Taking a bike on a train in the UK

We take pride that most of our events are accessible by train, and for very long distance trips such as England to Scotland it’s definitely the best way of seeing more of the country. However if you are new to taking a bike on a train, it can be quite daunting with lots of different rules and processes. Here, we try to make this simple!

Whilst there may be a lot of detail on this page, fear not, most of the time things are quite straightforward and the worst that can happen is that your train is simply too crowded to board and you decide to simply take the next train. This has happened to all of us at some point, just chill, just like riding with us, it’s nice to take your time.

The information below is also quite well laid out on Cycling Scot

Planning your train journey with a bike

We suggesting using the following process:.

  1. Check the cycle restrictions for your chosen trains
  2. Book your tickets and, if required, cycle reservation, online in the same transaction
  3. Make yourself aware of where your bike needs to go on the train
  4. Check the display screens for a bike symbol to see where the space will be on the platform or check realtimetrains

Do I need to make a reservation?

You can take a bike for free without reservation on most trains. Firstly, check the cycle policy for your train journey using the National Rail site. Below is an example showing the cycle restrictions on different legs of a journey. Click on the bike icon to see the details. As you can see, a reservation is required from London to Stockport, but not from Stockport to Buxton:

As a general guide, you will need a reservation for the following operators/routes, typically very long distance trains. With the arrival of Great British Railways, the operators will disappear which will make this easier: 

  • LNER
  • Avanti West Coast
  • Transpennine Express
  • Caledonian Sleeper
  • Great Western Railway – (services between London and Bristol/Cardiff/Swansea/Exeter/Plymouth/Penzance only)
  • East Midlands Railway (services to/from London only – they state they are also required on the Liverpool-Nottingham-Norwich route but this is never enforced, please give us feedback at hello@outvelo.cc)
  • Greater Anglia (services from London to Norwich only – this is not often enforced, please give us feedback at hello@outvelo.cc)
  • Scotrail services: Glasgow/Edinburgh to Aberdeen/Inverness; Glasgow to Oban/Fort William/Mallaig; Inverness to Wick/Thurso/Kyle of Lochalsh
  • Crosscountry: reservations not required but there is only one unreserved space, so they are recommended

Making your reservation

This can be made when booking your train ticket through the GWR, Scotrail and TPE websites and apps, regardless of your operator. For example, on the TPE site you will see the following button to book a bike with your ticket, once you have selected your ticket:

The site will then update to show the reservation has been made successfully. If you see a yellow box as above, you need to make the seat reservation before the bike reservation! Otherwise it will return that all the spaces are taken. If you still get ‘all the spaces are taken’ and you are sure reservations are possible (see the list above) please try a different train.

You will be issued with a paper ticket with your reservation which will look like this: 

If you already have your ticket, you can book a bike reservation online through the TPE site here. You will need an account. If you get ‘not available’ for a particular train, then try the next one. Your reservation will appear in your account like this – print it out and take it with you:

Choosing your ticket

We recommend booking flexible tickets, not advance tickets, when travelling with a bike, in case you cannot board your selected train due to overcrowding or full bike spaces. But, this is very rare, so if the journey is long and the fare is hugely more expensive, for example from England to Scotland, then book an advance. You’re especially good booking advances with Avanti West Coast due to their ample cycle space which passengers cannot normally access (see below).

Where will the bike space be?

Check the on platform screens as they usually show a bike symbol, this gives you an idea of where to stand. Examples below. You can also use detailed mode at realtimetrains to see a diagram of your train and the location of spaces, for many but not all trains. Left is the front in the direction of travel.

Boarding and stowing your bike

Bike spaces on trains vary. Look for the symbols – usually on the door or beside it. You must board using the correct door. If in doubt ask platform staff. 

Most often, there’s a bike storage area that’s just an open space with or without tip up seats. These seats are a nightmare if occupied, a real bug bear. If it’s quiet ask people to move. If not try to squeeze the bike in if you can or otherwise just stand. If there’s luggage, put your bike behind it.

Most trains can only officially take 2 bikes but usually four will fit at a push. If the spaces are full get on anyway and usually people will be accommodating. If the whole train is really busy, wait for the next one. 

The following operators have more specific bike spaces:

GWR, LNER, CrossCountry, Caledonian Sleeper, and some TPE services

Spaces are vertical hooks, which are more annoying. On CrossCountry’s long distance Voyager trains (left), only one space is unreserved. Unfortunately cyclists just take all of the spaces up and don’t respect the reservation policy! If they are full you are simply out of luck even if you have a reservation. Get the next train! For this reason, and also as they are always so expensive anyway, we don’t recommend buying advance tickets for CrossCountry.

On GWR/LNER/TPE (right), the hook isn’t well designed and you may struggle with very deep rims. If there is luggage in the way, move it!

Avanti West Coast:

This is the one to rule them all, expert level complexity! 

There is a cycle store at the far north end of the train, in coach A. The external door can only be opened by staff. Make yourself known to platform staff around 5mins before boarding. They will tell the on board staff where you are going. 15mins before alighting, you need to visit the train manager in coach C to remind them that you need to get off at the next station. When going north, the driver will usually let you out. 

There is an inner door to the passenger saloon, this can be opened from both sides by sliding the door manually.  

If all else fails, and there are no staff in sight to let you off, take your bike through the coach and out the passenger door at the other end. Avanti absolutely hate people doing this, of course!

Avoiding Crowding: Tips

For a more comfortable experience, we suggest avoiding the following services, which are generally overcrowded and unpleasant even without a bike:

Throughout the year:

  • Trains operating entirely within South East England leaving London in the evening rush hour Monday-Friday 4-7pm, or arriving in London before 9.30am Monday-Friday. Bikes are not allowed on most of these trains. Check on your operator’s website.
  • CrossCountry: avoid this operator during weekend daytimes and Friday early evening as trains are packed. Use late evening or early morning trains. Avoid booking advance tickets weekday daytime and Friday early evening as you might not be able to board due to the bike space policy.
  • Try to avoid Sunday mid afternoons, around 3-6pm. We suggest travelling in the 7pm-11pm window instead. This is ideal when attending our weekend events.

High Summer: Saturday Mornings:

  • Trains leaving Chester calling at Rhyl: AVOID!
  • Trains from Nottingham to Skegness: AVOID!

High Summer or Bank Holidays: Friday evenings, and Sunday/Monday mid afternoons:

  • GWR services to/from Devon and Cornwall: AVOID!
  • Services to/from from Shrewsbury to West Wales (travel, but be prepared for crowding)
  • Services to/from Pembrokeshire (travel, but be prepared for crowding)
  • All weekend high summer departures from Inverness to Edinburgh, especially mid morning (travel, but be prepared for crowding)
  • Trains leaving Leeds for Carlisle on Friday evenings (travel, but be prepared for crowding)