 6.00am. Home by just after 7.00am. You couldn’t do that now. Train travel in Britain with bicycles has certainly gone down in my estimation.

Ah, so not brilliant after all. When Brenda was travelling back in the 1980s, British Rail existed and there was only one set of rules. As we saw in part two of this series of posts, every train company has a different set of rules when it comes to transporting bicycles. And would that station master in Birmingham still be willing to escort someone across the city if it was simply into the hands of a completely separate train company? Probably not.

A couple of shorter comments about train travel from Twitter kicking off with one that also mentions England’s second city:

And still in the English Midlands:

I wholeheartedly agree there; more space is needed and there are innovative solutions around. You only have to Google a few key words to find articles such as this one on Wired about Berlin;

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 10.26.33

Plenty more examples of what we could be doing here in Britain in these pictures on Google.

To round off this summary of your views, a couple of comments that were posted on in response to my analysis of the bicycle-carrying policies of all the train companies in the UK kicking off with Brenda again:

Northern is the train I used most often. Although it says 2 bikes per train I have seen as many as 6 at one time- always off peak. I have a trailer but can detach the wheels so it looks like a hold-all and haven’t had a problem. I have travelled with my folding bike and trailer on the bus up into Northumberland using my OAP bus pass. I usually get the 6.15 bus to Newcastle and then hang about until 9.30am so I don’t have to pay full fare. it’s worked for me.

The final comment goes to ‘Pagan Cidergod’:

Most conductors are quite sympathetic and will turn a blind eye if they can, but sometimes you do meet a jobsworth. The problem lies with the companies – they regard cycling as a rival means of transport and not to be encouraged. And if you have panniers on your bike it’s a total nightmare.

Thanks to all the people who have contributed above; lot’s of interesting points have been made and it’s good to see that, despite the issues that many cyclists do have when taking their bike on a train, it seems that positive experiences are more common than negative ones. More thoughts are welcome.

4 replies »

  1. Some differences experienced on this year’s trip (see above). From Gloucester to Paddington was a nightmare as all GWR London trains from Wales were cancelled. The two Underground lines from Paddington to Liverpool Street were closed for works so we had to cycle across London,not pleasant for us country folk used to the lanes of Herefordshire. Greater Anglia was,as last year, a doddle. No reservation needed.Plenty of room. From Hook of Holland we cycled to The Hague along traffic free routes amongst sand dunes and caught a train to Amersfoort (double decker,bike space downstairs, no reservation needed,plenty of space). Changed to German railways with our numbered bookings which were clearly essential. Plenty of space,but all booked.In the Czech Republic we had no problem with local trains. Expresses needed reservations and, despite having booked with an agent of Czech Railways and being told clearly that we had reservations, we were fined (charged a fee…) for not having the right reservation for Prague to Decin on a train heading for Bremen. This was deemed to be an international express and seemed to have its own rules. Despite vigorous protests we had to pay up. Still don’t understand this one. We were told if we had waited for the next (local) train there would have been no problem – but we were booked,by Czech Railways, on that express! There was plenty of space,too.
    Lesson: reserve a bike space on German railways. You can’t do this on line when you book your tickets but there is an English language phone line on their website. If you get the right operator they will do all the bookings for you. Better than on line, in fact.

  2. Last year on the German section to Dusseldorf we bought tickets for the bikes but did not make reservations. Along with all the other cyclists we just got on and sorted out the chaos together. This year we have just been informed that our return ferry has been cancelled. I have had to rebook the whole return leg from Dresden! One very unhelpful and one astoundingly helpful call to DB English helpline convinced me that reservations are essential in June…

  3. thanks for using my comments Andrew – just getting our panniers packed for a long weekend “shakey down” before heading off to the Netherlands in early June. We are not ruling out using trains to get further afield. Thank for the comments from Germany too.

What do you think?