By Andy Chivers

About a year ago Great Western Railway announced that bikes had to be booked onto (some of) their trains or you wouldn’t be allowed to travel. The message was confusing, and for me at least, very off-putting.

Last summer, wanting to go for a bike ride with someone in Charlbury I tried to book online but every train in both directions was apparently fully booked so I gave up.

More recently, rather than go through the same time-wasting process we took our bikes on Chiltern railways to High Wycombe with no fuss at all.

But last week I thought I would try GWR again, and was sufficiently pleased with how it worked out that I thought I would share it with Oxford Mail readers.

I planned a bike ride from Worcester and getting no sense from the GWR website or the phone help line I went into Oxford station to enquire.

The helpful lady explained that the paper timetable was the best way to decide if a train would take unbooked bikes, so armed with one I began to plan. She told me the 9.24 train emptied at Oxford and would have plenty of room for bikes, so I decided to take that one.

The platform manager was helpful, and no one asked whether I had reserved (which I hadn’t). I did my ride around Worcestershire and returned to Worcester Shrub Hill station, only to see that the next 4 trains back home needed booking in advance.

I went to the ticket office where the amiable official checked on his computer and printed me a bike reservation for the next train, leaving in 20 minutes.

Waiting on the platform the train manager chatted very positively about bikes on trains and showed me where to stand for the bike compartment. She asked me if I had booked (I had!) but also said that she and most of her colleagues would always try to get bikes on even if they hadn’t booked.

It was an HST train which takes 6 or more bikes in a separate guards van like compartment and I was the only one on it. We were back in Oxford in an hour.

While my one day’s experience may not be representative, my advice now is – don’t give up on taking a bike with GWR. Get hold of a paper timetable so that you can understand the options.

By all means try to book online (tip – only GWR website allows this and you have to choose your journey and go to the payment page before the bike booking option appears – an unhelpful arrangement).

If your preferred train appears fully booked, but it is doesn’t need advanced booking then just turn up. Chat to the platform staff to find out where the bike storage section will stop.

There is no point in trying to book your bike on the return journey in advance, since you won’t know what time you will be getting to the station.

Enjoy your bike ride and then on your return go to the ticket office and book your bike onto the next train.

So start looking again at the lovely routes around Evesham, Great Malvern or Hereford!