1. Always book a bike space
Most long distance routes require a booking for a bicycle. You will risk not being allowed onto the train if you do not have a reservation. It is free to reserve a space and you can book bike spaces online at both the Scotrail and Eastcoast trains websites. A list of services that require a reservation are listed on the Scotrail website. You will receive a free ticket for your bicycle reservation. Make sure that you carry this as it will be your only proof of a reservation.
2. Look for the cycle symbol on the train doors
Trains stop for about one minute at most stations so there is not long to get onboard. When the train pulls up at the station keep your eye out for the blue cycle symbol- this will tell you which door(s) to use for the cycle storage area. Some trains will have more than one area, so if you get on and discover it is full you can always try another carriage. If a train is particularly full of bikes the train guard will often pro-actively direct you to the specific door where there is available space. If your departure station is where the train starts its journey you could always turn up early to figure out where the bike spaces are and this will be less stressful than trying to do it at the last minute.
3. Don’t be surprised at how little space there is
Trains in Scotland do not have a lot of space for hefty luggage like bicycles. Most trains can only carry four bicycles. The bicycle storage areas are small and it can be challenging to manoeuvre your bike into them. It takes a bit of practice, but you soon get used to it.
4. Use the restraining belts to secure your bike
Most types of train have straps where you can secure your bike. It pays to use these as your bike could tumble over when the train goes over a bumpy section of track or a tight curve. The class 156 trains that are used on the West Highland Line require you to hang your bicycle vertically from a hook, but most of the other types of train in Scotland have horizontal storage.
5. Talk to other cyclists using the train
If you are not travelling to the end of the line it is important to speak to the other cyclists using the storage area. This is so that your bike does not end up behind other bikes when you need to get off at your stop. There is nothing worse than trying to manhandle somebody else’s bike in order to get your bike out. This is made even worse on a busy train when you are surrounded by standing passengers all waiting to get off. It is far better to make sure that your bike is on the outside of the storage area at the beginning of the journey if you know that you will be first off the train. Talking to other cyclists might even bring about new ideas for future trips and even new friends.
6. Don’t leave it to the last minute when you are getting off the train
Start to get your bike ready at least 5 or 10 minutes before your train is due to arrive at the station you are getting off at. The train will only stop for about one minute, unless it is the terminating station, in which case you do not need to worry. This is particularly important if you have panniers and other belongings to take off the train. You may also need a few moments to manouever your bike so that it can easily be wheeled out of the doors.
7. Beware of short platforms
A small number of stations have shorter platforms meaning that not all of the train doors will open. Your bike could be in the carriage of the train where the doors will not be opened! Don’t worry about this as the guard will advise you what to do when checking your ticket- you may need to move your bike to the next carriage or they might make a special exception and open another door for you. There are very few short platforms- Conon Bridge and Beauly on the Far North Line are examples.
8. Get used to old station infrastructure
You will need the strength to lift and carry your bike short distances at some of Scotland’s stations. Much of the infrastructure dates from the Victorian era and is therefore not always cycle-friendly. For example, some stations have iron footbridges that are steep and can be tough to carry a bike over. A small number of stations have very low platforms where there can be a big drop from the train to the platform- this can make it tricky to get a bike down from a train or up to a train.
9. Enjoy the old station infrastructure
Although old stations may sometimes present practical problems with a bicycle they provide an opportunity to enjoy some beautiful railway heritage. Some station buildings are incredibly pretty and none are identical, so each new cycling route often starts with a unique piece of architecture.
10. Sit back, enjoy the scenery, buy a coffee
Some of the points above might make it sound stressful using the train to carry your bike, but it is generally straightforward and you will soon get used to it. The real joy of putting your bike on the train is that you have leisure time until you arrive and the chances are that you will be travelling through stunning landscapes. When the catering trolley comes around you can treat yourself to a coffee and sit back and enjoy the view whilst dreaming about where you will be cycling when the train arrives.
More information: Taking your bike on the train guide
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.