Category Archives: Bike/Europe

Swiss Train

Europe by Bike – Switzerland

Railways through mountains - the Glacier Express

Railways through mountains – the Glacier Express J & N Forsyth

Europe with Bike – Switzerland

The Swiss are amazing. Their country is not a natural place to build railways, so they build them up and through mountains.
The Swiss rail network is spread evenly on the country. There are 3,787 km of standard gauge tracks spread across the country and 509 km of metre gauge tracks in the south of the country. The main operator is Swiss Federal Railways (SBB/CFF/FFS). The other operators such as BLS (Bern-Löschtberg-Simplon) appear to be privately owned but are in fact owned by the cantons and the federal government. There are connections to Austria, France, Germany and Italy, some of which carry bicycles, both DB and SNCF run trains into Switzerland. The only major cross border rail connection that does nor accept bicycles is the narrow gauge Locarno to Domodossola FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi – Regional Bus and Rail Company of Canton Ticino) line over the Centovalli.

switzerland
Some but not all of the distinctive yellow Post Buses take bicycles.
The railway system is cyclist-friendly, but not cheap. The majority of trains carry bicycles without reservation. This does mean that on public holidays problems can arise. You load the bikes yourself. The exception being the InterCity-Neigezügen (ICN) tilting Intercity trains where reservations are necessary between 21 March to 31 October at a cost of 5CHF per bicycle. These reservations can be made online. Short distance bicycle tickets cost half the single second class fare. A day tickets costs 12CHF for passengers with rail cards and 18CHF for passengers paying the full price for their tickets.
Travelling to Switzerland overland with your bicycle is described in “Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe”.

Adequate bike parking (Romanshorn)

Adequate bike parking (Romanshorn). J & N Forsyth

Popular Cycling Areas in Switzerland
The Swiss authorities have invested heavily in cycle routes over the last twenty years or so with the result that the country now has nine national routes criss crossing the country and a large number of regional routes. Signposting and track quality is superb. Readers can find much more information about Swiss cycling in “Cycle Touring in Switzerland” by Judith and Neil Forsyth, published by Cicerone ISBN: 9781852845261 as a printed book or as an e-book. One can also buy descriptions of individual routes.
On weekends in summer with a good weather forecast, increased numbers of cyclists can be expected between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on trains to Ticino, Valais, the Bernese Oberland, Pays des trois lacs – near Neuchatel, Jura, Grisons and Lake Constance, i.e. much of Switzerland, meaning there may be a shortage of space on these trains.

Wide bicycle access on Swiss doubledecker rolling stock

Wide bicycle access on Swiss doubledecker rolling stock J & N Forsyth

Train Types
This matter is largely irrelevant, because trains that take bicycles are shown in the timetable, allowing cyclists to choose which trains they take. There do not appear to be surcharges or extra charges for certain trains. There is the usual mix of local, regional and express trains. Bicycles are forbidden during the evening rush on Zurich S-Bahn (suburban trains) during the evening rush Mondays to Fridays (4pm-7pm).
One very good idea is that capacity forecasts for each train is shown online and on station indicators which allows route planning to use trains that are not as full.

Tickets
Railway tickets are expensive. Most inhabitants of Switzerland invest in a Half-Fare travel card which gives you half price travel and reduced prices for bicycle transport, but as it costs 185CHF, it does not really pay unless you live there or visit often. We bought two when we wrote the Cycling in Switzerland book as we spent several months there. There are also cards for tourists – the Swiss Pass, etc. but one needs to calculate carefully if cycling and expecting to travel by bicycle with the odd trip by public transport.
Getting you and your bike on the bus, ship or train

Buses
Many but not all Post Buses carry bicycles and E-bikes. Details can be found under: http://tinyurl.com/jsrkftb.
You put the bike on a rack or on a trailer yourself.

Typical ramp on a Swiss station

Typical ramp on a Swiss station J Forsyth

Trains
Tandems are not carried by the SBB. Bike trailers can only be transported if they are no wider than 80 cm.
Select your route and journey time in the online timetable which allows searching in all public transport systems in Switzerland:
•    In the online timetable, select “Advanced search” and then “carriage of bicycles required (Switzerland only)” to see the routes on which you can take your bike yourself.
Bike on train•    Trains that do not have space for bicycles are marked on the timetable and departure boards with a bike logo with a bar across. Cyclists are not allowed to take their bikes on these trains.
•    A bicycle reservation symbol or reference number on the timetable indicates a train or Post Bus for which reservation is required.
•    The capacity forecast is a useful indicator of which trains are likely to have capacity bottlenecks and whether another train or a different route might be less busy and thus better suited to transport bikes.
•    Passengers can check which section of the platform the coaches with bicycle spaces (bicycle hooks, bicycle platforms) will arrive in as early as three hours before departure in the online timetable or in the SBB Mobile smartphone app.
One good feature of Swiss stations is the provision of ramps to the platforms. There is no fiddling about trying to persuade loaded bicycles to get into narrow lifts. You will know roughly where the bike carrying carriages will stop. Go to the correct area of the platform. Take the bags off the bike. Put all the bags together. When the train arrives enter the train through a door with a bike logo. Just prop the bike up and return to the platform to pick up your bags. Leaving your passport and camera on the platform could probably spoil your day. Get back on the train and hang the bike up. Find a seat and collapse.
When you get off the train, push your bike along the platform. It is strictly forbidden to ride bikes on platforms.

Ferries and Steamers
There are ferries and ships on the larger lakes. There is normally no problem getting your bike on board. Just tell the person in the booking office. A bungee or a strap is a useful accessory to fasten the bike to the mainmast or similar, so everything is shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Diversions
Our favourite trip is from Andermatt over the Oberalp Pass and then down the Rhine Valley to Lake Constance with good mountain views all the way.

Bike / Europe - Sweden

Europe by Bike – Sweden

Europe by bike - Swedish trains

The new high-speed rail service from Stockholm to Eskilstuna.

The railways in Sweden have a network of 13,000 km of track. The major operator is the state-owned SJ, but there are other operators such as Veolia, Tågkompaniet, Norrtåg and Inlandsbanan.

Left to itself, the major Swedish rail operator SJ is not very cyclist friendly, although matters have improved greatly recently. The SJ will run a number of mainline and regional trains with accompanied bicycle transport from certain stations and trains from Mondays to Fridays, in the summer in June, July and August, and on some lines from May until December.  On all other mainline routes and at all other times you can take your bike when it is first partially dismantled, packed and stowed as baggage. (Thanks are due to Cykelfrämjandet, the Swedish cyclists association for their help.)

Trains

X 2000
These very popular SJ high speed trains link Stockholm to major Swedish cities. The ADFC, the German Cyclists’ Club, reports on its website that some cyclists said that they could take their bikes in X2000 trains, though it is not officially allowed. Whether these bicycles were partially dismantled and bagged was not mentioned.
More conventional mainline trains:

SJ
InterCity trains are much slower than the X 200 trains. Some of these services offer limited bicycle transport in summer. The company also runs a number of night trains including a useful one for us from Malmö to Berlin, but it too does not take bicycles.

Veolia:
Runs a few trains daily from Malmö to Stockholm and return. If these take unbagged bicycles it will be a very small number.

  1. Runs Lapplandståget/ Lapland train, a weekly train from Malmö to Lappland and on to Narvik from the beginning of July to middle of August – Fridays Malmö – Narvik returning on Sunday. Bicycles are transported on this train. It costs 99 SEK to take your bicycle along to Lapland from Malmö and Stockholm. Only one bicycle and one piece of luggage is allowed per passenger – inventive packing is called for. Space can be reserved online, but only Scandinavian credit cards are accepted on the website.
  2. Runs trains on the Swedish end of the twice daily Mittnabotåget/Nabotåget service between Trondheim (N) and Östersund / Sundsvall (S). Whether the Norrtåg services mentioned below are a replacement or a additional service is not clear.

Regional Trains
Some of these trains are operated by SJ and some by more customer orientated organisations.

The Inlandsbanan from Kristinehamn in central Sweden to Gällivare in the north running through the wilds of northern Sweden takes bicycles from early June to the end of August. How interesting this area is for cyclists other than the purple-legged knotted-muscle MTB types, who wear shorts even in the middle of winter is debatable. The cost is SEK 50 for a single journey between two points on the line. Bikes are only allowed if there is room, but this appears to be the case normally, according to reports we have read from the ADFC. A charming feature of this line is that the FIAT diesel rail cars used on the line do not have restaurant or buffet facilities, but prebooking of meals or snacks in restaurant along the way is organised by the company. The train stops at various restaurants for half an hour or so.

Tågkompaniet, owned by NSB, Norwegian Railways runs trains in the middle of Sweden. Map On all trains in the Bergslagen area and the X-trains, there are two bike places in each train. In Värmland county, bikes are allowed on the trains as long as space is available.

NSB also runs regional trains between Goteborg in Sweden and Oslo in Norway. These trains take bicycles without reservation.

Skåne Commuter Transit in southern Sweden operates the Öresund line into Denmark and the railways for about 100km around Malmö. Services are contracted out to Arriva. An accompanied bicycle costs the same as a child’s single ticket on both trains and buses. Bikes are allowed on the train if there´s room. The train manager decides how many bikes can be taken. In general:

  • Pågatågen: at most 10 bikes/train or section
  • Reginatågen: at most 2 bikes/train or section
  • Öresund line: at most 9 bikes/train or section.

On regional buses with the necessary fittings in this area bikes are carried at the weekend between 04:00 and 23:00 but only if there`s room and for a maximum of two bikes. This applies daily during the summer holidays from 15 June to 15 August .

Norrtåg: The north of Sweden now enjoys a cyclist friendly service by Norrtåg AB a joint DB/SJ company. See the route map for details.

Tickets

Swedish railway tickets are a complex matter. There are inter-company booking arrangements called Resplus. However on some local lines two companies run in competition and then each others’ tickets are not valid, unless you specifically buy a Resplus ticket. Interrail tickets are accepted as far as we can see. There are also discounts for the young and pensioners. Each of the railway companies will sell you tickets for the whole system.

Veolia tickets can be purchased online on their website, but only Nordic credit cards are accepted. For all other credit cards, tickets can be booked and purchased over the telephone: Customer Service +46 771-26 00 00. Tickets are posted home and a small distribution fee applies. It is probably easier to use Raileurope or the major European state railway companies to purchase a ticket. Interrail cards are valid for travel on the Lappland train. Seats can be reserved for 29 SEK and couchettes for 249 SEK.

Getting there and back

We assume that the reader wishes to travel to Sweden to go cycle touring, rather than moving there to live. We would suggest that good places to go touring are Skäne east and northeast of Malmö, the west coast up to Göteborg, the Trollhätte and Göta Canals from Göteborg east or northeastwards from Malmö to Stockholm. Since there is but one train a day from Malmö to Stockholm that takes bicycles early in the morning. it is better to travel to Malmö and start cycling, rather than travelling by train with a bicycle to Stockholm, unless you wish to spend a day and night in Malmö. The best way to get to Malmö from London is via Harwich, Esbjerg and Copenhagen.

Journey Mode Cost Passenger/Bike Comment
Harwich about 17:00
Esbjerg a: next day 13:00
DFDS Ship* £169 for 2 people You will need to eat on the ship dinner and breakfast cost about ?40 pp if booked in advance. This ship sails on three or four days a week.
Esbjerg d: 14:42 Copenhagen :17:49 IC* 46 Euros
Copenhagen d: 18:13 Malmö a: 18:46 RE
Journey Mode Cost Passenger/Bike Comment
Malmö d: 11:33 Copenhagen a:1207 RE
Copenhagen d: 12:30Esbjerg a:15:26 IC 46 Euros pp
Esbjerg d:18:45 Harwich a: 12:00 the next day DFDS Ship £169 for 2 people You will need to eat on the ship dinner and breakfast cost about ?40 pp if booked in advance. This ship sails on three or four days a week.

Putting Bikes on SJ Trains

You need to work out which train you wish to catch, buy a bicycle ticket/reservation for 249 SEK per bicycle (a whopping £25). You then go to the platform from which your train will depart to be there at least 20 minutes before the train departs. You should remove all luggage from the bike and wait for the arrival of the BestXpress personnel who wear bright orange waistcoats. They will load your bike on the train and when the train arrives at your destination they will be present on the platform to unload your bicycle. In case of problems in either phase of the operation ring 0771-71 71 71. It is definitely a gold plated solution, by no means customer friendly and the fact that all over Europe cyclists are loading their own bikes on trains seems to have escaped the notice of the SJ management.

Website

Veolia has a first page in Swedish and then, if you are lucky and you click the right spot you are directed to a page where you can click on a Union Jack to find a page in English about the Lappland train and the Malm? – Stockholm services. However you cannot use anything but a Scandinavian credit card to buy tickets. This is a good encouragement to use the Rail Europe or Deutsche Bahn ticketing services.

Skåne Commuter Transit is useful if you have a working knowledge of Swedish.

Inlandsbanan is a clear and simple website, but don’t send for the brochure, unless you really want to go there. Once you read it you will find yourself packing a rucksack and working out the most convenient way to get there.

Ferries

The ferries from Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Poland and Finland all take bicycles, as do the ferries out to the Swedish and Finnish islands.

Diversions

Your authors would dearly like to take the 1300 km long Inlandsbanan from Kristinehamn in central Sweden to Gällivare in the north. From the northern end we could take a train to Narvik on the Kiruna iron ore line. Then maybe the Hurtigruten ship to Trondheim and the Mitnatbotåget back to Sweden.

Bike / Rail - France

Europe by Bike – France

The basic message is that long distance travel with a bicycle by train in France is possible, despite what you might have heard about high speed trains like the TGV, but choice is limited and you need to book early, especially in summer. Regional services that can take accompanied bicycles are sparse but good. The French Railways web site can be found at www.voyages-sncf.com.
Railway lines in France are less dense than in Germany and there are fewer trains on the lines. Out in the sticks, two trains a day appears to be the norm, but services to the regional centres are generally adequate. The SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français or French National Railway Corporation) incorporates TGV, France’s high-speed rail network. Its functions include operation of trains for passengers and freight, and maintenance and signalling of rail infrastructure owned by Réseau Ferré de France (RFF).
This is the very French solution to European directives formulated to impose competition on national and pan-European rail networks. Great Britain got a botched privatisation, and the French kept the whole SNCF edifice intact by making it look privatised. Who is to say they were wrong? Recent work by the Office of the Rail Regulator suggests that National Rail is 34-40% less efficient than the nationalised European norm, and as we all know, standard British fares are the most expensive in Europe too.
Harking back to a time when we exported technology to France rather than the other way round, French trains drive on the left, except in Alsace and parts of Lorraine that were German between 1870 and 1918. Trams and underground railways run on the right because of their origins as road transport.
Travelling to various regions of France is described in “Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe”.
You can download a slightly out-of-date map of the SNCF (there doesn’t seem to be anything better) at http://bit.ly/1PDA8RW

 

Train Types and Operators

Brompton_tgv_avignon

Brompton: The Fat Controller’s ideal bike, with a TGV in the background

Long distance express trains
Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV)
Literally ‘high speed train’, TGVs are very fast and comfortable train sets. Some of the newer examples of the class are double-deckers. Up to four bicycles are carried on certain TGV services: TGV Atlantique (except Duplex trains), parts of TGV Nord, TGV Est and TGV Lyria (Services to Switzerland from Paris Gare de Lyon).
A few words of warning though: tandems and recumbents (these are almost unknown in France), are only officially carried in trains with guards vans/baggage cars, which are now rare. They do seem to be tolerated elsewhere, although space can be tight.
When travelling on bike-carrying TGVs you will need to reserve bike places. Not only are there typically only four places available on each train, but the bikes block four part-time seats that can be used by travellers without reserved tickets, of whom there can be quite a few. They are unlikely to give up their seats unless you can wave a reservation under their noses and threaten to call the Gendarmes.
There is another class of TGV, the iDTGV which can only be booked online and offers cheaper fares than the conventional TGV trains. It appears to be aimed at the student market, but there are no age limits. This offers three types of accommodation: iDZap, iDZen and iDNight in the usual two classes: first and second class. iDZap is intended as an area where you get to know your fellow passengers. Probably a good place to practise your French chat up lines. iDZen is the public library area. Nobody speaks and you can read “Candide” in peace. iDNight is an overnight or a late in the day train and appears to be a moving disco and bar running more slowly than a conventional TGV. It sounds like a vision of Hell. However these trains cost about half the price of their conventional equivalents. There is, however, a major snag for the cyclist. These trains do not take bicycles unless they are bagged in a similar manner to the Eurostar trains, and you can only take two pieces of luggage on board, which sounds like a recipe for inventive packing.

DB RE meets TER in Wissembourg

DB and TER trains at Wissembourg station. Judith and Neil Forsyth

Intercité
These are conventional trains hauled by a locomotive. The trains run not only between major centres, but also important regional settlements. They are slightly slower than the TGVs, but fares are cheaper. Some are sleeper trains running at night.These are couchette rather than sleeping car trains, but on these trains one compartment has been modified to act as a bike garage. (See Table in the Onward Travel chapter.)

Bikes in TER

Bikes in TER. Judith and Neil Forsyth

Regional Trains – Transport Express Régional (TER)
SNCF operates local railways and buses under the name TER. These services are heavily subsidised by the French taxpayer, with 72% of the cost being borne by the State and the regional councils on average, so travellers only pay about a third of the full cost of provision. TER trains consist of single or multiple-unit diesel, electric or dual-mode rail cars, as well as some Grandes Lignes rolling stock that has been ‘cascaded’ from intercity routes.

Popular Cycling Areas in France
Brittany, the Atlantic Coast: La Vèlodyssée, the Jura, the Loire Valley (Eurovélo 6), the Pyrenees, the Canal de Midi and surprisingly the Rhine Valley between Basel and Lauterbourg where the French bank of the river offers much better cycling than the German side which uses a maintenance road for the river authority as acycle track.

Tickets
SNCF services are divided into two groups: Grandes Lignes (main line) and TER (regional services). Although nominally separate, the two groups work together and in practice there is no difference between them. If you use the SNCF home page this will also show TER services where appropriate. Not all, but some of the main line services will take bicycles, including some of the high speed TGVs, whereas the vast majority of regional trains do. You can find out which mainline trains carry bikes by checking timetables on www.voyages-sncf.com and seeing which trains display a bicycle logo. If there is room on your chosen train you can turn up, pop your bike on the train and away you go. You can however reserve bike places on long distance trains before travelling, and it is highly advisable. The local TER trains do not accept reservations and bicycle transport is free. Folders are welcome everywhere, provided they do not exceed 120cm x 90cm x 60cm.
There are a number of possibilities in Britain, and you can now book bike tickets online from www.captainetrain.com (see ‘Bike Tickets’ below).
1. By Phone – Voyages-SNCF: 0844 848 5848 Mon-Fri – 09:00-19:00 Saturday – 09:00-18:00
2. Online at https://www.capitainetrain.com.. The voyages-sncf.com site doesn’t seem to offer a simple way of booking a bike ticket online whereas the capitainetrain website lets you book bikes on French trains online, but not on Eurostar. It is probably better to sort out Eurostar and SNCF by phone.

Railcards
SNCF offers several rail cards: For the old, the young, the very young, families and normal people. These only really pay if you live in France or are intending to travel extensively in France.

Bicycle Tickets
Your bicycle will cost ten Euros on long distance trains within France, but you MUST book early to get space on some Intercite and all TGV trains. A trailer probably costs the same amount, but this could be awkward in a TGV where there is limited bike space. Cycling for the French either means road bikes with violently coloured Lycra à la Tour de France or rusty pre-WWI ladies’ bikes used by farm workers in the country. Neither of these ever pull trailers. In our experience if you can show willing and partially dismantle the trailer it does help. Bicycle transport on local TER trains is free.
International bicycle tickets cost €10 – 15 and include a reservation for a bicycle. These are valid from your starting station to your destination. Recumbents (even short wheelbase recumbents) and tandems seem to cost double, even though they are technically banned from most trains.
To arrange bike transport on Intercité or TGV trains in France, it is now possible to book both your seat reservation and bike reservation at the same time by using the Capitaine Train online booking service: full details in English at https://blog.capitainetrain.com/6555-take-bike-on-train-france

The Composteur

The “Composteur” By Judith and Neil Forsyth

Getting you and your bicycle on the train
If catching a train from a station with more than two platforms, the departure platform is announced only ten minutes before the train arrives. In Paris Est for example the departure platform of the TGV/ICE to Frankfurt is announced ten minutes before departure, causing an almighty stampede. The same is true in Germanically drilled Strasbourg, even though the train has been waiting empty for half an hour or so (If you have to wait in Strasbourg in winter use the northern concourse. It’s a lot warmer and there are more seats.). Way down south in Nice things are fortunately more casual and the departure platform of the sleeper trains is made public a good hour before departure.
You may have to hang (accrocher) your bikes on hooks anchored in the compartment ceiling. Unless you are built like Atlas, remove the panniers first. Avoid trying to lift the bikes up once the train is moving and take them down (deccrocher) in good time before your destination.
When you are on the way to the platform to catch your train, you will see small yellow pillars labelled ‘Compostage’ with a slit. Stick your ticket/s for the journey as purchased from ticket machines or the ticket office in this slit. You will hear the machine whine and print the date on your ticket/s. They are then valid for that journey but cannot be used again. If you do not do this you could be fined €50 or so by the conductor on the train.

Diversion
We normally cross France in the dark to or from Paris and then take a night train south, though we did enjoy running into Nice along the Mediterranean coast early on a winter morning. We did enjoy a three week trip cycle partly along Eurovélo 6 from Breisach to Bordeaux some years ago, but if I was to do it again we would cycle upstream with the prevailing wind on our backs.

Bike / Rail - Finland

Europe by Bike – Finland

A to B Finland - rail networkWe will not write much about Finnish railways, although the organisation is very cyclist-friendly. Finland lies well to the north and east in Europe. It is at least a three day journey from Britain by train and ship to get there, so travelling to the country on the ground is only of interest to the railway or shipping enthusiast, or the seriously green. We think it would be quite an interesting trip.
Finland is lightly populated. There are long distance lines connecting the main centres of population with Helsinki. The proximity to Russia means that the railways in Finland have a network of 5,919 km of 1,524 mm (5 ft) gauge track which connects the major towns and cities mainly with Helsinki. Effectively the only operator is the state-owned VR.

Getting to Finland by train and ship
The easiest surface route for bicycles and their owners from the UK to Helsinki is the three-night trip (Hull – P&O or Harwich – Stena) via Europoort or Hook of Holland, then train via Rotterdam, Osnabrück and Hamburg to Travemünde or Rostock, and ship to Helsinki.
The only international passenger trains in Finland connect Helsinki with St Petersburg, Vyborg and Moscow. The Finnish gauge is similar enough to the Russian gauge at 1,520 mm to allow running trains backwards and forwards into Russia without changing bogies. There is a link westwards to the standard gauge Swedish system in Tornio in Lapland that does involve a bogey change system, but this is only used by goods trains. Bicycles can only be shipped to Russia if packed in a bag or box.

A to B Finland

Tickets
There are first (Business) class tickets available on long distance trains. These cost at least 50% more than normal second class tickets.
Family tickets offer free travel to children between 6 and 16 accompanied by a fare paying adult.
Pensioners can purchase their tickets with a 50% discount.
Tickets can be booked on line, from VR station booking offices, VR sales agents, ticket vending machines and train conductors. The ticket may be delivered as an e-ticket (printed by the customer or sent in text message and multimedia format to the customer’s mobile phone, but not all phones are supported), or as a ticket sent to the customer by post, but only in Finland. The ticket may also be picked up at a ticket vending machine or a station booking office. Tickets to Russia cannot be booked online.

Website
Excellent and easy to use. Tickets may be bought online every day between 6.00-23.30 and paid for by a range of credit cards. www.vr.fi/en/index.html

A to B Finland - EDM Sleeping Car

Finish EDM sleeping car

Putting bikes on trains
Express Trains
The following train types take bicycles: Regional Trains, Express Trains, InterCity, InterCity2 and night trains.
Tandems and cycle trailers can be transported in those day and night express trains which transport luggage and in some other trains marked with a suitcase in timetables.
•    In express and regional trains, customers should bring the bicycle to the conductor’s van as with large luggage and collect it at the arrival station.
•    Customers should transfer their bicycle to another train themselves when changing trains.
•    Groups should make arrangements concerning transport of bicycles in advance.
Paying for your bicycle in advance at a VR station costs €5, a bicycle and trailer cost €10, and a tandem, booked in advance at a VR station costs €18. If you pay the on-board conductor it will cost €20.

InterCity Train
Bicycle spaces must be booked in advance from VR Customer Care or a station booking office, i.e. not online.
Customers should bring their bicycle to the bicycle space in the double-decker wagon of InterCity trains. It is possible to lock the bicycle with a 50 cent coin as deposit. The coin is returned when the bicycle is removed from the stand after the journey.
InterCity trains do not take tandems or cycle trailers. A bicycle booked with a passenger costs €9.

Overland bus and coach
There is an extensive network of overland buses in Finland run by a number of different, cooperating bus companies under the umbrella Expressbus. These buses will take bicycles as long there is room. It is necessary to reserve places in advance and charges may apply.

Ferries
It is possible to reach Finland by ferry from Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden.

Diversions
We have never been to Finland. One of us is allergic to mosquito bites.

 

Bike / Rail - Denmark

Europe by Bike – Denmark

A to B Denmark - rail networkEurope by Bike – Denmark

Two-thousand six-hundred kilometres of railways link the major towns and cities in Denmark. The major operator is De Danske Statsbaner (DSB) and there are a number of smaller private operators of which the biggest is Arriva. Danish railways are cyclist-friendly, with special spaces for bicycles on trains. Both Denmark and the Netherlands are sensibly investing in their cycle networks and it shows.

Trains
High Speed Trains, ICE
DB/DSB jointly operate international ICEs from Hamburg to Copenhagen via Padborg or Puttgarden throughout the day, but there are the usual restrictions on bicycles: Partially dismantled and bagged seems to be allowed.

A to B Denmark - DSB IC3

DSB IC3 train at Frederikshavn, Denmark

InterCity (IC), EuroCity (EC), InterCityLyn (ICL), X2000
The three EuroCity pairs from Hamburg to Kopenhagen and the X2000 fast train to Stockholm do not take bicycles, except the usual bagged and partially dismantled variation. There are hourly trains from Hamburg to Copenhagen which take bicycles where it is necessary to change in Flensburg and Fredericia
Domestic InterCity and InterCityLyn trains take bicycles outside of the rush hour (06:00-09:00 and 15:00-18:00). Bicycles are not transported free. The cost varies with distance. Reservation of bicycle places is essential. Pre-book at stations or call  +45 70131415. You can stand anywhere but your bike can’t!

A to B Denmark - Avedoere Station

Avedoere Station

Regional and Local Trains
Bicycle transport within Greater Copenhagen is free on the S-Tog (Suburban Rail).
RØ, RV, ØR (Öresund Trains) regional trains, at least in Denmark and InterRegional (IR) trains carry bicycles (see note below). Reservations are not required.
Öresund Trains cross the Öresund bridge and tunnel every 20 minutes. Travelling time between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden) is about 35 minutes. These trains run the whole way round Öresund from Helsinger in Denmark via Copenhagen and Malmö to Helsingborg and other cities in Sweden. The Öresund service across ‘The Bridge’ to Malmö has been affected by the influx of refugees, and passengers must now change at Kastrup Airport Station and show ID to travel on to Sweden. The latest information we have is that the trains across the bridge do not take bicycles. If you wish to travel to Sweden from Copenhagen, travel to Helsingor and take the ferry to Helsingbor. There is a frequent service (www.scandlines.com/). It is cheaper to book the ferry in advance.

Getting to Denmark
Until the replacement for the DFDS service from Harwich to Esbjerg arrives, the only surface route by public transport to Copenhagen from London is via Harwich and the daytime Stena Line ferry to Hoek van Holland, and then via Rotterdam, Amersfoot, Osnabrück, Hamburg, Flensberg and Fredericia to Copenhagen.

Tickets
DSB offers first (DSB1) and second (Standard) class tickets which are refundable. There are also non-refundable Orange Tickets. Children travel for about half the adult fare and grey haired over 65 year olds receive a 50% discount on their tickets. Tickets can be bought at stations, online (but see below) from DSB; online from Voyages SNCF; by phone +45 70131415 or in case of difficulty by emailing kundenhenv@dsb.dk.
There are also clip cards that will save you money as long as you use the whole card. These might make sense with a group. One good idea is that you can reserve seats in one of three zones:
 •  Standard
 •  Standard Stillezone  Compartment/Area where you need to be silent, and mobile phones should either be turned off or in silent mode.
 • Standard Familiezone  As its name suggests there may be children present in this area and therefore it could be noisy.

The Website
The website is not the ideal place to buy Danish railway tickets, unless you speak Danish with the fluency of Hamlet. It is in Danish, although there is an explanatory page in English: www.dsb.dk/om-dsb/in-english/. These English pages also contain a guide to how to buy a ticket online, but the pages referred to are in Danish.
There are various pop ups that occur from time to time offering you cheaper transfer to first class and similar. The DSB suggests that English-speakers cut and paste the pop up to a translation program. At this point your internet-friendly or even addicted researcher decided life was too short for this type of fun and games. We would suggest you either join a queue at a station or use the French or German railway’s British agents, Voyages SNCF or Deutsche Bahn, if you wish to buy your tickets beforehand.

Putting Bikes on Trains and Buses
Bicycles but not tandems and bike trailers are transported on most DSB services and on private regional trains. DSB trains that do not take bicycles are shown in the timetables with a crossed out bicycle pictogram. You are expected to load your bicycle yourself onto Danish trains. There are bicycle pumps in the existing bicycle compartments on suburban trains in Greater Copenhagen.
Having written this, our experience some years ago on the Copenhagen-Flensburg service was not as we would have wished. The train was 12 carriages or so long, and split up at various points en route, with two or four car sets going off to somewhere else. We made the mistake of travelling from Roskilde, west of Copenhagen. There was no indication where one should stand to find the part of the train with a specific destination, and no members of staff on the platform to tell us. This meant that rather than being able to take our bags off our bicycles and putting the bikes and bags on the train separately, we needed to climb up steep steps with heavily laden bicycles.
When the train arrived, we got into a carriage due for Odense just to get on the train. We were directed at Ringsted station to change to a carriage further forward. When we ran almost the length of the train and got on at the point where a conductor was standing, we discovered that we were now in the train to Esbjerg. At the next station we had to repeat the procedure and finally managed to get to the correct portion of the train.
We now realise that we should have joined the train in Copenhagen where it started and where we would have had time to walk down the train to find our carriage. However one does wish that DSB could invest a bob or two in indicating where carriages are likely to stop. Most continental railways manage this, even British operators who are not high in the customer satisfaction stakes manage to make things a reasonably clear.
Country bus services in Denmark can take two or three bicycles, if there is room and the driver agrees.

Ferries
Denmark is an archipelago, consisting of the Jutland peninsular and a number of islands. Due to the country’s geography, the road system in the Danish archipelago makes frequent use of ferries. Local car ferries link most islands to the road network. All the car ferries and many regional excursion ships take bicycles. There are regular international ferries to and from the Faroe Islands, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the UK. The good news is that even when a car ferry is ‘full’, there is always space for another bike.

Diversions
The most interesting trip we can recommend, unfortunately, without your bicycle, unless it is bagged etc., is the ICE-TD trip from Hamburg or Lübeck to Copenhagen. The train travels via the Vogelfluglinie (Bird Flight Line) and is shunted on to a Puttgarden-Rodby ferry for the 50 minute trip across the Baltic.

 

Bike / Rail - Belgium

Europe by Bike – Belgium

Europe with Bike – Belgium

The railways in Belgium offer the full range of rail services, from high speed international trains to slow moving local trains. Prices are low. The nationalised company is very cyclist friendly, even tandem friendly, and the majority of trains take bicycles, but not always very many. Belgian Railways are known as NCMBS (Nationale Maatschappij der Belgische Spoorwegen) in Flemish or SNCB (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Belges) in French, in this country divided by language. Oddly enough the railway company does not seem to have a name at all in Belgium’s third official language, German.
The system has about 3,300 km of standard gauge track, mostly electrified. Trains in Belgium normally run on the left, showing the British involvement in building the rail network in the nineteenth century. How times have changed.
Belgium has a policy of cheap rail travel. Citizens in Belgium, especially students and the elderly, are offered incentives and cheaper fares to alleviate road congestion. Public sector employees and many private sector employees receive subsidised season tickets. The great majority of trains, except high speed trains, offer bicycle transport, which means these facilities are not mentioned in official information. An unfortunate side effect is that it is almost impossible to pinpoint those trains which do not carry bikes. These however are few in number. On some domestic IC trains there may only be room for two bicycles. We have discussed matters with a German cyclist living on the border with Belgium who regularly transports his bicycle on Belgian trains. He wrote that outside of rush hours one can store the bike in the entrance area of a carriage. His advice was then to stay near your bike and act friendly when the conductor-guard comes around. (Thanks to the ADFC Aachen for this information.)
Travelling to Belgium is described in ‘Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe’.

Train Types
There are a number of international High Speed Trains: Thalys, Eurostar, SNCF TGV, DB InterCity Express (ICE) which can whisk you across Europe at high speed and in great comfort, but these trains do not accept bicycles except bagged folding bikes or partly disassembled bikes in a bag. Bagged bikes going to France must have a label showing the passenger’s name and seat number.

Bike Europe, Belgium. Thalys

Thalys traction unit at Aachen Hauptbahnhof

Thalys
On board the Thalys, a bicycle is only allowed if its front wheel has been removed and if the bicycle is packed in a special bicycle cover (maximum measurement: 120x90cm).

TGV Brussels – France
Your bike can be carried free of charge as ‘hand luggage’, on condition that it is dismantled (wheels removed) and placed in a special cover for bike transport with maximum dimensions of 120x90cm. When it is packed like this, your bike can be stowed in one of the spaces available at the ends of each carriage.

InterCity/EuroCity (IC/EC)?
IC
The domestic ICs which extend into Holland and Luxembourg do carry bicycles. Older stock (carriages) carry two bicycles per train, but there is more room for bicycles in the more modern double decker trains. However it is not possible to find out which type of train will be used on any one particular journey. Early morning trains from Luxembourg to Belgium are normally double decker trains. It is not possible to reserve bike slots on these trains. You will need to buy a bike ticket in Belgium when travelling to Luxembourg or an International Bicycle Ticket in Luxembourg when travelling to Belgium. Bicycles travel for free in Luxembourg. (Thanks to the Letzelbuerger Velo Initiativ for the information)

EC
Two EuroCity trains circulate daily between Brussels and Switzerland via Namur, Luxembourg and eastern France. Both of which accept bicycles. Bike slots must be reserved and International Bicycle Tickets bought.
•    Vauban (EC 91/90)
•    Iris (97/96) to Zurich (via Basel)

bEurope by bike, Belgium, Brussel Zuid

Suburban train in Brusel-Midi

Regional trains
There are a number of local lines. Most of these carry bicycles, though it might only be two or three. Timetable information can be found on the Belgian Rail domestic website: www.belgianrail.be/.
A map of the rail system (PDF).
For dealing with the guard, follow the advice given by our German contact in the second paragraph of this section.

Popular Cycling Areas in Belgium
The most popular cycling routes in Belgium are:
•    Vlaanderen Fietsroute (Flanders Cycle Route) a circular route, which can be picked up near Zeebrugge and takes about two weeks to cycle comfortably. There also extensive networks of shorter cycle routes in Flanders, including World War One routes around Ypers and Pop (Ypres and Poperinge) which make for sobering cycling… Navigation is easy because of the use of Knooppunter (Navigation Nodes)
•    Not to be outdone, the French-speaking Belgians have set up the Ravel network of cycle routes, one of which starts in Lille with good access from Eurostar trains and ends in Wiltz to the north of Luxembourg, a day’s ride, or an hour or so on the train from Luxembourg city, with access to TGVs, ECs and ICs to Paris and/or Brussels. Two other ways into the network start in Brussels.
Interestingly both of the websites mentioned above profess to give information about cycling in Belgium, but do not offer any information about the other website.

Tickets
SNCB/NMBS offers an excellent range of special low price tickets. As mentioned earlier there are many incentives offering cheap travel by train in Belgium, some of which can be used by foreign tourists. Examples include:
•    Children’s tickets: Children from the age of 0 to 12, accompanied by a traveller over the age of 12 who is holder of a valid ticket (max. 4 children per person) can travel free of charge in 1st and 2nd class without any time limitation. Children from the age of 0 to 12, unaccompanied, can travel in both classes at a 50% reduction in the price.
•    Under 26 year olds can use the Go Pass 1 to travel anywhere in Belgium for €6, except Brussels Airport which is surcharged to pay for a new airport link.
•    Anybody can travel on a Weekend ticket outward and return, 1st or 2nd class, and receive a 50% discount. Decide what day you want to leave (Friday after 19.00, Saturday or Sunday) and you return when you want on the Friday (after 19.00), Saturday or Sunday of the same weekend. In addition, you can return from a station other than the one where your outward journey ended, as long as you mention this when you’re buying your ticket. (Only possible for Weekend tickets purchased in a station and on the train, but not online). You needn’t do this if the return station in question is one of nine seaside resorts.
•    The Senior ticket costs €6 for a day return journey in 2nd class and €13.00 in 1st class to any destination in Belgium. The Senior ticket is valid year round:
•    Monday through Friday: after 09:00am
•    Saturday and Sunday: no timetable restrictions
•    Except in July and August when it is not valid on Saturday and Sunday.
•    Between two Belgian stations (frontier points excluded) on IC, IR, L, P, CR and ICT domestic trains as well as on conventional EC international trains. What frontier points seem to mean is that if travelling across the Belgian border you book to the station before the border and buy standard tickets for the trip across the border.
Buying a ticket for trains in Belgium or on an international train leaving Belgium?, you can use the Belgian Railways website: www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx
The website is divided into two parts, domestic and International.
The Belgium Railways International website is programmed to push you towards high speed trains, so if you are taking a bike – unless you have a folding bike or you are prepared to partly dismantle your bike and pop it in a bike bag – it is better to use www.voyage-sncf.com by phone: 08448 484 064 (in the UK), Mon-Fri, 09:00-19:00 Saturday, 09:00-18:00, as bike spaces can’t be booked online . Up to date information can be found under the online link: https://uk.voyages-sncf.com/en/#/
Once in Belgium you can also buy tickets from ticket offices and ticket machines on stations.

Bicycle Tickets?
There are two domestic bicycle tickets:
•    a one way trip using the €5 ‘cycle card & tandem card’ for a bicycle/tandem (plus a trailer).
•    a ‘one-day card’ (libre-parcours d’un jour), which lets you take your bicycle/tandem (plus a trailer) on the train for €8 all day long anywhere in the country.
You can buy the former online from the domestic website, but not the latter. The tickets should be purchased before getting on the train. They can be bought from Belgian Rail ticket offices and ticket machines. There is one exception: Aachen in Germany like many border stations counts as a domestic station for Belgium, but is not possible to buy Belgian bike tickets from the machines in the station. One needs to buy one on the train and pay a small extra charge.
International bicycle tickets valid in more than one country cost €12 for a bicycle and €24 for a tandem.

Getting you, your bike and your gear on a train
It would appear that Brussels Midi and Brussels Nord stations are convenient places to unload or load your bicycle in Brussels. Unloading and loading at Brussels Central, Brussels Chapelle or Brussels Congres is very difficult, if not impossible according to SNCB/NMBS.
Some years ago we spent some time in Mechelen on a round trip through Flanders and because we’d lost half a day due to a broken spoke, we decided to take a train for 50 km or so. We bought tickets for ourselves and the bikes and then waited on the platform for our train. We stood roughly at the ideal spot on the platform, i.e. where we expected the middle of the train to arrive. The train arrived and when it stopped, a hand appeared out of a door at the head of the train and waved us on. We ran up the platform and realised that the entrance was at chest height. Neither of us are dwarfs but we are vertically challenged. The conductor helped us lift the bikes on to the train and we fastened them to the wall. There was room for a few bikes. Obviously the space available is dependent on the rolling stock.

Europe by bike, Belgium - Maas ferry

Schelde Ferry on the kind of day when you want to ring in sick and go cycling

Ferries and river steamers in Belgium
There are small ferries on the Schelde offering transport across the river for cyclists.

Diversions
We enjoyed the Flanders Route some years ago. Eastern Belgium is hillier than one imagines. The food, especially the chips and the chocolate are superb. They give you enough calories to climb the hills.

 

 

 

Austria

Europe by Bike – Austria

Europe with Bike – Austria

The Austrian standard gauge network is about 5,700 km in length. Map The OeBB – Österreichische Bundesbahn, Austrian Federal Railways, runs several hundred mainline passenger trains and goodness knows how many regional and local trains daily, and it is bicyclist-friendly. Bicycles can be carried in practically all trains including ‘railjet’ high speed trains too (see below). Tickets can be purchased from the usual agents and online: http://www.oebb.at/en/index.jsp.
Travelling to Austria is described in ‘Taking your bicycle by bus, train and ship across Europe’.

Train Types

A to B Austria - Railjet High Speed TrainRailjet
The ÖBB railjet high speed trains now connect major centres in Austria, as well as its neighbouring countries with high speed trains running at top speeds of 230 km/h: Vienna via Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bregenz to Zurich, via Graz and Klagenfurt to Villach or Budapest – Vienna – Munich. Some of the latter trains run on to Stuttgart, Mannheim or Frankfurt/Main. The railjet trains have also run from Graz via Vienna and Brno to Prague at two-hourly interval since December 2014.
There are three classes: Economy, First and Premium (25 Euros plus First Class fare*). Until now, no bikes have been allowed except folders and even then only in a bag. Each of the 51 Railjet trains is being modified to take five bicycles. At the moment several railjet trains a day on the Austrian services and also to Zurich in Switzerland offer bike slots. By the end of 2016 all of these trains will take bicycles, but probably not the trains running into Germany. Deutsche Bahn which has fought and still is fighting tooth and nail against putting bike slots on the ICE German high speed trains does wish to demonstrate that high speed trains and bicycles are compatible.
* For the extra cost you not only get leather seats and more legroom, but more importantly, you are addressed as Herr or Frau Doktor or even Herr Professor. The Austrians are big on titles.

A to B - Austrian Federal Railways InterCity Train

Austrian Federal Railways InterCity Train © ÖBB

InterCity Trains
EC and IC trains link major centres. The majority carry accompanied bicycles. Reservation is necessary.

REX/R/S-Bahn
Local and regional passenger trains always take bicycles, but reservation is not possible.

A to B Austria - ÖBB IC

ÖBB IC © ÖBB

Westbahn
Westbahn is a private railway company running trains from Vienna to Salzburg via Linz. There is an hourly service for much of the day. Standard fares are often cheaper than OeBB fares. The single passenger fare on Westbahn from Vienna to Salzburg is 24.90 Euro. A bicycle costs 5 Euro, if pre-booked, and 10 Euro for a ticket bought on the train. The equivalent OeBB fares are between 24 and 52 Euro + 10% surcharge for a bicycle. Tickets can be bought in Trafiken (tobacconists) in Austria, online from www.westbahn.at and on the trains. As usual tandems are not carried. OeBB and other state railway companies’ tickets are not valid. Travel times are similar for both OeBB and Westbahn.
If one wishes to travel onto Munich using a Westbahn train, bear in mind that it is necessary to change in Salzburg to a German regional train. It is not possible to buy these tickets on the Westbahn train, and it is better to buy them before you join the Westbahn, as the connection in Salzburg is only ten minutes. The cost of a Salzburg – Munich standard ticket is 30.70 Euro plus 5 Euro per bicycle at the time of writing. The combined cost of these two tickets Vienna-Salzburg and Salzburg-Munich is much higher that the Sparscheine Europa tickets offered by OeBB and discussed below. However Westbahn has a number of special offers which can be found on the company’s website.

Popular Cycling Areas in Austria
The most popular cycling route in Austria is the Danube Valley. It is very popular, so be warned. The Austrian section of the Danube starts in Passau in Germany on the Austrian border and runs down to Vienna and a little way beyond.
A particular favourite of ours is the Tauern Route from the Krimml waterfall near Zell-am-See to Salzburg and on to Passau. It is a pleasant week’s cycling on well signposted tracks with good Alpine views but little climbing, just as we like it.

Tickets
Tickets can be purchased from the usual agents and online: www.oebb.at/en/index.jsp. ÖBB’s ticket pricing policy has all the clarity of a discount airlines’ marketing policy.
ÖBB offers a cheap ticket similar to the DB (German Railways) Schönes Wochenende ticket called Einfach raus. Most of interest for cyclists will be the Einfach raus Radticket which includes bicycle tickets. It costs 42 Euro for two persons and 54 Euros for up to 5 people, valid for local and regional trains, after 09:00 until 03:00 the next morning from Monday to Friday,  and all day weekends and public holidays.
Lower price special offer ticket with restrictive conditions are available for foreign destinations. There are a limited number of Sparscheine cheap tickets for internal and international travel starting at 9 Euro for some internal trips and 19 Euro for international trains. These tickets limit travellers to a specified train, but are a bargain if one can plan ahead.

Getting you and your bike on a train
This service does not come free of charge. Bicycle tickets on inland trains cost 10% of the second class fare, at least two Euro. In long distance trains cyclists will also need to reserve a bike slot which costs 3 Euro if booked online and 3.50 Euro if booked from a ticket office. An international bicycle ticket costs 12 Euro. As usual, tandems, recumbents and bicycles with 29” wheels and larger can only be carried in special luggage vans. These cannot be booked online.
It is not possible to reserve a bike slot on local, regional or suburban trains. Bicycles can only be carried on these trains if enough room is available. Although dismantled or folded bikes packed in box or bag travel for free, they must fit into the luggage space. However in our experience it is often better if travelling for say an hour or so within Austria to take local trains as opposed to long distance trains as they often offer low level loading rather than the ‘Eiger North Wall steps’ on many Austrian long distance train carriages.

Ferries and Ships
ÖBB run ships on Lake Constance west of Bregenz. These take bikes by the container load.
There are not as many services on the Danube as on the Rhine, but Brandner (www.ms-austria.at/partner/brandner/) does run trips from Melk to Krems through what the company describes as the prettiest part of the Danube.

Diversions
We went to Toblach/Dobaccio one winter’s day and were most impressed by the run from Munich to Innsbruck and then the climb up the Brenner Pass. This is followed by the high speed descent down the Brenner and the bar on Franzenfeste station, but that is another story and in Italy.

 

Bike Europe

Europe by Bike – Trains

A to B magazine Bike EuropeForsythsJudith and Neil Forsyth are pensioners living in a small town in Southern Germany. They have written a number of cycle touring guide books in English, set mainly in SW Germany. They took up writing guide books both as an attempt to ward off Alzheimer’s Disease and because they realised that at that time there were only guides in German about cycling in Germany. The publishing industry showed no interest in the books and so the Forsyths  published a few books themselves. Later they adapted these books as e-books which can be ordered from Amazon and Smashwords. Cicerone has published one of their books: “Cycle Touring in Switzerland”. They are occasional contributors to “A to B” and similar arcane publications.
They have a website bicycletouringeurope.eu and write two blogs:
http://europeancycling.blogspot.de/ – about life and cycling in Germany, and http://hiking-rambling-walking.blogspot.de/ – reports on their rambles.

Travelling Europe

Although many of us have a dream of cycle touring where we set off from home for six months to reach Gibraltar via Tromso, Helsinki and Athens or to visit the Black Sea coast via Hook of Holland, Heidelberg and Vienna, most of us have limited time to go on holiday. Even we pensioners cannot leave our modest little home for too long, because the lawn needs mowing or the flower beds need weeding. The first question when planning a spot of bicycle touring is, how do we get there? When travelling to Western Europe the answer to this question is often the plane, with the train being used for the last few miles. Railways in continental Europe are fortunately more cyclist-friendly than those in Britain. However railway operators sometimes make travel difficult for folks with bicycles, not to mention tricycles! The poor cyclist has to deal with a number of national organisations with different regulations in each country. We hope to find a way through the forest of tickets, websites and regulations to help the cyclist travel economically and trouble free through Europe.

 

A very useful starting guide to railways, both European and worldwide is the www.seat61.com website. We also enjoy the eclectic and interesting “Hidden Europe” magazine and its associated website and newsletter which offer very useful hints from time to time.

Bike/Europe Crossing Over

Europe by Bike – Ferries

A to B Bike/Europe FerriesYou have a choice of going under the channel by Le Shuttle or Eurostar, or over the Channel or across the North Sea by ferry.

Under – Eurostar

RailEurope Booking Form
How do I book a bicycle space? – Bicycle spaces need to be booked at the same time as you book your seat. To make your booking, phone the Rail Europe call centre or visit their London Travel Centre as bike spaces can’t be booked online.

You have three options if you and your bike are travelling to the Continent via the tunnel:

  1. Fold it – Fold or dismantle your bike. Place it in a bike bag (90 x 120cm) with the saddle, handlebars and wheels removed, or in the case of a genuine folding bike, just neatly folded up. Carry it on board yourself as part of your luggage allowance.
  2. Reserve a place for your bike on your train – On the London to Paris and Brussels routes, you can reserve a place for a bicycle on your train. To make a reservation or find out more call Eurostar on 0844 822 5822 or visit the EuroDespatch Centre in person at St Pancras International. Charges are £30 one way and you’ll need to quote your Eurostar reference or show your ticket.
  3. Use the registered baggage service – A registered baggage service operates between London and Paris, Brussels and Lille. It does not guarantee that your bike will travel on the same train as you. However, delivery to your Eurostar destination station within 24 hours after registration. is guaranteed. You can book this service on the day of travel or send your bike before your journey, so it will be ready to collect when you arrive. Charges are £22 and you’ll need to show your Eurostar ticket or booking reference when you register. The charge is non-refundable but it may be exchangeable if space allows before your departure date. Unfortunately, tandems are verboten due to their length, unless you can dismantle them so that they are the same length as an average bike. More information about the registered baggage service can be obtained by calling 0844 822 5822.

Under – Le Shuttle

Eurostar rail services and the Channel Tunnel Shuttle are very different things. The first takes you to destinations in France and Belgium (plus The Netherland and Germany soon), while the latter takes you from Folkestone to Calais. Unlike motorists, you are not allowed to ride your bike onto the Shuttle trains (yes, a big disappointment), but instead you get picked up at your local hotel, with the bike travelling in a trailer, while you and your luggage ride in a minibus. At the other end, you will be taken to a convenient local hotel, or presumably dropped wherever you like. Up to six bikes can be carried this way, and you have to give 48 hours notice. Reviews seem quite positive: www.eurotunnel.com/uk/traveller-info/vehicles/bicycles/

Over – Ferries

For many Britons, the trip across the Channel by ship is a major part of the holiday. It may be easier to reach a Channel or East Coast North Sea port than to go to London or Kent to catch Eurostar trains. Crossings may well be cheaper. The prices shown in the Cost column are the cheapest single fare for a cyclist with a bicycle about 1 June 2016. Some of the overnight ferries demand that passengers book a Pullman (reclining) seat or a cabin. This is reflected in the price. We would always recommend a cabin, unless you are one of those lucky souls who can sleep anywhere. Overnight trips offer dinner and breakfast. These are not included in the fares shown, but booking these in advance reduces the price. In our experience using the shipping line’s website often yields the cheapest fares. Generally the earlier you book the cheaper the ticket.

Route Frequency Operator Cost Railway
Newcastle–Amsterdam (Ijmuiden) Daily DFDS £150 for two passengers in one cabin with 2 bicycles Railway station ±5km in Dreihuis for trains to Amsterdam. or cycle into Amsterdam.
Hull–Rotterdam (Europoort) or Zeebrugge Daily P&O £125.50 for two passengers in one cabin with 2 bicycles Europoort: Maassluis for Rotterdam. Zeebrugge station for Brugge and Brussels
Harwich–Hook of Holland Twice daily Stena Line £42 for a passenger and bicycle. Cabins from £42 Hook of Holland station for Rotterdam (five minutes from the ship)
Dover – Dunkirk Two hourly DFDS £5-£20 for a passenger and bicycle Harbour ±20km outside Dunkirk. Infrequent trains from nearby Gravelines to Dunkirk. Good services from Dunkirk to Paris
Dover – Calais Ten sailings a day DFDS £5-£20 for a passenger and bicycle Calais Centre service to Paris
Dover – Calais 23 sailings a day P&O £20 for a passenger and bicycle Calais Centre service to Paris
Newhaven – Dieppe Two to three times a day DFDS Daytime £54, night-time £24 for a passenger and bicycle Dieppe–Paris 2h, Change in Rouen
Portsmouth – Le Havre One overnight ‘economie’ service Brittany Ferries £35 for a passenger and bicycle, plus Pullman seat £5, or 4-berth cabin £75 Le Havre service to Paris
Portsmouth – Cherbourg Sundays in Summer Condor Ferries Bicycles are free of charge. No timetable info at present Cherbourg service to Paris
Portsmouth – Cherbourg Up to three times daily Brittany Ferries £40 for a passenger and bicycle
Cherbourg service to Paris
Portsmouth – Caen Two to three times a day
Brittany Ferries £40 for a passenger and bicycle, Pullman seat £5, 2-berth cabin £55 Caen service to Paris
Portsmouth – St Malo One overnight sailing
Brittany Ferries tel: 0330 159 7000 or email: reservations@brittanyferries.com
St Malo service to Paris
Portsmouth – Bilbao (Spain) Three times a week Brittany Ferries tel: 0330 159 7000 or email: reservations@brittanyferries.com  
Portsmouth – Santander (Spain) Three times a week Brittany Ferries tel: 0330 159 7000 or email: reservations@brittanyferries.com  
Poole – St. Malo Once a day Condor Ferries £42.50 for a passenger and bicycle St Malo service to Paris
Plymouth – Roscoff Once or twice a day Brittany Ferries £40 for a passenger and bicycle, Pullman seating £5, 2-berth cabin £55
Roscoff Infrequent service to Paris
Plymouth – Santander (Spain) Weekly (See Portsmouth) Brittany Ferries Ca £100 for a passenger and bicycle, Pullman seat £10, 2-berth cabin £85
 

Check out Stena Line’s Dutchflyer rail & sail tickets to travel by train from any Greater Anglia station to any Dutch station for between £42 and £79, but beware rush hour restrictions in GB and NL for non-folding bicycles. Dutch Railways bike day ticket costs €6.10.

Links:

Bike / Europe - Spain

Europe by Bike – Spain

Spain has an excellent high speed train network though these trains do not officially take bicycles.

Europe by bike and train - Spain

Euromed Vilanova

Bicycles may be transported on local and regional trains and long distance buses. The general opinion on English language cyclists’ forums is that accompanied bike transport on Spanish trains is very difficult, if not impossible. This is an opinion which seems to be shared by the Spanish themselves. A Spanish cyclist wrote recently in “Crazy Guy on a Bike”: “Train would be more logical but we are quite scared of problems with the Spanish train operator Renfe, it’s nearly impossible to take your bicycle on a train that is crossing the border. Besides, standard train prices for this distance are about 200€/px.”
We ourselves have crossed Spain a number of times by train, but have only taken a folding bicycle there so we’ve put together official information, spent some time reading reports by travelling cyclists and have tapped the fund of experience available to CTC members.

 

Getting to Spain from the UK

Take the Brittany Line ferry to Bilbao or Santander.

Take a ferry and train or Eurostar to Paris and then take:

  • An overnight SNCF sleeper trains to Hendaye (France) /Irun (Spain) or Latour farther east on the French-Spanish border, then a long distance bus or a local train to your final destination.
  • European Bike Express runs a weekly coach in summer with a bike trailer into continental Europe from eastern England and offers four routes: The Atlantic route serves Western France while the Mediterranean routes Med A, Med B and Med C serve Central, Eastern and Southern France and Northern Spain (Rosas, north of Barcelona). The Atlantic route can drop you in Bayonne where you can take a local train to Hendaye / Irun (35-40 min) and follow the advice given above.

Trains

To quote the Man at Seat 61 website on travelling with a bicycle on Spanish Railways: “Once in Spain, the
problem begins.”
The problems are actually with one Spanish railway company: RENFE which unfortunately is the biggest operator, running practically all long distance trains. The structure of railway operation in Spain is not quite as complicated as in Britain, but there do seem to be many operators. The map just shows the main lines. There is a nationally owned company and five regionally owned companies operating four different gauge systems plus a number of light rail and metro systems in major cities. Officially bicycles may not be taken on almost all long distance trains, but they may be taken on some regional and local trains, but at the discretion of the conductors and also the gate staff. This can make life difficult, especially if one does not speak Spanish.

Looking at the services offered by the various companies:

RENFE (Much of the country)
Renfe Operadora is a nationally owned company that operates goods and passenger trains on Iberian (1668 mm), standard gauge (1435 mm) and metre gauge tracks. It has various classes of trains, only some of which take bicycles at all and for the others one appears to be dependent of the good will of station staff and train crews:

Long distance international express/High speed trains/Inter City (Larga-Distancia) trains
There are any number of very comfortable, very swish, modern high speed trains linking major centres in Spain: AVE, Altaria, Alvia, Alaris, EuroMed, Arco, or Talgo. However bikes are not officially carried on any long distance daytime trains (‘AVE & Larga-Distancia’ ), even in bike bags. All bags have to go through a scanner, making it difficult to get a bike on board. However one correspondent put his bike in a bag and travelled several times on long distance high speed trains. Whether one can emulate this feat depends, we suspect, on one’s knowledge of Spanish and self confidence.
You can use the domestic internal sleeper routes from Madrid – A Coruña – Pontevedra – Ferrol, or Barcelona – Granada, Barcelona – Gijón, Barcelona – A Coruña – Vigo remembering to pack your bike in a bag and book a whole compartment.

 

Europe by Bike and Train - Spain

In the foreground is a 440-A suburban decor and the other a UT-470 with the paint scheme Renfe-medium distance.

Regional trains (Media-Distancia)
These offer slower connections up to about 200km across the country. The RENFE website states that most medium distance trains can be used to transport bicycles. Only one bike per passenger is allowed for passengers with a valid ticket for themselves and the bicycle. Groups travelling with more than three bicycles must get authorisation from RENFE in advance. Loading and unloading is the passenger’s responsibility. Bicycle tickets are necessary on many of the RENFE Media-Distancia trains and the number of spaces for bikes is limited. The tickets are free but you need one for each leg of your journey if you have to change trains. The Seat61 website quotes a cyclist whose successful attempt to obtain a bicycle ticket for a Media-Distancia train in Madrid took 45 minutes involving five discussions with officials.

A local train near Cadiz
Europe by Bike and Train - Spain

Local Trains (Cercanias)
These are local commuter trains and the like, covering 60 km or so. Bicycles are allowed on most of them outside peak times. The exceptions include the one between Torremolinos, Malaga Airport and Malaga main station. Conductor-Guards can refuse bicycle access if the trains are full, and they are carried at the owner’s responsibility. It has been suggested that an elastic bungee or two is useful to secure the bikes. Bikes need not be bagged.
Most of the information we can find in addition to the Crazy Guy quote at the start of this chapter suggests, with Seat61 website reinforcing the impression that bike transport by RENFE Media-Distancia and Caracanias trains remains somewhat of a challenge. The CTC Forum has a thread on putting bicycles on trains and buses in Spain. The feeling we get from most participants is that travelling within a region on a regional train in Spain ranges is difficult. The CTC members–only travel advice databank offers information from 2006 suggesting that various lines do not take bicycles or only at very inconvenient times. (BTW If you are a cyclist in Britain and not a CTC member it is worth considering joining the organisation, because the touring information you can download from the touring web site is well worth the subscription.)
Another correspondent wrote: “Basically Spain is as bad as it gets for bikes on trains, and still getting worse!” We suspect if you speak Spanish things will be easier. Having said all this, the narrow gauge railways
in Spain are normally much more cyclist friendly:

FEVE – Metre gauge network in northern Spain
Since December 2012 RENFE has operated much of the narrow railway system in the north of Spain formerly run by FEVE as an independent organisation. You are permitted to roll your bike onto these trains free of charge. The trains are extremely slow, but the routes are very picturesque. The line from Oviedo to Ferrol is a serious, though little known contender for the title of the most spectacular railway in the world. Bilbao metro system, which covers a considerable area, takes bicycles free of charge.
Europe by Bike and Train - Spain
FEVE train at Ferrol station
Photo: Judith & Neil Forsyth

Regionally-owned railways

Europe by Bike and Train - Spain

Toña Beach in Sukarrieta – Pedernales

EuskoTren
EuskoTren – (in Spanish or Basque) operates a
network of narrow gauge trains in the Basque provinces of Biscay and Gipuzko that connect with the metre gauge RENFE trains. From what we have read Euskotren are extremely accommodating with bicycles and do not charge.

Ferrocarril de Sóller
Ferrocarril de Sóller (FS) runs a narrow gauge line (914 mm – 36”) between Palma and Sóller on Majorca. It is a museum railway, and privately run. The line does not carry accompanied bicycles according to a report in “Die Welt” in August 2010, but the buses in the area will take bicycles and they are cheaper. We did check with the railway company and they confirmed that the trains do not take bicycles.

The line to Sineu in Mallorca reopened in 2004

Europe by Bike and Train - Spain

Sinue Station

Serveis Ferroviaris de Mallorca
Serveis Ferroviaris de Mallorca (SFM) operates a metre gauge network on Majorca (diagram). According to an English language website on the Balearics “Bicycles may be taken on the two SFM train routes. However, there are restrictions about when they may be carried, and a maximum of four bicycles in any one carriage.”
Bicycles are not carried in the early afternoon between 12:30 and 15:30 and evenings between 19:30 and 21:00.

Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana
Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat Valenciana (FGV) operates several metre gauge lines, in and around Valencia, including a line, between Alicante, Benidorm and Denia as well the trams and metro in Valencia and Alicante. Bicycle transport is free as long as there is room.

Ferrocarriles de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) (Catalonia’s public rail network).
The company operates trains in Catalonia and permits bicycle carriage at any time. The other operators in and around Barcelona have restrictions on bicycle transport in the rush hour. Click here for more details.

Buying passenger and bicycle tickets for trains in Spain
To be realistic, only the night trains mentioned above need to be booked in advance and this can be done on
www.renfe.es. The Seat61 website has an excellent explanation of the best way to book railway tickets in Spain in advance. Tickets for the regional and local trains can be bought as needed from stations.

Passes and railcards for holidaymakers
Rail Europe offers a number of InterRail passes for Spain

By coach (Long-distance bus)

There are several bus companies that allow accompanied bicycle transport on payment of a small charge for the bicycle (between 5 and 10 Euros): ALSA the major Spanish bus company, Avanza Bus which offers services more to the south (map of system ) and Portillo (Malaga Costa del Sol). The days are past when accompanied bicycle transport by bus in Spain depended on the goodwill of the driver. Nowadays transporting bicycles on buses in Spain is regulated. You book your bike at the same time as you book your own ticket. The transport of bicycles, surfboards or skis has an added supplement of 5 Euros on short-haul services and 10 Euros on long-haul services. You are allowed to take 30 kg of luggage and small bags with you on to the bus. The easiest way to book a ticket for passenger and bicycle for non Spanish speakers is online at  www.alsa.es  (available in English) or Movelia which is an industry-wide agency offering bus tickets from various companies www.movelia.es (available in English). On the ALSA website passenger and bicycle tickets can be bought by checking the box for this purpose in step 3 of the buying process. On the Movelia website you need to select a supplement on the first page of the purchase routine. On both websites the bicycle transport tickets must be bought one at a time, i.e. it is impossible to mark this box when two or more seats have been selected.
Because of the limited space available, a maximum of four bicycles or surfboards are allowed, (one per ticket). If there is no room for bikes on the schedule chosen, the selection box for bicycles will not be available. Bicycles should be placed in such a way that no damage is caused to other luggage or packages and it is mandatory that they are packaged in some kind of box or bag ready for transport. (We often wonder about any possible damage to our expensive bikes as well. I suppose we should be grateful to any company prepared to take our bikes, but…) The best thing to use is a bicycle cover. Otherwise use several big plastic bags or bubble wrap, but cover the bicycle properly so the driver is not concerned with his immaculate bus getting dirty. The CTC offers a clear heavy-duty polythene bag for about £10 that should do for a number of
trips or you can spend up to several hundred pounds for bags designed to protect your bike in case of a earthquake. How you carry the latter however when they are not protecting your bike is a problem.
The passenger should be at the boarding point with the bicycle, at least 15 minutes before departure.

Ships

 
Europe by Bike and train - Spain

The www.seemallorca.com/travel/ferries website has an excellent description with web links of the ferries
running between the Spanish mainland and the Balearic Islands, and within the island group.

Diversions

We were very impressed with the scenery on the line between Malaga and Madrid, both the olive tree plantations as far as the eye could see and with the very wild mountain country nearer the coast. The scenery on the metre gauge line between Oviedo and Ferrol is breathtaking and you have time to take it all in during
your seven-hour journey. On another occasion we were also quite impressed by “free” tapas and sherry in the early evening and an airline-style evening meal later when travelling first class on a high speed train. We were also amused on the Malaga – Malaga Airport line to be serenaded by a group of buskers.

Gracias and thanks

Thanks are due to Simon Proffitt of Iberocycle bicycle tours, and Chris Juden and Mark Waters of the CTC in Guildford and the contributors to various threads on forums for their comments, help and advice. Any misspellings, misinterpretation or the like however are our fault.

Bike / Rail - Portugal

Europe by Bike – Portugal

Europe with Bike – Portugal

The railways in Portugal offer frequent regular links between the major cities. Portuguese Railways (CP) operates 2,603 km of broad gauge services and appears to be more cyclist-friendly than Spanish Railways. This is not difficult. Most trains take bicycles, including the high speed trains, although in the latter case the bikes need to be bagged. There is an excellent map of the system available at http://bit.ly/1Kd8RZD. The website is www.cp.pt.

Getting to Portugal from the UK using surface transport

In a word, difficult.
Take the Brittany Line ferry to Bilbao or Santander.
Take a coach (long-distance bus) to Vigo (10 hours).
Take a train to Oporto. There is no guarantee of good connections.
Take a ferry and train or Eurostar to Paris and then take a daytime TGV to Irun on the Spanish border.
Option 1: Take the Sud Expresso to Lisbon (about 12 hours). Like their Iberian counterparts in Spain, CP allows you to transport two bicycles packed in bike bags as long as you book the whole compartment. To quote the CP regulations: ‘Two bikes may be carried in each compartment (sleeping compartments only) so long as the compartment is taken by the one family and the bikes are properly packed and stored. Bikes are not charged for if you have an international ticket.’
Option 2: Cross the border by bicycle and take an overnight coach (long-distance bus) late in the evening to Vigo (15 hours). Take a train to Oporto. There is no guarantee of good connections.

European Bike Express

Bus operator Bike Express’s Atlantic route serves Western France and can drop you in Bayonne where you can take a local train to Hendaye and Irun (35-40 min) and follow the advice given in Option 2 above.

Domestic trains

High speed trains: Alfa Pendular
This is a high speed link from Braga in the north of Portugal to Faro in the south via Lisbon. To quote the regulations put out by the company: ‘Bikes can be taken on the Alfa Pendular and Intercidades trains so long as they have the wheels removed and are packed as luggage that is no larger than the individual luggage space per passenger in the luggage racks or under the seats.’

Intercidades (Inter City trains)
These trains connect the regional centres. The regulations concerning accompanied bicycles are the same as for the Alfa Pendular services quoted above.

Local, regional and urban trains
There are a number of branch lines. Any passenger can take a maximum of one bicycle on urban and regional trains at any time of day. However CP (the railway company) does not hold itself responsible for any damage caused by or to the bicycles. You must load and unload the bikes. Your bicycles should not block exits or disturb other passengers. As usual, bike riding is forbidden in stations, concourses, underpasses or bridges in stations. There is a snag, however: If the train is full you may not be able to take your bicycle. In theory, you should ask the conductor, but you probably know our feelings about this: It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. Put your bikes in the specially marked areas in the carriages on urban trains.

Tickets

Buying a ticket for trains in Portugal
CP also let you book tickets within Portugal for Alfa Pendular and Intercidades trains from Multibanco ATMs as well as railway station booking offices, travel agents (a list is available on the website) and ticket machines on stations. Bookings for domestic trains can be made online at www.cp.pt, after registration. The website is clear and easy to use in Portuguese and English. (Click on the partial Union Flag top right.)

Ships
It is possible to cross over to Spain in the southeastern corner of Portugal at Vila Real de Santo Antonio using the frequent ferry service to Ayamonte, but the Spanish rail system terminates in Huelva, 30 or 40 km away.

Diversions
We have no suggestions at the moment.

netherlands

Europe by Bike – The Netherlands

Bike rack at Leiden Lammenschans station

Bike rack at Leiden Lammenschans station

There is a good spread of railways in the Netherlands with frequent regular links between the major cities. Outside of the rush hours all domestic trains take bicycles.
The structure of railway operation in the Netherlands is very similar to that in Germany. There is a major train operator: Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) with a number of smaller operators, e.g.: Arriva, Veolia, and Dutch bus operators Syntus and Connexxion. The routes are shown on a map in Dutch: www.ns.nl/cgi-bin/spoorkaart/spoorkaart on the NS website. Unfortunately the English language version does not show the map. The country is quite small and so the longest journey one can make is about four and a half hours: from Groningen in the north to Maastricht in the south. Within the Netherlands the railways are very cyclist friendly, with large amounts of space on trains for fiets (Dutch for bicycle) and bike hire, secure bike parking and bike repair on many railway stations.

Bicycle parking
Bicycle parking facilities at Dordrecht station
Photo: Judith & Neil Forsyth

Trains

There are three groups of trains that are run by different organisations, but these cooperate so that booking and changing trains is simple.

Long distance international express/High speed trains
There are a number of long distance trains running from Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport or Rotterdam. Most of them only take bagged partly dismantled bikes or folders, folded and bagged and do not take tandems: Eurostar, ICE and Thalys. Information on these trains can be found on the NSHispeed website. A number of international IC trains to Germany do take unwrapped bicycles and tandems but reservation is necessary.

Domestic Intercity trains
The country is densely populated and urbanised, and train services are frequent. Both Intercity trains and the stopping trains cost the same. Dutch Intercity trains stop more often than intercity trains in other countries. Seat reservation on domestic trains is not possible. Beware, many trains consist of two parts with different destinations. Somewhere on the way to the destination, the train will be split and the two parts will continue to their respective destinations. In this case, the screens over the platform will show two destinations. On the platform Achterste deel/achter means back part of the train and voorste deel/voor means the front. Check if you are not certain. Most people in the Netherlands can speak English.

Stopping trains (Stoptrein)
As their name suggests these trundle across country and stop at every station.

Tickets

Buying a ticket for trains in the Netherlands

From a station
From a ticket machine (cheaper) or from a ticket office (more expensive). According to Mark Smith of Seat61 Dutch ticket machines are the worst in the world taking only coins and Dutch bank cards.

Online
Not possible from www.ns.nl unless you have a Dutch bank account. German Railways will sell you a ticket, but not online. Rail Europe will sell you a ticket online.

Bicycle Tickets
You can travel with your bike on the railways internally in the Netherlands (NS) on most trains during non-peak hours, i.e. you cannot travel on inland trains with your bike during the weekday morning and evening rush hours: (06:30 to 09:00 and 16:30 to 18:00), except during July and August when many Dutch seem to holiday in other countries. This bike ban does not apply to international trains, where you reserve a place. You have to buy a ticket and your bike needs one as well (6 Euro a day). Tickets can be bought from the ticket machines on stations. Putting your bike on an international train will cost you 12 Euro for a single ticket and 24 Euro for a return ticket at the time of writing and you will need to reserve a place for your bicycle, if not for yourself. It is not possible to buy these international bike tickets and make reservations online.

Passes and Rail Cards for holidaymakers
According to the Rail Europe site you can book a three days in one month Eurorail ticket for £100, but considering that the overnight Dutchflyer will bring you to any station in the Netherlands for about £75 from London, is it worth buying one? You want to cycle in the Netherlands as well, don’t you?

Website

Holland by Train – The web site seems clear and easy to use in English although the English version is only a skeleton version of the Dutch site. There is no map, for example and ticket buying is impossible online unless you have a Dutch bank account. No problem, use the website to find train times and then buy your tickets at a station or at one of the British ticket sales offices. However, if one is travelling on farther to Germany, for example the web site is less helpful for the cycling community. The web site does not recognise all the English names for German cities, e.g. “Cologne”. It only suggests ICEs which do not take bicycles. If you try cheating and look up train times from Amsterdam to Venlo on the Dutch German border it will give you a sensible train. If you then use the NS website for the second part of the journey from Venlo to Cologne, the site suggests a trip to Düsseldorf and an ICE after that! The answer is to check the DB site for the journey from Venlo to Cologne, but… Sometimes my wife Judith wonders whether I should not get a life.

Putting bikes on trains

A typical Dutch railway footbridge at Geldermalsen station.
Dutch rolling stock showing excellent access to bicycle compartments
ICK-rijtuigovergang

In our limited experience Dutch rolling stock has easy access for bicycles and adequate storage space. The newer carriages allow entry on the same level and the older carriages have wide doors to the bike areas and plenty of room for bicycle storage.

Bike Space Netherlands
Bicycle space on a Dutch Intercity train
Judith & Neil Forsyth

 

Ships

Waiting for ferry Dordrecht
Waiting for a ferry near Dordrecht
Photograph by Judith & Neil Forsyth

Many of the towns and cities and the intervening farmland in the southern Netherlands are former islands and sandbanks in the Rhine delta. Much of it is drained, but there are still stretches of water to cross. Obviously in a land full of excellent civil engineers there are bridges and tunnels galore, but sometimes there are ferries as well, all of which take bikes and pedestrians, but not always cars or lorries.
bicycle ferry
Bicycle and pedestrian ferry near Dordrecht
Photograph by Judith & Neil Forsyth

Diversions

The country is mostly flat and much of it man-made, however the views of the sky on any line running across countryside with the pale, clear, Dutch light, as seen in landscape paintings by the Dutch masters are often magnificent.

Norway

Europe by Bike – Norway

Norway is a sparsely populated, long, thin country. There are excellent rail connections between the capital Oslo and the major cities in the country and in the neighbouring country (Sweden): Kristiansands, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, Bodö, Stockholm (S) and Göteborg (S). Narvik in the north is on a railway line, but the only way to travel there by train from Oslo is via Sweden. The major operator in Norway is the NSB which is a state owned company. The railway services in Norway are cyclist-friendly. Map (pdf)

Getting there

Unfortunately the days when the Fred Olsen Line sailed regularly from Britain to Norway are over. Getting to Norway on the surface these days means changing several times.

Trains

Europe by Bike - Norway

Oslo
Mark Smith of Seat61.com suggests:

Eurostar to Brüssels, train to Cologne, CityNightLine to Copenhagen and then either overnight ship to Oslo from Copenhagen or train to Göteborg and then Oslo. (Leaving London in the late morning and arriving in Oslo at 20:45 the following day.)

or

Harwich-Esbjerg by DFDS ship and then train to Copenhagen. Spend a night in Copenhagen and then ship or train to Oslo (Leave London in the afternoon and spend two or three nights underway.)

There is another option which might be better for cyclists: Harwich-Esbjerg by DFDS ship and then train to Hirtshals. Spend a night there and take the ship to Larvik and then a train to Oslo.

Bergen, Stavanger
In addition Hirtshals offers links to Bergen and Stavanger with Fjord Line.

Intercity trains / long distance trains

Daytime train from Bodø to Trondheim (Nordlandsbanen), passing the Saltfjellet between Lønsdal and Bolna.
Europe by Bike - Norway

Services offered: Oslo-Bergen, Oslo-Kristiansand, Oslo-Trondheim. There are both daytime and sleeper trains.

There are times when reading the NSB website that the values of Scandinavian society are just mind-boggling in their compassion and common sense: On the overnight trains you can either travel in a sleeping compartment for 850 NOK per compartment or just have a seat. These seats come with a special “comfort” pack with a pillow, travel blanket, eye mask and ear plugs. You can take the pack home with you after your journey, but if not, the blankets are donated to worthy causes.

Regional trains (Intercity Trains)

Quite what the difference is between the the long distance and regional trains is not clear. it could well be a question of financing. These trains, for example, run during the day from Oslo to Göteborg and carry bikes in Sweden.

NSB Lokaltog (Commuter trains)
NSB operates commuter services in Arendal, Bergen, Oslo, Skien, Stavanger and Trondheim. Accompanied bicycles are carried without reservation.

Tickets

Europe by Bike - Norway

In addition to normally priced tickets available from ticket offices, automatic ticket dispensers and online, NSB offers minimum price “Minipris” tickets (199 NOK, 299 NOK, 399 NOK, 499 NOK) sold at least one day before travel, but in limited quantities. The exchange rate for the Norwegian Krone to the pound at the time of writing is ?1=8.75 NOK. Normal tickets can be cancelled before the train departs, but “Minipris” tickets are for a specific train and cannot be returned or refunded. Tickets can be bought on trains but with a surcharge except for the blind which again is typical of the Scandinavian respect for disabled people.

The savings with a “minipris” are considerable: The normal fare for the four and a half journey from Oslo to Kristiansand is 636 NOK whereas it is possible to buy a ticket for 199 NOK which yields a ?50 saving. Tickets can be bought online. There is the ominous line that if you have difficulties buying tickets with your credit or debit  card you should ring Norway with English speaking operators: +47 815 00 888 or +47 23 15 15 15 if there are difficulties getting though using the first number. Press 9 for information in English.Considering the savings possible, it is worth ringing Norway.

Website

The website www.nsb.no is excellent. Click on “In English” at the top of the page to have the whole site in English. It is clear and simple to use. You can check timetables and buy tickets especially the Minipris tickets.

Putting bikes on trains

Your bicycle can accompany you on most trains in Norway. However there are some trains where your bicycle needs a reservation. These trains are marked with a bicycle symbol in the timetable. You should always try to make a reservation for your bicycle well in advance of your journey and in any event before boarding. Do this when you buy your ticket. Reservations for bicycles can only be made in Norway. Phone the NSB Call Centre on the numbers given above: +47 815 00 888 or +47 23 15 15 15 and press 9 for information in English or to a manned station in Norway.

The fare for cycles is half the standard ticket price, up to a maximum of NOK 175, except on the Bergen Line in summer, from 18 May to 27 September, when there is a fixed fare per bicycle of NOK 175. You will need to load your bike onto the train yourself and put it in the area allocated to bicycles. The train personnel will help you to embark and disembark, if needed.

Airport Express trains from and to Oslo Airport
Bicycles can be taken on the train, and placed in the baggage space, at the rear of the train from Oslo S to Gardermoen, and at the front for Gardermoen to Oslo S.

Ships & Ferries

There are ferries along the whole of the coast including the Hurtigruten Post ships which run daily from Bergen to Kirkenes, all of which take bicycles.

Diversions

Try the Bergen or Dovre Railways from Oslo or the Rauma Railway between Ändalsnes and Dombäs.

Bike / Rail - Luxembourg

Europe by Bike – Luxembourg

Well guarded bike rack in Luxembourg
Europe by bike and train - Luxembourg

The Luxembourg rail system (Chemin de Fer Luxembourgeois – CFL) has 275 kilometres of track, of which 140 km is double track and 135 km single track. The railway network links into Belgium, France and Germany. Some of the cross-border services are run by CFL, others by SNCF, NMBS/SNCB and DB.

We both enjoy visiting Luxembourg not only because it has the best guarded bike rack in world – attached to the front wall of the arch-ducal mansion in Luxembourg City with an armed member of the army marching backwards and forwards at least during the day, but there also are good cycling routes, tasty food and excellent scenery.

Map of cycle routes: www.pistescyclables.lu. The railway network in the rural north of the country is sparse, but the urban, formerly heavily industrial south, has a dense network. There are good connections to neighbouring countries including a high speed TGV link to Paris and fast connections to Brussels.

Trains

The rural north
Europe by bike and train - rural Luxembourg

 

  • High Speed Trains
    • TGV

Bicycle carrying SNCF TGVs link Paris and Luxembourg via Metz. Reservations are strongly recommended. Book your bike places early.

  • EC

At least one Eurocity train with bicycle transport circulates daily between Brussels and Switzerland via Luxembourg: Vauban (EC 91/90)

  • Regional trains

These trains run on a cadence system, i.e. hourly at the same interval after the hour throughout the day and early evening. Bicycles are carried free. Timetables can be found on www.cfl.lu.

Getting there

The easiest way from the south of England is via London and Paris, then take the TGV via Metz. The easiest way from the north of England is the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge and then to Luxembourg via Brussels.

Tickets

The “Billet réseau” network ticket can be purchased at railway stations throughout the country. It offers unlimited travel on all forms of public transport (city buses, trains and country coaches for one day throughout the country. Bikes are not accepted on buses. A single ticket costs 4€, or a block of 5 such tickets for the cost of 4 single issue tickets: 16€. A “Weekend ticket” costing 6 Euro is more economical for small groups. This ticket allows up to 5 people (who do not need to be members of the same family) unlimited travel on Luxembourg’s public transport network for 1 day (either Saturday or Sunday) until 03:00. next morning.

The website

The website is in French only, but is easy to use. If in doubt use Google translator or cheat by using Bahn.co.uk.

Getting you, your bike, and your gear on the train

Bike transport on a Luxembourg train
Europe by bike and train - Luxembourg

The train we used was a low level entrance double decker. We had no problems and there was adequate room for our ten man group and a few others on the train.

Ferries and river steamers in Luxembourg

There is a small international car and lorry ferry across the Moselle from Wasserbillig to Oberbillig, Germany, which also takes foot passengers and bicycles. The excursion ship MS “Princesse Marie-Astrid” runs trips along the Moselle as far as Trier most days of the week during the summer. The Schengen Agreement was signed on this ship.

Diversions

Railway viaducts in Luxembourg City.
Europe by bike and train - Luxembourg

Crossing the viaducts into Luxembourg City must give spectacular views. We encountered the massive stone structures from below.

Bike / Rail - Italy

Europe by Bike – Italy

Italy has 24,179 kilometres (15,024 miles) of track. Services are operated by Trenitalia, a state owned company. There are few private railways. The country has good high speed train services, but only for those unencumbered by naked bicycles:  cyclists can only use local, regional and a few international services.  Bikes are only allowed on some high speed trains if they are partially dismantled and wrapped. Map

Trains

Franzensfeste Station. The bar is in this building.
Europe by Bike - Italy

Long distance express trains (Pleasant but mainly bikeless):

Eurostar (ES or Treni Eurostar Italia)
Italy’s premier trains, not to be confused with the Eurostar from London to Paris and Brussels. (BTW the Italians used the name first.) Seat reservations on Eurostar Italia are mandatory. Eurostar zips about between the major Italian cities.

Intercity and the newer Intercity Plus trains
Relatively fast trains that run the length of Italy, stopping in large cities. According to the Trenitalia Internet site: “On some Intercity trains – these too marked in the Timetable by an appropriate pictogram, you can take your bicycle with you by paying a 5.00 Euro supplement.”

Cisalpino
If you check the Internet you may well find older links to the Cisalpino service between Switzerland and Italy. This was a joint holding between SBB/CFF/FSS (Swiss Railways) and Trenitalia (Italian Railways), that ran Pendelino (high speed tilting) trains between Stuttgart, major Swiss and Italian cities and later, in addition, conventional EC trains. There were a number of operating problems with the Pendelinos and the Cisalpino services were discontinued in the autumn of 2009. These services are now run by SBB and Trenitalia using in part the same rolling stock that caused all the problems, but probably or hopefully with better maintenance. The first generation Pendelinos had a very restrictive luggage policy – folding bikes were forbidden. We once smuggled a pair of Bromptons on board a Pendelino from Stuttgart to Bellinzona and hid them under the seats. It was a bit awkward persuading our fellow travellers to stand up in a mixture of English, poor French and German when we came to get off. These trains are still in service!

Regional and Local Trains (taking bicycles)

Regionale

Regional trains covering quite long distances. They are cheap and usually reliable.

Suburbano

Local suburban trains. These too are cheap and usually reliable. However both these services are slow in comparison to the more expensive Eurostar and Intercity.

Getting there and more importantly getting back!

There are international trains connecting Italy with Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Serbia and Switzerland. Some of these even take unwrapped bicycles, e.g. the City Night Line trains from Munich to Venice or Rome. However you need to buy your international bike ticket in Italy. It is slightly more expensive at €12.50. One of the major problems about returning on daytimeinternational trains is that Trenitalia refuses or is unable to reserve bicycle places on these trains. You need to reserve your return bike spaces either before you go to Italy or contact Deutsche Bahn in Italy: Since 2008 it has been possible to reserve bicycle spaces at the DB offices in Milan and Rome for  German, Swiss, and Austrian trains. DB Office in Rome, P.zza dell’Esquilino 28/29 (MM Termini) Roma Tel. +6/4827532 Mo-Fr 9-13 u. 14-17:30, Sa 8:30-12 eMail: agenzia@derviaggi.it. DB office in Milan, Via Napo Torriani, 29 (MM Centrale), Milano, Tel. +02/67479578 Mo-Fr 9-13 u. 14-17

Getting to Italy with a bike from Britain

London For insomniacs relatively easy. The costs are for people. With a bikes the cost will be about ?40 more. Bicycle reservations are needed on all these trains.

From To Train Cheapest (Euros)
London 06:53 07:22 Paris Nord 10:17 10:47 Eurostar 76-95
Paris Est 11:24 Stuttgart/Munich 18:14 TGV/EC 49
Munich 21:02 Florence 06:18 09:15 or Venice 06:58 CNL 59

Return

From To Train Cheapest (Euros)
Rome 19:05 Venice 22:51 Munich 06:30 CNL 76
Munich 08:03 Stuttgart/Paris Est 16:34 IC/TGV 39
Paris Nord 17:13 London 18:29 Eurostar 76

 

The rest of Britain
The connections to Rome via Amsterdam and Rotterdam involve multiple changes of train and unless de Jong coaches take bicycles on their service from Europoort to Rotterdam, you need to spend a day in Rotterdam. It does not look too bright.  The de Jong company has not bothered to reply to our request for information on this question.

Tickets

Vatican City Railway Station (or train station if you must)
Europe by Bike - Italy

There are the usual number of special offer tickets, but these are only applicable to those trains that take partially dismantled and wrapped bikes. For more details check www.trenitalia.com and click on the Union Jack icon to get reasonable English. However one special offer ticket that caught our eye is for the South Tyrol semi-autonomous region, tucked up under the Austrian border in the north of Italy: The bikemobil card gives full use of the South Tyrol Public Transport network on one, three or seven consecutive days, i.e.:

  • Regional train services
  • Local bus services (urban, overland and city services)
  • Various cable cars
  • Ritten/Renon tram and Mendola funicular
  • A return trip from Mals/Malles to Zernez on the PostAuto Schweiz bus service.

In addition, on one day during the validity period of the card you can rent a bike in one of the railway or bus stations or in various other bike rental points throughout the territory carrying the “Bici AltoAdige/Südtirol Rad” logo. However you cannot put a hire bike on a train.

Prices:

  • bikemobilcard 1 day:    24 Euros
  • bikemobilcard 3 days:  30 Euros
  • bikemobilcard 7 days:  34 Euros

E-Bikes are available for 6 Euros extra.

Children under 14 half-price. Children under 6 do not pay for using public transport in the South Tyrol.

Buying a ticket

In Italy itself you can buy tickets from station ticket offices, travel agents or from ticket machines or online from www.trenitalia.com, but the latter site is not easy to use and it probably better to use the RailEurope link on this page.

However in any case if you have a ticket, rather than an authorisation you have printed out at home you will need to validate or invalidate the ticket by pushing in the slit of the “composteur” machines at the entrance to the platforms.

The website www.trenitalia.com

It is written in understandable English, but we found it difficult to use. Click on the Union Flag at the top of the page. To find the information about transport of bicycles you need to click on Customers Area/Travel Conditions/Traveller’s Guide/Bicycle on board. You use the website to find trains that carry bicycles, but it is difficult. You specify where you are going and when. You are then presented with a list of possible trains or sequences of trains. You can then analyse each sequence to find if the individual trains take bicycles. It takes time. It is easier to check out the Über-website and specify that you require bicycle transport. You can see how you can travel much more quickly.

Putting bikes on trains, buses and ships in Italy

New rolling stock in the Puster Valley
Europe by Bike - Italy

Trains

  • Buying a bike ticket.

On regional trains you need to buy another second class ticket for the journey you are making or a day bicycle ticket for 3.50 Euros. The bike cannot be longer than 2m. If you partially dismantle and pop your bike in a bag you don’t have to pay at all for the bicycle.

On those national trains marked in the timetable with a bike logo you can take your bicycle with you after buying a 5 Euros ticket. In addition you can take your bicycle for free if it is partially dismantled and packed on any train except Pendelinos and Eurostar-Italia trains, where to quote the Trenitalia regulations from the English version of their website:

“they can only be carried if left in the spaces in the carriage vestibules. If there are no places available, the bicycles can be placed elsewhere provided they do not block the way or cause problems to other travellers or to the on board train crew. “

  • Putting the bike on the train

It’s your job to put the bike on the train in the carriage marked with a bike logo. According to the ADFC there are some trains that have lockable compartments for bicycles. In this case you need to find the train conductor and get him to open the compartment.

Buses

Again according to the ADFC: “Depending on the agreement of the driver it is easy to place a bicycle on regional buses.” (Our translation of the ADFC’s German.) This is not our experience on buses operated in the Swiss-Italian border region. The bus drivers appear to have an almost pathological hatred of bicycles, even lovable, little, bagged, folded Bromptons.

Ship

The ships on Lago Maggiore including those in Switzerland are run by an Italian organisation and they do take bikes, but the ticket office staff need to radio the ship to ask the captain whether they have room. They invariably do, but as one of the ticket office ladies said to us with a wink, “They (the captains) like to feel important, the poor dears.”.

There are a number of shipping lines running along the coast, across the Adriatic, to North Africa, to Sardinia and Sicily:

Ferry Companies on the Web

www.tirrenia.it
(for Tirrenia, Toremar, Caremar, Adriatica, Siremar and Saremar)

www.tirrenia.it
Adriatic Coast

www.alilauro.it
Lazio / Campania

www.caremar.it
Campania

www.snav.it
Campania / Sicily / Aeolian Islands

www.toremar.it
Elba / Giglio / Capraia

www.vetor.it
Ponza, Island of Ventotene, Ischia, Procida

www.gnv.it
Sardinia / Sicily

www.mobylines.it
Sardinia / Elba

www.saremar.it
Sardinia

www.corsicaferries.com
Sardinia

www.siremar.it
Sicily

www.usticalines.it
Sicily and Minor Islands

www.navigazionegolfodeipoeti.it
Liguria / Cinque Terre

Diversions

We would suggest the high speed run down the Brenner Pass from the summit – the highest station in Italy, where the engines are swopped over, down to Franzensfeste/Fortezza and then to take a local train up the Puster Valley to Toblach/Dobaccio or Innichen/San Candido. You normally have time to nip into the refreshment bar on Franzensfeste station which looks at first glance like the roughest joint west of Pecos, but actually serves a decent cup of coffee and the excellent Forst Pils from Meran.

Bike / Europe - Germany

Europe by Bike – Germany

The basic message is that long distance travel with a bicycle by train in Germany is possible, but choice is limited and you need to book early to travel in summer. On the other hand, regional services up to about 125 miles with accompanied bicycles are superb. The German Railways website is www.bahn.co.uk.

Currently the state-owned Deutsche Bahn A.G. (DB, or German Railways) owns, maintains and operates passenger trains on most domestic lines and is responsible for the network, track, signalling and stations. One operating division of DB runs long distance trains (ICE, IC/EC and the sleeper trains) without any subsidies. There is little competition to DB on long distance routes, although there is a daily service between Köln (Cologne) and Hamburg (more on some days of the week), operated by a private company which does take bicycles.

Another DB operating division runs regional trains (IRE, RE, RB and the S-Bahn (suburban trains)) with financial assistance from the provincial authorities. Other organisations, consortia of public authorities working with DB, and private foreign companies like Veolia or SBB Swiss Rail run some subsidised regional services. Long distance express trains have a fixed frequency and mostly depart at the same time after the hour every one or two hours from early morning to the evening, at least for the core of the journey.

Long distance express trains

Intercity Express (ICE)

 

A to B, Germany by bike and public transport

ICE in St. Pancras Station 19 October 2010 Copyright Deutsche Bahn AG

These are the flagships of the DB network and are high speed train units travelling at speeds up to 300kph (188mph) between major cities. They do not take any bicycles except folding bicycles in a cover. However some of the services to and from France operate as Trains Grand Vitesse (TGV) and Thalys (THA). The TGVs take up to eight bicycles and can be booked within Germany on the excellent www.bahn.de website. THA high speed trains link Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne and Paris, and are operated by Thalys, an independent company owned by French Rail (SNCF), Belgian Rail (SNCB), Netherlands Rail (NS) and DB. This too does not accept bicycles except bagged folding bikes.

InterCity/Eurocity (IC/EC)

 

A to B, Germany by bike

InterCity Train Copyright Deutsche Bahn AG

These are conventional trains hauled by a locomotive and can take up to 16 bicycles. The bicycle compartment is in the carriage furthest from the locomotive, behind the rear driver’s cab (if the train is running backwards, you get a superb view over the driver’s shoulder.) ICs run not only between major centres, but also important regional settlements in Germany. Whereas ICEs do not make local stops – between Stuttgart and Ulm for example – an IC/EC travelling between these cities will make additional stops at three smaller towns. ECs are international trains offering the same services in Germany and abroad. IC/EC are slower than the ICEs, but fares are cheaper.

Where do the IC/EC go, when and how often?

IC/EC are the best way for cyclists to travel with their bicycles. Unfortunately the DB appears to be phasing many of these out and replacing them with faster, more expensive ICEs, which generally only carry folding bikes. The ADFC, the German Cycling Club, has produced a downloadable map showing the long distance services still on offer. The map is in German but with the help of the DB website the reader can work out where and when the trains run.

Night Trains (City Night Line (CNL), D-Nacht, Euronight)

CityNightLine
© Bergstrasse Bike Books
CityNightLine Copyright Bergstrasse Bike Books
CityNightLine Bicycle storage
© Bergstrasse Bike Books
CityNightLine Bicycle storage Copyright Bergstrasse Bike Books

Night trains offer long distance travel with one’s bicycle without having to change frequently. Services are being cut back, so use them while you can. The connections to Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Paris will stop in December 2014.

Regional trains

All regional trains take bicycles, but there may be restrictions in the rush hour. These subsidised trains tie in with the ICE and IC/EC trains to serve smaller towns and cities. Although one can use DB tickets, regional transport authority tickets can also be used. It is possible to travel long distances across Germany on these trains, but sometimes many changes are needed. The trains will take between 8 and 16 bicycles, in a number of compartments. Just propping your bike in a corridor is frowned upon.

Interregio Express (IRE) and Regional Express (RE)
These trains do not stop at the smaller stations but offer a reasonably fast service between regional centres.

Regionalbahn (RB)
These trains stop at almost every station and are thus slow.
DB Regio - Zugbegleiter im Regionalverkehr
Bicycle compartment of a typical double-decker Regionalbahn
© Bergstrasse Bike Books

S-Bahn/U-Bahn

Leaving rural train Copyright Bergstrasse Bike Books
Leaving a rural train
© Bergstrasse Bike Books

Suburban and underground trains stopping at every station in or near the larger cities. Access to these with bicycles is often restricted during rush hour.

Tickets

The range of tickets available is, to use an Americanism, awesome. The Germans seem to tend towards complicated solutions, but it is worthwhile wading through the possibilities. There are three types of train that can be used over long distances and at least one saver ticket, meaning that there are at least six possible prices for any one journey. The special offer saver tickets can provide half-price fares if you book more than three days in advance and travel by a specified train, outside the high density travel periods of Friday and Sunday afternoon/ev

enings. Check out www.bahn.co.uk for details.

As an example the 224 km trip from the German station in Basel to Mannheim costs in Euros:

Train Normal Ticket(€) Saver Ticket(€) Changing Time
ICE 55 29 No 2h
IC/EC 49 29 No 2h 10m
Regional 39 21 and cheaper Twice 4h – 4h 30m

The trump card with the regional services are the go anywhere tickets: Länder-, Schönes Wochenende and Quer durchs Land. The

Länder-Tickets are valid for each province and its fringes. They cost per person between €8 and €23, more from a ticket office or a less from a ticket machine. You might need to buy bike tickets (€4.50) as well. They are valid all day at weekends and from Monday to Friday after 09:00 up to 03:00 the next day.

At weekends, the Schönes Wochenende tickets for up five people allow you to travel anywhere in Germany and in some cases across the border into neighbouring countries. They are slightly more expensive (€44) and have the same conditions as the Länder tickets. These tickets are popular and the regional trains at the weekends can be very full.

During the week the Quer durchs Land ticket offers similar possibilities as the Schönes Wochenende but is a little more expensive. The first ticket costs 44 Euros, and every additional passenger (up to four) costs a further eight Euros. The trains are not as full as at weekends.

Buying a ticket

There are a number of options in Britain:

  1. erail Travel T 020 7619 1083 www.erail.co.uk or www.europeanrail.com
  2. Log on to the Deutsche Bahn web site: www.bahn.co.uk. Tickets can be printed out at home, sent to a smart phone or sent by post. In the first two cases, passengers need to have the credit/debit card with them on the train that they used to buy the ticket. In the last case delivery time is up to eight days and costs 3.50 Euros.
  3. Ring Deutsche Bahn on +44 (0)8718 80 80 66 between 09:00 and 20:00 weekdays and between 09:00 and 13:00 at weekends.

Rail Cards offering a rebate

German Railways offer three annual rail cards: BahnCard 100, BahnCard 50 and BahnCard 25 in two flavours, First and Second Class. These only really pay if you live in Germany or are intending to travel extensively, and there is a major snag: You need to cancel your subscription three months or so before the end of the period of validity. If not you will have to pay for another year.

  • BahnCard 100 is a go anywhere travel pass for the whole of Germany and costs 6,890 Euros (First Class) or 4,090 Euros (Second Class).
  • BahnCard 50 holders can buy tickets for half the normal price on any train. It costs between 127.50 and 255 Euros Second Class and between 257.50 and 515 Euros in First Class.
  • BahnCard 25 gives a 25% reduction on tickets including reduced price tickets, so it is possible to travel with a 62.5% reduction on the normal fare if you book early enough. These cards cost 125 Euros in First Class and 62 Euros in Second Class.

You can book tickets online at the reduced rate before you even purchase your BahnCard 25 or 50, so theoretically you could book your tickets online and print them out at home. When you arrive in Aachen or Saarbrücken leave the train, join the queue in the Reisecenter (Travel Centre) or at the Fahrkartenschalter (Ticket Office), and ask for a BahnCard. You will have to fill in a form, but the Bahn employee will help you, and there is no need for a photograph nowadays. When you pay, you will be given a temporary BahnCard. About a month later you will receive the ‘proper’ Card.

Bicycle Tickets

Bicycle reservations for trips within Germany can be made online with your tickets using www.bahn.co.uk. Just check the box ‘carriage of bicycle required’ and the bicycle ticket is booked automatically. You are supplied with two tickets: one you pop on the bike and one you carry with you. The former has an adhesive patch to stick it to the bicycle. Your bicycle will cost 9 Euros on the long distance trains within Germany, and a trailer costs the same amount. A recumbent or a tandem costs 18 Euros. On the regional trains, a bicycle costs 4.50 Euros in some regions, while in others it is free. The DB puts out a German language brochure called ‘Bahn und Bike’ with full details.

If travelling on a long-distance train you need to reserve a place for the bicycle, and if you’re travelling in summer with a non-folding bike, you should sort this out well in advance. If travelling on a summer Saturday try to make a reservation 92 days in advance and set your alarm clock early to do it. International bicycle tickets cost 10 to 15 Euros and include a bicycle reservation. These are valid from your starting station to your destination. Again recumbents and tandems cost double.

.

The website: www.bahn.de

Excellent and easy to use. It provides an option – in the German language version at least – to scan train times over a period to find the cheapest fares each day. This is missing on the English version, probably in revenge for World Cup defeat at Wembley in 1966. (You can cheat. Use the German version and let Google Translator change the language to something you can understand.) You can specify that you are only interested in trains that take accompanied bicycles. This includes some TGV routes, from Karlsruhe to Munich, for example. The timetable section will tell you at which platform you arrive and where you leave from. You can buy bike tickets and reserve bike spaces online in Germany. From what we can see, the website shows the cheapest fares available. For passengers unencumbered by non-folding bicycles it is a good source of information for foreign railways as well. However there are one or two flies in the ointment:

  • You cannot reserve bike places online on international trains, so you will need to talk to a human being, either by phone or at a station.
  • Unfortunately information on the website about transporting accompanied bikes abroad, i.e. outside Germany, is not always accurate. You can, for example, put your bicycle on most trains and use most stations in Belgium, but if you enquire in Germany about travelling from Aachen to Brussels with a velocipede, www.bahn.de suggests you ring the DB cyclists hotline in Germany on 01805 151 415 at the equivalent of about 12p/minute, although you can book the bike tickets in Belgium online. Belgian trains from Liege run to Aachen. Similarly, if you tick the ‘accompanied bicycle’ box when planning a trip from Mannheim to Toulouse the website suggests travelling for just over 25 hours via Basel or Paris and changing five or six times. However there is a perfectly good night train from Paris to Toulouse that takes bicycles.There are local trains from Mannheim to Strasbourg and a late afternoon TGV from Strasbourg will get you into Paris Est with plenty of time to cross to Gare Austerlitz, enjoy a sandwich jambon and a petit rouge before tucking up into your couchette to slumber down to Toulouse. The moral of this: If you want to travel by train with a bicycle between two countries it is advisable to check the websites of both railway systems (French Railways).

A woman writes

Women tend to be shorter and less strong than their menfolk and can have problems with getting bikes on trains in Germany. Platforms, especially on rural stations (i.e. the kind of stations cyclists are likely to visit), are low and the steps up into the earlier diesel railcars can resemble the north face of the Eiger at first sighting. The designers probably assumed that all cyclists are the thin, fit types one sees in the Tour de France with similarly svelte bicycles, but a loaded touring bike is a different kettle of fish entirely.

The narrow train doors hinder the ‘storming of the Bastille’ approach that I’ve used sometimes to reach the top of station steps. The DB suggests removing panniers, but with only two minutes to get on the train there’s a real possibility of leaving them on the platform as you depart. If you are lucky, DB conductor-guards or other cyclists on the train or platform will help you. I tend to play the helpless female at this point, whilst seething within. More modern rolling stock, like the double-decker trains, provide very easy access. Once you’re on board, ladies, a bungee or a strap can be helpful to stop the bike falling over, thus keeping your travelling household neat and tidy.

Changing trains can also be a sporting event, especially at larger stations, and it may be worth specifying a longer interval than the default five minutes when changing trains. This interval can be set on www.bahn.de. This means a slower journey overall, but you are not forced to get off one train with up to 20 other cyclists; jog down a flight or two of stairs; run through the tunnel under the station, clamber up another flight of steps; find the cycle compartment marked by a cycle logo and get your bike on the next train within five minutes. Larger stations often have lifts, even though they may be so narrow that only one person with a loaded bicycle can use them. If they are slightly wider it is worthwhile putting two bikes in head to toe.

Other than when they’re in bakers’ or butchers’ shops, Germans do not understand the concept of queueing, so don’t hang back being polite. You will miss your train.

Ferries and River Steamers

Kiel Canal Ferry
Kiel Canal ferry
Stream Ferry
Stream Ferry

There are times when crossing a canal, river or lake means taking a ferry. These can vary from rowing boats across streams to large vessels crossing national boundaries – on Lake Constance, for example, between Friedrichshafen in Germany and Romanshorn in Switzerland. Steamers on the lakes and rivers will also take bicycles and their riders. One of the best ways to see the Rhine Gorge is from the deck of a steamer with a plate of apple strudel and a cup of coffee in front of you.

Buses

Germany now has long distance buses crisscrossing the country. Until recently long distance bus services were forbidden and had been forbidden since the 1930s when the Nazi government wanted to protect the railway monopoly. The present government has reversed this decision and long distance bus services have sprung up all over Germany.

There are many bus companies, too many to name and since there is extreme competition between the companies some of them will not last long. In fact, two companies have folded in the autumn of 2014 and ADAC, the German motor club has ended its joint venture with Deutsche Post.

The MeinFernBus company offers accompanied bicycle transfer for up to five bikes a trip. The company offers trips all over Germany. See the website. Prices are much cheaper than trains, but the journey times are longer. You can book your bike online. Bike transport costs nine Euros a trip. We realise that you are coming to Germany to cycle not to sit on bus, but Cologne for example is a major hub for low price airlines and if you want cycle in the Black Forest or around Lake Constance then the Cologne/Düsseldorf to Freiburg services could be very interesting. The website is at www.meinfernbus.de in English and German. ADFC members do not need to pay for their bicycle transport. Is this an idea for the CTC?

There are at least two areas offering bicycle transport by bus and rail to encourage cycle tourism:

  • Volgelsberg NE of Frankfurt am Main: Free transport of bicycles on any of the six Vulkan-Express routes at weekends and public holidays from 1st May until the end of October with an hourly or two hourly cadence designed to mesh with regional train services. More information from www.vgo.de. Reservation is recommended.
  • Northern Rheinland-Pfalz NW of Frankfurt am Main: The Regioradler service offers nine routes from the Moselle and Rhine Valleys up into the hills of the Hunsrück (for Hahn Airport amongst other places) and the Eiffel. In addition there is a service along the Moselle Valley. Services run from May until October. Not all buses run everyday. Some run daily, some Mondays to Friday and some weekends and public holidays. More information from www.regioradler.de. Reservation is not only recommended, it is essential at weekends and on public holidays. These services do transport e-bikes, but not tandems or recumbents. Trailers can be transported if there is room.

Diversions in Germany

A Regional Express winds its way through the Black Forest
© Deutsche Bahn AG
Regional Express in Black Forest Copyright Deutsche Bahn AG

Our favourite trip in Germany is the long climb through the Black Forest from Offenburg to Villingen. Passing through spectacular scenery, the route is 94 miles long, and ascends 650 metres through 39 tunnels and over two viaducts.
Something that we regret not doing is the special offer some years ago of a week-long trip around some of the termini of the CityNightLine system, sleeping on the train every night and spending a day in cities such as Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. With a Brompton as hand luggage it could be good fun, even though you might need a shower by the end of the week. There are no plans to repeat this service. Sadly, the Amsterdam and Copenhagen CNL services will cease in December 2014.