Bikes on trains


Recently I read a post by Lizanne Wilmot about taking bikes on (Sydney) trains. She made a lot of good points about storage etiquette. For anyone who has travelled on the 1980s intercity silver rattlers with the newly pimped out purple interiors you’ll know that when it comes to bike storage there really aren’t many options–particular if there are more than,  say, THREE bicycles on the WHOLE ENTIRE TRAIN. So I thought I’d have a crack at the whole etiquette/storage thingy for the whole other world to the north of Sydney (yes, it exists), where cars rule and PT users are fools (apparently). Welcome to Lake Macquarie and Newcastle.

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But wait, I sense my fellow commuter silently seething as I bestow upon the train my bike (yes, more than one person catches the train up north)… What are you doing taking your stupid bike on the train you arrogant space hogger stealing my space and oxygen?!?

Please I say, calm your farm. Not everyone owns two cars, wants to own a car or wants to spend a tenth of their life raging behind the steering wheel when they can be zenning on a bicycle. I will give you the benefit of the doubt because you are on the train. But because our cities are quite spread out (thanks cars!), coupling bicycles with trains makes perfect sense–bikes massively expand the catchment of a train station.

Now that my fellow commuter has settled (still screaming inside no doubt), let’s look at our bicycle storage options shall we? Better if we split it according to what sort of train you are travelling on…

intercity | #newyisok#instacommute

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1970s/80s intercity rattlers (“NSW TrainLink V Set”)

You know the ones. Silver on the outside, those steam-punk mechanical levers between carriages you see hipsters taking photos of (guilty, see below) and which you oh so want to pull, and a willy-wonkafied interior for some reason (Gladys’ fav colour perhaps?). Welcome friend.

Here is your one and only option: hanging your bike by your front wheel and watching your handlebars get smacked by the poor souls who wander the length of the train trying desperately to find which end will let them alight at those terribly convenient platforms shorter than the length of the train. Worse, in your optimistic naivety, you decide to leave your side mirror on, only to watch helplessly as it is smashed by the swinging door and falls to the ground. Silly you.

Some handy tips:

  1. Never mind if you’re older or have an injury and struggle to lift the bicycle above your head and sideways whilst holding the front wheel and positioning carefully so as not to break your spokes, face, back or dignity.
  2. If you have panniers–ditch that lunch box doofus!
  3. If you don’t want your front rim scraping against a severely unwelcoming steel hook, too bad. If you’re lucky you may find a hook pre-duck-taped by a fellow bicycle commuter, for padding.
  4. If you are travelling with a friend, or children, they can go to another carriage and see if one of the hooks is free and you can spend your trip in lonesome solitude.
  5. Because a single train can be made up of different carriages from different ‘stock’, you may board the train where you think will be a bicycle hook only to be stuck with a carriage lobby with luggage shelves (which no one uses, because people suspect someone will steal their luggage… fortunately new luggage racks inside the seating areas are gradually being installed). The trick is to look out for the little blue bicycle signs on the outside of the carriages.

But wait, what if all the hooks are taken? Well, I’m glad you asked. Basically you’ll need to carefully position your bike to block entry and exit from all four doors in the carriage ‘lobby’ thus gleefully infuriating your fellow commuters.  (Or you can stand with your bike the entire trip and be ready to shift it as necessary. Caution: travelling in the lobby may result in loss of hearing due to passing freight train screeches).


Some rattlers have been retrofitted to accommodate wheelchairs (thank goodness). If the train is somewhat empty you can get away with being a tool. Just be prepared to move immediately if someone needs the space. You will also be judged. Harshly.

Hamo Winter. 2. | #newyisok#endoftheline

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Oscar/Millennium trains

Some newer trains are provided for the all stops intercity/Gosford-Newcastle services. I say new, but really they’re just the old Sydney commuter trains that could be palmed off as new to unsuspecting Novocastrians, Central Coastians and Lake Macians, after Sydney got its Waratah trains. But hey, I’m OK with hand-me-downs.

Whilst arguably less comfy for long intercity trips, these newer trains better cater to bicycle, wheelchair and pram folks, owing to the larger areas at the end of each carriage where people alight from the train.

This area provides near ample room for bicycle storage if you lift up one of the seats in the wheelchair designated areas (again, be prepared to move and to be judged by your fellow commuters). Alternatively you can lean your bike against the poles near the doors. Better to secure it to stop it from falling over (great for when the train driver forgets the train is meant to stop at a station and the train comes to a screeching halt).

Those other trains that people get sometimes… I think

Whilst most of Australia yearns for a very fast train (VFT) service for the east coast, until we actually get one we have to make do with the very slow train/bus (VST/B) services (formerly known as CountryLink) that run between Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and everywhere in-between. I actually have zero experience taking a bike on these trains, though a quick Google search reveals this:

Space is available for carrying bicycles and folding bicycles.

XPT – five spaces
XPLORER – three spaces
Coaches – two spaces

A fee of $12.10 and a weight limit of 20 kilograms applies. There is no charge for folding bicycles in a protective cover, no larger than 79cm long, 59cm high and 36cm wide.

Please reserve a place for your bicycle when purchasing your ticket. Please note you are unable to reserve a place online.

And the best part…

If you are travelling with a bicycle, please arrive at least one hour before the scheduled departure time in order to disassemble and pack it into a bicycle box. You can ask at your station about obtaining a bicycle box or source one from a bicycle retailer.

Mmm yes, bicycle box indeed. As if.

Future intercity trains

The other day in 2014 the NSW Government announced a tender for the procurement of new intercity trains to replace the vintage rattlers. For people outside of Sydney this was met with much excitement followed by “Wait, we don’t care about new trains, can you instead please straighten the track between Sydney and Newcastle so the current length of the trip is faster than the Newcastle Flyer back in the 1930s? Pretty please?”. (Government response: “I hear what you’re saying, how about a new road instead?”).

The reality is we need both better rolling stock and better tracks to put them on. Pending the latter, new trains are certainly welcome. We have been promised space for bicycles will be investigated:

As part of their tender, we will ask the four consortia to consider different options for seating configurations, bike storage, luggage racks and the possibility of Wi-Fi and a Premium carriage for customers.

Just what this bicycle storage looks like remains to be seen. Be sure to speak up if you would like to see better storage options. The other quandry is these intercity services are used for both Sydney-Newcastle travellers, but also for everyday commuters within Lake Macquarie/Newcastle (these are typically the bike carrying folk). This means any new trains will have to cater to both groups, or else more hand-me-down Oscar/Millennium trains should be provided for more frequent all stop services (currently every hour).

To end, I’ll leave you with some shots from my various daily commutes over the past few years. Do you have an interesting bike/train story? Please share!

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next time

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Beautiful morning. And it's Friday. Do you train it?

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Hamo. Winter. #newyisok#hamiltonisalright#thisnight

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#morning #mist #mayfield #newyisok #newcastle #tracks #stopandtakeitin @newyisok

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train exploration #sydney #cityrail #urban

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the crossover #cityrail

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train times #sydney #Australia

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#newcastlelifestyle #cityrail

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those rail lines

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13 thoughts on “Bikes on trains

  1. Last time I took a bike from Sydney to Newcastle on the train, I hung it on the hook and sat in the carriage. A group of about ten enormous tradies got on and began partying in the area where the bike was hanging. When I went out to check on it they said they would look after it but a few of them were abusive as they drank their beer and listened to loud music while hanging onto the bars of the bike. I just accepted that if they took or damaged the bike I would be totally powerless to do anything. But they were good as their words and the bike was left unharmed. Thankfully.


    1. That’s not a good experience Vicki, sorry to hear. I really don’t like the idea of leaving my bike where it can be easily stolen, or where you have to deal with situations like you experienced. Let’s make sure the new intercity trains address these issues.


  2. I had a laughable experience taking a folding bike on a country link train. I boarded the train and put the folding bike (without cover) in the otherwise unused luggage rack. I was told I couldn’t store it there as it could be dangerous. I didn’t get any further explanation as to how but had to get off the train, find someone with a bike box, unfold the bike so it would fit in the box, tape it up and wait for someone to load it onto the train. Luckily I want asked to pay extra for the bike otherwise I might have lost it completely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this. I recently bought an Opal card so I can start taking the train with bike to Sydney.
    I’m still back there often enough for different things but detest the traffic. I know the train is slower but I like the idea of not having to deal with the car all the time, not to mention parking & toll costs. So I ts a shame the onboard storage isn’t a bit better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have taken my bike on the intRA city trains a few times when the Sydney Spring Cycle is running (specifically, Westmead to North Sydney). On these mornings the train is packed with cyclists and there is a little bit of a carnival atmosphere as everyone tries to squeeze in. A lot of smiles and commaraderie. A nice way to start a wonderful day of cycling.

    I am blessed living near Parramatta as I have the option of taking my bike on the RiverCat into the city when the need arises. This is very civilised as there is plenty of room to chain your bike on the front deck (the chain prevents the bike falling over). There is nothing better than sitting with the morning sun on your face as you leisurely motor along towards city.

    If you have the chance I can totally recommend coming out and enjoying some of the great cycling (and cafes) around Parramatta. The Parramatta River Valley cycleway heading back to Sydney Olympic Park is a lovely safe ride.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bernie, I love it! I used to live at Meadowbank and would catch the River Cat to work. Such a beautiful, peaceful way to commute. I only put my bike on the Cat once or twice to get to Olympic Park and I had no hassles. I shall put it on my to do list to check out cycling in Parramatta. Cheers!


  5. I certainly appreciate the article, but as a regular commuter with a bike in Sydney, there are a couple of things you should know. It is apparently against the law to block a door with a bike (such as your picture shows). I know that because despite trying to keep out of peoples way, the abuse I have received from train guards and drivers is quite despicable.
    The filthy looks from other commuters has been disgraceful, all because I travel on a train with a bike.
    Feel free to spend a week in a train with a bike with me . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Sydney is another world compared to up north. I don’t envy you! I sneakily took that pic of the bike in the door – not mine 😉 People are telling me to ditch my regular bike and get a folding bike..


    2. I’ve only recently started travelling with a small-ish bike on a Sydney train line. Yesterday I was told “well don’t move it” when a woman suddenly realised that *this* was her stop and had to rush to get out – despite the fact that I tilted my bike to allow her to pass. I’m not sure that I cant continue to put up with the hostility – passive and overt – that passengers give me when I have my bike on the train. Off-peak is not so bad, but I need to travel peak most times. It feels as bad as riding on Sydney roads . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Carroll, I know what you mean. Some people get a bit antsy no matter how polite one tries to be. Since writing the article the most common feedback I have received is to get a folding bike. Maybe one day. Better public transit too please. If elsewhere can do it, we can too 🙂


  6. I commute from Wyong to the city by train with my bike most weekends for work.

    Most of the time it’s the old rattlers, on which I will not use “the hook” due to damages caused to the bike as well as safety reasons. We all know how unpredictable the rocking of the train can be, especially when trying to hold a 15kg bike up.

    What I find works best though, is to back the bike into the designated area so that the back tyre rests in the nook of the back corner and then lean the bike so the seat rests against the edge of the partition wall between the bike and the doors. This way the bike sits relatively still through the journey and allows people to still pass by in all directions with little inconvenience.

    I sometimes (usually during wet weather, when I wear “crocs” and put my work shoes in a plastic bag in the basket) have a basket hanging off the right side of my pannier rack which makes this a little awkward, but it kinda works

    Liked by 1 person

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