Back to the summer of 2022 with Victoire and her tribulations by train + bike through Europe for a trip full of emotions and thrills thanks to the… Interrail pass! The following article gives you the good advice of our friend cyclist to avoid bad surprises (english version at the end of article).
My name is Victoire Goust. I am an enthusiastic cyclist, bike touring in France every year since 2016. Moreover, I love traveling by train in Europe. For several years I had dreamt of one day touring Europe by train with the Interrail pass.
Also, when in the spring of 2022, I started to mature the project of a 5300km-tour of Europe by train + bike in summer, it seemed to me the ideal opportunity to try the Interrail pass. 2022 being precisely the year of the 50th anniversary of Interrail, there was a 50% discount on the 1-month continuous pass. Delighted to join the Interrail community, I quickly installed the Rail Planner app on my phone to plan my route.
Easy to use, the app allows to create a route and search for journeys to include, provided they are eligible for the Interrail program; indeed, even if the majority of European trains, including high-speed trains, are eligible for the pass, not all of them are: it is therefore wise to check before boarding, to avoid a fine once on board! For each route, the possible timetables each day are shown, as well as the stops on the route with their times; moreover, depending on the type of train, it is indicated whether it is necessary or possible to reserve your seat: in short, everything you need to board with serenity.
Everything you need, yes… if you travel by foot. Indeed, no information is available on the app or on the Interrail website about the possibility of taking bicycles on board. Not is indicated the additional pricing applicable to carry bicycles. Moreover, pricing varies not only by country, but also by type of train (regional train, long-distance train, high-speed train), and by region! Moreover, several bicycle fares sometimes need to be combined: for example, in Germany or Switzerland, a bike user must purchase a daily bicycle card AND reserve a bicycle space on the IC.
For each of the 27 train journeys on my itinerary, I therefore had to look up the applicable bicycle fares. This was particularly complicated for cross-border journeys: the train companies of each of the the two countries did not always display the same information. In addition, bike reservations were only possible online if combined with the purchase of a passenger ticket: therefore not applicable for Interrail pass holders already holding their ticket.
Faced with this mountain of difficulties, I almost canceled my Interrail pass, in order to be able to order classic passenger tickets + bike tickets online. Yet, chose to persevere, in order to be able to give this feedback and contribute to improving the carrying of bicycles for the many Interrail pass holders.
So I had to go through the following hurdles to book the bike slot and/or the daily bike tickets in each country:
- France: 1 month before travel day, in the SNCF counter in a station for mandatory bike reservations on TGV -10€- and on TER BreizhGo -1€ in summer);
- Belgium: on travel day, at the SNCB counter at the departure station, to purchase the 4€ bike supplement. Trip: Intercity Oostende-Antwerpen Berchem (no mandatory slot reservation) ;
- Netherlands: 1 month before departure date, purchase of electronic bike tickets on the phone with the NS International customer service (30 mins in English). Trip : Intercity Antwerpen Berchem – Breda (mandatory bike slot reservation).
- Germany :1 month before departure date, purchase on the phone with the Deutsche Bahn customer service (45 mins in German), for the purchase of daily regional bike tickets at €7 + compulsory bike reservations in the IC and ICE, in paper format by regular mail (!). Two days before my departure from Lyon, I still hadn’t received anything; I therefore called back the DB, who told me that I was going to receive the tickets at home 2 days before the departure date of the first reserved train. I said that I would already be away from home on that date: the contact person therefore allowed me to collect my reservations at a station counter when I arrived in Germany…
- Sweden: on travel day, at the vending machine, for the 39DKK bike ticket on the Øresundtåg between Malmö & Copenhagen.
- Denmark: a month early, all my attempts to book the Copenhagen-Hamburg bike space on the phone failed: after waiting 15 minutes, the phone systematically hung up. Hence, I was only able to book the bike spaces once in Copenhagen, on the day before my trip. Indeed, only 2 counters in the country allow to reserve bike spaces, including one at Copenhagen central station. Since the direct Copenhagen-Hamburg Intercity the next day was already sold out, the ticket clerk had to search 45 minutes for possible bike-compatible train combinations, and reprimanded me for not having anticipated more (!).
- Switzerland: on travel day, at the vending machine, to purchase the 14 CHF daily bike pass.
In the end, I traveled in order during my 27 train journeys, and the half-price Interrail pass made me save around €300 overall. But this was only possible at the cost of a lot of stress and upstream work, out of reach for non-fluent English & German speakers.
Given this quite difficult experience, I therefore advise against the Interrail pass for travelers with bicycles: it is already complicated enough to understand the differences in train + bicycle pricing depending on the country and region; adding the hassle of making reservations at the counter or by telephone is too much to ask. Until the Rail Planner app makes it possible to directly reserve bike slots and day passes, the Interrail pass will only be of interest to travelers without bikes.
To end on a more positive note, despite these administrative hassles, this summer trip by bike and train (+ bus, ferry, tram) in Europe was an extraordinary adventure. Very complementary means of transport to apprehend our beautiful continent: on the one hand physical effort, slowness and unevenness to climb; on the other, rest, speed and contemplation of passing landscapes. Long live travel by bike and rail!