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National Rail app adds bike info functions

Can you take a bike? Do you need to book? Is there bike parking at the station?

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.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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