Travelling with your bike by train or car is a great way to get your cycling fix when your workplace is a long way away or when you want to shorten your commute because of bad weather. It should save you money too: you’ll avoid costly city centre car parking charges and will spend a little less on fuel or rail fares. And it should save you time: bikes are quicker in urban areas, whereas trains or cars are usually quicker in between them.
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Most trains in the UK will carry bikes for free at most times of day. They're banned on some peak-time commuter trains, principally those going into or out of London. Those trains that do carry bikes will take only a small number, often two, sometimes a handful, and occasionally as many as 12. On some services you have to book your bike, on others you just turn up. The wide-ranging regulations of the different train operating companies are summarised in National Rail's Cycling by Train 2015 leaflet. Get it here: bit.ly/bikesontrains.
In practice, it can be quite stressful taking a full-size bike by train. The bike space may be rammed with other people’s luggage. If you need a reservation, it’s only valid for that train, which is no use if you get stuck at work. If you don’t need a reservation, it’s first come, first served for bike spaces.
The Cycling by Train leaflet notes: ‘On such trains a common-sense approach may apply where passengers with full-size bikes may be asked by station staff not to board busy trains and wait for a later service.’ And if the train is replaced by a bus service due to engineering works, your bike won’t be carried on this.
When boarding a train with a full-size bike, look for the bicycle symbol on the side of the train or ask station staff where you should stand. If you regularly take your full-size bike on the same trains, you’ll soon learn where to wait on the platform and will get a sense of how much demand there is for spaces.
If you’re a regular bike-and-train commuter then you should seriously consider getting yourself a folding bike. Folding bikes with wheels 20 inches or smaller are carried without restriction on all trains. No need for a reservation, and no need to cross your fingers for a bike space, although you might be required to put the folder in one of the train’s luggage spaces, and a few services require you to bag the bike.
You can take any bike if you’re driving your own car part way to work. It’s easiest if you don't have to remove one or both of the wheels to fit it in the car or on the car rack. That saves time and means you shouldn’t get dirty or oily hands. If the bike’s going inside the car – the best option for security and fuel economy – a roomy estate or MPV is handy for a full-size bike. But you can fit a folding bike like a Brompton in any car, even something as small as a Smart fourtwo.
If you plan to use a car rack, it’s worth investing in a roof rack or tow bar rack that locks to the car. These are more secure than strap-on boot racks in any case, and you won’t have to take either type off when you park to prevent theft.
Park somewhere safe and well lit on the outskirts of town. Park-and-rides are ideal. The parking is deliberately inexpensive to encourage drivers to stay out of the centre, and the remaining distance will be well suited to cycling. Some can be a bit iffy about you parking and not taking the bus (ie, not paying for the parking) but that’ll depend on the particular park-and-ride. Suburbs are an option, but park sensitively.
On the underground
You can take a full-size bike on the London Underground, but before hopping onto an escalator with a bike on your shoulder, be aware that this applies only to certain times of day and certain lines. Click on the tube map below to enlarge.
Folding bikes are carried ‘anywhere and anytime’ on the London Underground. Folders are carried with some restrictions on the Tyne and Wear Metro, but not on the Glasgow Underground.
By bus or taxi
Very few buses will take a full-size bike, although coaches often will if the bike is partially disassembled inside a bike bag. Folding bikes are generally accepted on buses at the driver's discretion. A compact folder in a bag shouldn’t cause a stir; a bigger-wheeled folder taking up pushchair space probably will.
If a folding bike will fit comfortably in a taxi's boot, most drivers are happy to carry them. You might even get a full-size bike into a taxi if it’s in a bike bag, but it’s very much up to the driver.
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