Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Taking bikes on Eurostar

Part 1 - The booking process

I mentioned previously I was planning a cycling tour and reported news of Eurostar's policy on bikes when it changed in April. In May I had the opportunity to travel by Eurostar (without the bike) and was heartily impressed. Whilst I was there I asked the staff about taking bikes and found the 'official' procedure was less than clear, hence the reason for this post.

Eurostar bike carrying options improved
on the 7th April by adding a third option, but not all the staff there are aware of it. I asked at security, where the scanners are, and was told the bike had to be in a bag to go through the scanner. The chap didn't know of other options. He pointed out the extra large scanning machines they have installed. I don't know the exact size but a number of other sites/forums seem to indicate 120cm x 90cm is about the maximum. I have also read of bikes being passed round outside the scanner - a possibility but a risky one in case there are problems.

I asked at the information desk and the lady there indicated there were two options.

The first was as carry on luggage using the method the security guy described. I pointed out that if going on tour, a cyclist doesn't want to carry a an airling style bike bag and asked if there was a way round it. She indicated that as long as it fits through the scanner and was wrapped up it should be Ok. For this it to work it seems possible to use some lightweight polythene sheeting wrapped around the bike and wheels and fastened with tape or one of the CTC shop's transparent bike bags. The wheels should be removed, but the advantage here is the process is mostly in your control, so, unlike the airlines, you carry the 'package' to the train and look after it. No drama of looking out of the airport window to see your precious frame under a ton of baggage. I've read reports of this method being used quite successfully by a number of cyclists. It seems there are some extra large luggage racks in which to put a bike bag/package at the end of some of the carriages.

The second option was using checked baggage, for which a bike ticket has to be purchased. The lady on information stated bikes have to be with Esprit the baggage handlers for Eurostar, 24 hours before departure to be guaranteed to be on the same train as the passenger. This is only an option if you live in London or are breaking your journey by staying in London overnight. The cost for this is £20 per bike per journey.

The information desk in the departure hall could only tell me about these two options and were unaware of the new third option available from April 7th. This option is basically option 2, checked baggage, without the 24 hour restriction. As long as you turn up to the Esprit depot at least an hour before you depart, then you can book your bikes in and travel on the same train. Collection of the bike is done on arrival from the baggage handling depot.

If you only have a lightweight bike, or one without mudguards and racks, option 1 would seem the best. If you are touring and have panniers and other equipment to worry about, then breaking down your rig and packaging it at security isn't so attractive, so option 3 will be your best bet if you can stand the cost. Panniers still need to be removed, but the rest of the bike can remain intact.

The only downside is the booking procedure, which isn't seamless but can be straightforward, given a little knowledge of how it works.

The procedure goes as follows:

  1. Identify when you want to travel and use the Eurostar website to do a dry run of the booking to check prices and times. Note: Esprit Europe is a parcels service, have limited space and timetable parcel carriage at times most convenient to their needs. This doesn't necessarily coincide with the cheapest train tickets. I wanted to go on the lunchtime train where the ticket was only £29.50 to Paris, but had to choose an earlier train at £59 because there was no room for the bikes. One train to avoid, according to the very helpful man at Esprit, is the 9042.

  2. Having identified which trains you want, ring Esprit (08705 850850, or 02079 023528) and check availability. If there is room you can go on to book your Eurostar tickets, if not ask Esprit what other trains have space for bikes - this is best done whilst being able to play with the Eurostar on-line booking to compare times and prices. At the end of this step you should know which train to book.

  3. Book the train tickets for the passengers using the Eurostar online booking and get a booking reference number.

  4. Ring Esprit again to book your bikes onto the train you just booked seats on. They need to know the train number, days and times of travel etc. They will take payment for the carriage of the bikes and give you a reference number for each leg of the journey. This is to be used at booking in, when they will issue labels for outward and return journeys. If the procedure is taking a lot of time ask them to ring back - unlike a lot of train reservation services, this one is user friendly and involves helpful humans. Having paid and got all your reference numbers, you're done.

  5. Take a deep breath, relax and have a cup of tea. Told you it wasn't easy, but having a bit of knowledge of how it works helps take away some of the difficulty.

Part 2 will describe the process of travelling on Eurostar with a bike using option 3.

photo : lewishamdreamer

1 comment:

RoboSingh said...

This was really helpful!thanks a ton man...