Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bikes on Trains in Europe with the Example of Italy

There are normally two occasions when you might need to take your bike on the train:
1) You've just arrived at the airport and need to get to your first hotel or other lodging;
2) You're out on the road with your bike and you need to cover some ground quickly. (Alternatively, you’ve finished your tour, arrived in Sicily and need to jump on the train to return to Rome, for example).

Regulations vary from country to country and train to train but we'll talk about bikes on Italian trains in this post. Later we'll send you to resources in other countries.

Italian trains are pretty bike friendly after years of lobbying by the Federazione Italiana Amici della Bicicletta.

Getting your Bike from the Airport by Train

Let’s say you are headed from the Rome airport to your rental villa in Umbria or Tuscany. If your bike is in a box or bag you can take it on most trains as accompanied baggage. It’s just a question as to whether or not there is baggage
in your train car. (Most Italian trains do NOT have separate luggage cars). Fast trains, tagged ES*, ES* Fast, AV e AV Fast, in the train scheudule normally do not allow large packages such as a bike in a box (ES means EuroStar, the long-distance fast trains).

Getting your bike on the train is the least of your problems. Think, instead, about the logistics in moving your bike in a bike case or box, your luggage, and your family or traveling companions. In Rome you first have to get from luggage claim to the metro train to get into Rome, then change metros to get to the train station, then to your train. Once you arrive at destination you need to get from the local train station to your villa or rental apartment. A better option might be to rent a van or even hire a van to shuttle you to your destination.

Taking your Bike on the Train without a Box or Case

So you’re out on the road, pedaling furiously but need to jump ahead a couple hundred kilometers. Or, you want to pedal from Venice to Florence but the only bike rental supplier is near Bologna (LINK). So pick up your rental bike near Bologna, take the train to Venice, do your bike tour from Venice to Florence, then catch the train back from Florence to Bologna with your bike and drop it off at the rental supplier.

MOST local and regional Italian trains will allow you to just wheel your bike aboard. You need a ticket and your bike needs a 3.50 euro ticket. (Be sure to validate that ticket before you board).

This is actually a great way to travel throughout Europe as long as there aren't too many travelers. Up to four bikes with panniers can usually fit on a train pretty easily. A larger group is much more difficult.

For more information on bikes on trains in Italy and Europe here are a few resources:

TrenItalia, the old Ferrovie dello Stato web site has a pretty good English explanation here.

The Italian train schedule online is actually very good and indicates which trains take bikes with a small bicycle icon and note: "Bicycle transportation service."

Other good resources in Italy are the Federazione Italiana Amici della Bicicletta (FIAB)
Their English web site is a little outdated but may be useful.

For information about bikes on trains in other European countries start with the European Cycling Federation.

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