Bicycles on Trains

We boarded a train from Constanta to Bucharest in the morning, riding to the train station and bagging our bicycles there. The bags are the regulation Swiss bags that we ordered for delivery to Chris’s office.

There is a movement to make trains more bike-friendly in Europe. The movement is well underway in Northwestern Europe, but it has spread only slowly and policies are far from uniform across the countries –Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania–covered by our Eurail Pass. Our research from Canada told us that, in Switzerland, nearly all local trains accept bicycles as-is –in fact they provide several hooks for the bikes at the front of each rail car, and the appropriate doors are marked with the image of a bicycle. You must pay a small extra fee for the as-is bicycle. However, as-is bikes are not allowed on overnight or inter-city trains –a logistical problem for us.

If we’d been forced to take only local trains from Constanta all the way back to Geneva, the trip would likely have taken us a week, so this was not practical. A little more research told us that, according to Swiss train rules, placing the bike with front-wheel removed into an official nylon bag would magically transform it into mere luggage, acceptable on any train. This is why we’d ordered the bags, and carried then with us, using them as camping mats and picnic blankets as we travelled.

To get from Constanta to Geneva, we took six trains in just under 48 hours. The longest leg was from Bucharest to Vienna, and we had booked a two person room in a sleeper car. With bagged bikes placed vertically, we still had the use of both beds. This train arrived in Vienna over an hour late, which forced us to reschedule the rest of our homeward trip onto less bike-friendly trains with shorter legs and tight connections. Some of the connections looked impossibly tight, and we had serious doubts we’d manage them all and to get “home” to Geneva that night.

Wheeling a loaded bike through a train station is easy, even if you’ve removed the pedals and turned the handlebars. But the requirement that the bikes be bagged meant that, at most connection points, Chris carried two bagged bicycles, grabbing each by the crossbar through the bag. I carried four large panniers, two slung over each shoulder. Each pannier-unit was one front pannier inside a rear one.

In Vienna and Zurich we got baggage carts, but those had their challenges too. Add to this the fact that some connection times were under five minutes, and some arrival and departure platforms at opposite ends of the station. Keep an eye on your watch, and get your pile of stuff ready at the car door as the train slows to a stop! As you scramble through hurrying crowds, remain upbeat in as many languages as you can muster, and other passengers who must dodge your awkward cargo are less likely to get annoyed.

Constanta-Bucharest-Vienna-Innsbruck-Feldkirch-Zurich-Geneva Airport. Departing Constanta at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, and arriving in Geneva at midnight, Saturday. I don’t know how, but we did it!

The scenery was gorgeous, as we mapped our progress across Europe. Fellow passengers were pleasant and mainly very supportive. Conductors –with one notable exception– were helpful and supportive. At times, we felt we were pushing the boundaries of so-called bike-friendliness. The fact that we had first-class tickets helped. First class is what you get with a Eurail Pass when you are over 26. I think my almost-white hair didn’t hurt, either.

Would we fly from Constanta to Geneva next time? As I write, I’m still processing the train experience. Ask me a little later.

M

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