Combining bike and rail travel seems like a no-brainer - until you actually try and do it, when you find a thicket of conflicting regulations and requirements. The latest version of the National Rail Enquiries app for iPhone and Android - part paid for by the UK bike industry's Bike Hub levy - aims to provide cyclists with a way through the thorns.
The new functions of the app aim to allow people to easily and quickly find out about cycling facilities at stations (such as cycle parking), and the rules for taking bikes on trains including the number of cycle spaces available and whether they need to reserve a space for their bike.
The Association of Train Operating Companies says: “Train operators have varying levels of demand and capacity for carrying bikes and so have different policies and restrictions. The new function will make it easier for people to check cycle carriage rules and plan their journey and will encourage more people to cycle to and from rail stations.”
We had a quick look at the iPhone version of the app. When you select a journey it gives you information on whether bikes are allowed on the train, how many spaces are available and whether you’ll need to book. You can also find out what cycling facilities are available at your departure and destination stations.
To book a ticket you’re taken through to the train operator’s website, at which point things gets a bit clunky, as you’re then peering through a tiny screen at a site designed for a desktop web browser.
Whether you’ll then be able to book a bike space then depends on the individual operator; some provide this facility through their websites, some don’t. We can’t help thinking that this sort of thing would be much easier if trains were all run by one body. Perhaps it could be called ‘British Rail’.
One issue that’s already cropped up with the app update, which went live yesterday, is that some users are finding it leaves iPhone Location Services running all the time. As that means accessing the phone’s GPS, it affects battery life. We can confirm that Location Services is on even when you’re not directly using the app, and that turning off the app’s permission to use it turns it off.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.