12 Feb Bike & Rail
Traveling by train has always fascinated me!
Maybe it comes from one of my first memories as a child while watching a Nescafe advertising in the early 80’s. A steam train that advances on the tempo of the music of the Colegiala. From the first notes I would urgently come and jiggle, being totally hypnotized by this train that moves between Colombian villages and mountains. This traveling train, in motion lived the adventure! An adventure that even before I could really express myself with words had already made me dream.
This connection was established and anchored in me from now on, the train is the adventure, it is the exploration of places that are unknown to me.
Since then I love traveling by train … this nonchalance (probably deeply connected with the rhythm of the music for the Nescafe pub) to arrive at a destination, this constant movement immediately transports me in a kind of second state, a moment of escape from my mind while waiting to get to my destination. My eyes riveted on the window, I discover with wonder each kilometer, an endless contemplation, I just like the rhythm of the train.
Then, there are the stations, places where everyone leaves or arrives, it’s teeming with life. All these trains that parade have sometimes transported passengers or goods for hours, crossed borders, all along the railway line. By train we always share a piece of road with someone, sometimes with a lot of people;)
And although we are all in these wagons on different rhythms of life, suddenly we are all punctuated by the train, the waiting time to get to or through these stops. Together we
will share a moment rolling on these rails, some for a short time and with others for several hours, sometimes even for days.
Now, traveling by train with a bike is a different story! At least getting in and out!
Especially with a loaded bike, I admit that it can quickly become a hectic adventure and breathless at times.
But as the train and me it’s quite a story of heart … well the adventure Bike & Rail does not even scare me! On the contrary!
First of all, in our opinion, the most appropriate, affordable and fun way to travel Europe by train nowadays is to get an Interrail or Eurail Pass (if you are a European resident).
You have the choice between: a global pass & a one country pass.
Then there are time and travel options, which can be very relevant depending on how you want to use the Pass.
To know that the Pass is a train ticket that allows you to travel in most European countries (see map). Also with this pass you will be able to travel in most trains at no additional cost and you will sometimes be able to benefit from reduction if you embark on a ferry for example!
You will be able to board the majority of trains simply by presenting your Pass Interrail (date and journey in handwritten form when getting on the train).
This allows a great freedom, change of plans and adventure!
PROS & CONS
Here, a list of our personal pros and cons:
👍to avoid distances for X reasons (time, visas, not really of interest)
👍still travel by land, quite slowly so it possible to relax and see the lands crossed
👍life on the train can be a real moment of immersion in a country with locals
👍a good way to do multiple countries or places in a limited time
👍spend a dry day;) or a day of rest
👍easy to cross borders 😉
👍good way to enter or leave a city
👍with the pass we can be completely spontaneous, just go to a station and see the possible options at that moment!
👍the satisfaction of having managed a situation and finally be at peace on the train;)
👍the adventure of buying a ticket, understanding where and how to ride the bike to get in the train is sometimes worthwhile. It also strives to really meet the culture of the country we are traveling in. This will force one to have to build a bridge in order to be understood and understand, but above all will give a glimpse of a reality of a country’s railway system. Interesting!
👎sometimes some train, train stations, or train company are really not bike friendly
👎each country, each train, each company has different rules regarding the transport of bicycles on the train
👎sometimes you have to book for a bike space
👎if not at all organized or planned, it can sometimes cause small problems like no seat available at the desire time, or no reservation possible for several days, no option to put the bike in the desired train
👎sometimes must dismantle the bike or put in a box
👎sometimes until the last minute it’s not possible to know the departure way and everything must go very very quickly (especially when you have to go down to change lanes and there is no lift;)) or when no ones knows which wagon will carry the bikes and then it is at the opposite of the train! It can be a real race against the clock!
👎train changes, connections with bicycles can sometimes fall into the realm of madness in terms of time and space
👎missed a connection and lose a day of the Pass
👎some bike reservations must be online (and moreover does not work)
👎Everything can be an extremely stressful moment!
Some questions to ask at the counter or by phone that can be useful:
How many bikes on this train?
Need to book?
Is it a separate car?
Our ways and therefore our advice (considering this when having a bit of time ahead of us, but not really actually;) )
🚲We take mainly regional trains! Often with this type of train there is no need for booking, no additional charges for bicycles neither for the Pass, often there is a space for bicycles and we don’t even need to disassemble the bikes or to put them in a box = JUST ROLL IN! (well almost ;))
🚲We have almost never booked, we inquire very briefly about the trains with the Interrail App and/or with local railway company. If it sounds tricky, like need a booking, we might call the train company ask about how many bicycle can be carried on the train (sometimes only 3) and maybe we will reserve. If not, only once we arrived at the train station we look at the options and go with it! Maybe 98% of the time we got the train we wanted, and reserved only few times! Watch out, like this it can sometimes be a real countdown from the moment the conversation is over at the counter!
🚲IMPORTANT! If with regional train, we boarded at the beginning of the train line and got off at the end of the line, this is important with regional trains because the time at the stop is often only just 1-2 minutes (so depending on the train and crowd, no way to do it!)
🚲IMPORTANT TOO! Avoid the busy hours when people go to work, also Monday morning or Friday afternoon, and sometimes Sunday night are to be avoided in general, especially without reservation for the bikes! Many people take their bike to work and bike & rail!
🚲We often proceed step by step! As the connections we were able to take, then available places, but in general in the 98% of cases as said before, we always managed to do what we wanted and this kind of the last minute (obviously respecting the aforementioned rules as for travel time slot, and also we are not afraid to do a race with the clock!)
🚲We use Interrail App, this app is so accurate in terms of schedule and will tell you if you need a reservation (it’s very useful and works very well in for most countries we did. Although a lot of info about bike carriage aren’t available and need to complete the info with the local train companies. But once you understand how trains per country works for bike carriage it become so so useful even for bike)
🚲If it is to travel a short trip sometimes it is better to pay the cost of a ticket ride instead of using a day of the Pass
🚲We used our pass for the ferry also several times
The situation in Europe when transporting the bicycle on trains will really vary from one country to another, or even from one train to another within the same country.
Some countries are super bike friendly and encourage people bring their bike on the trains while others much less. But some trains are really ideal, the entrance for the bikes is at the same height as the ground, sometimes there are cars or spaces that are specially designed for bicycles without even having to remove the panniers.
Also to take in consideration that not all regional trains are slow! For example UK some regional lines are equivalent to fast trains while in Spain, it can take up to 8 hours to do what a fast train does in about 2 hours.
In most European countries where we have bike & rail (France, Germany, Ireland, the UK, Spain) there is in principle never need to book for regional trains, nor need to dismount and neither additional charges.
Some trains have special cars, some special for bikes while others can really be a bit complicated.
Some times although we did not have to pay extra, we had to reserve the space as there are a certain number of places available. Reason why sometimes it’s also wise to get on at the start of the line.
Since we are pretty free with our schedule, running all this with Interrail Pass has been perfect, just a bit slow in regional trains but completely doable. We had a 10 day pass over a month.
In our opinion, there is not much point on writing more details about train as it changes and evolves all the time. On the other hand we strongly recommend you to look at the websites of the local railway companies which are rather well listed on Interrail once again, you will find the infos by countries.