Since 2007 it has been possible to book cycle reservations on train services that require it using WebTIS, the booking engine used by the East Coast operator. This was particularly handy as many other booking sites required you to phone in or visit the station. As the East Coast operator was the first one to introduce this fuctionality a lot of guides to taking bikes on trains recommend booking through this site.
Unfortunately on 1 August 2017 Virgin Trains East Coast launched a new website which, at the time of launch, will not feature cycle reservations. The email sent out by Virgin Trains East Coast suggests phoning to reserve bike spaces, effectively taking us back to 2007.
The good news is you can book any National Rail service in Britiain on the website of another operator, they all have to sell the full range of tickets for the National Rail network so if you're booking on an operator that requires cycle reservations you can book on one of these alternative sites.
Where to book?
If you've already registered with one of these sites you can book with them, if you haven't registered with any yet Chiltern is a good choice as they also sell Virgin Trains East Coast catering vouchers which the other sites do not. If you want to collect Nectar points you can book with GWR or TransPennine Express, they give points for all rail travel regardless of operator.
The WebTIS based sites that offer cycle reservations will offer a similar booking experience to the old Virgin Trains East Coast site. They are:
- Great Western Railway (GWR)
- Hull Trains
- TransPennine Express (TPE)
- RedSpottedHanky (this has a booking fee, but you can spend Clubcard points here at double value)
- South Western Railway
The ScotRail website is a different booking engine but also offers cycle reservations:
To reserve a cycle space you also need to reserve a seat so ensure that option is selected. Then you need to select the number of bikes you want to reserve in the cycle reservation section.
As cycle spaces are limited it's important to check that the reservation was successful. If it isn't you need to go back and try a different service if reservations are compulsory on your train.
Which services require a cycle reservation?
All Virgin Trains East Coast services require a reservation and this can be done through one of the sites listed above.
As for other services the general rule is long distance (InterCity*) services require a reservation and local or commuter services do not (but may have restrictions in peak periods).
If your service requires a cycle reservation it will be possible to do this on one of the sites listed above even if the operator itself doesn't offer cycle reservations on their own site.
As rules can change it's worth checking the rules in place by your operator if you've not taken your bike on the train in a while.
* Grand Central is a long distance operator that does not offer cycle reservations, it has four spaces on a first come, first served basis.