Friday, 14 September 2012

The Channel: An unnecessary barrier to Cycling

Last weekend I took my bicycle the very short distance to Abbeville, Picardie for the Ronde Picarde, a cyclosportive of the very highest quality which makes a great late season ride.

This is a very easy journey to make in a car.  Throw the bike in the back, drive to the channel and one hour on the motorway the other side.  However this year I decided to go by bicycle.  I imagined it would be equally easy, or even easier.  Ride to the tunnel, hop on a train, ride out the other end and hop on another train.

However it turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

First if you wish to take your bicycle on the Eurotunnel, it has to go in a motor vehicle.  If you do not supply your own motor vehicle then Eurotunnel will provide one for you, picking you up and dropping you off at points remote from the tunnel itself.  So far so (just) bearable.   However this service has to be booked in advance and is provided only twice a day: once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon, both times hopeless for me.

I imagine some health and safety assessment has defined cycling to a train as dangerous; perhaps because there are loads of motor vehicles about that might run a cyclist over.  What would the consequences be if Eurotunnel were to conduct a health and safety assessment at Elephant and Castle, I wonder?  At least at their terminals, they can impose speed limits and traffic calming where necessary and let cyclists onto trains first.  There is plenty of space at the front of trains for bicycles, I have seen it.

So, the ferry it was.  However I was denied a ticket on DFDs  with half an hour to go before the advertised sailing time.  How long can it take to ride a bicycle onto a ferry?  I had to go on a later P&O ferry and pay £25 one way (which seemed to me steep given that the costs for a car is advertised at starting from £19 one way.)

At least the Port of Dover does not worry about cyclists mixing with 'real traffic'.  Getting on the ferry was easy, I was let on first with the motorcycles.  Getting off the P&O ferry in Calais was, however, far more frustrating.  Whilst the motorcyclists were let off first a grumpy man yelled at me "You!  Stay there!  They will run you down!." and with that I had to wait on a fume choked car deck fro 20 minutes while every last motor vehicle got off and I missed a train running out of Calais Ville.  Why anybody would run me down on an exit ramp from a ferry baffles me.  Impose a 20 mph speed limit if this is a real concern.

Once in France taking the bicycle on the train was easy

Very few people take a bicycle across the Channel; far more take them on the back of cars.  Now I understand why.

Still the Ronde Picarde was wonderful as always and well worth the hassle of getting there.

What a pity though that there is not a cycle track through the service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel.  It would be much faster than the ferry.  Still I expect some Health and Safety assessment would rule that idea out.


  1. If you try going by Stena Line from Harwich to Hook Of Holland it is actually more expensive to take a bicycle than a car.

  2. "if you wish to take your bicycle on the Eurotunnel, it has to go in a motor vehicle" Madness.

  3. Do you have any experience of taking your bike on Eurostar? I am thinking about travelling to Avignon (via Paris) avec bike to cycle round the south of France, but it seems you have to pay a surcharge of £30 per bike on eurostar, which seems absurdly expensive.

    1. Every July for the last 6 years I have taken the Eurostar on my way to the Etape du Tour. However I put it in a bike box and it is then free.
      I have seen people take their assembled bikes on Eurostar. The disadvantage is not so much that you have to pay but that there is no guarantee that the bicycle will be on the same train as you! If you have a connection to make, this is not much use.

    2. Thanks. My planned cycle tour honeymoon sans car next year sounds at risk. Better get working on the logistics.

  4. From portsmouth you can just take your bike one the ferry as a foot passenger.

    The TER train I take between Combourg and Rennes everyday has similar systems for bikes

  5. Ihave many times taken a bike on Eurostar.

    Use a bike BAG - not box, and just put it ina luggage rack. You will be seated near it so you can make sure nothing is put on it - check with Eurostar for the measurements - it has to be a smaller bag rather than larger box.

    You can use the alternative of going to Paris WITH a bike with panniers on which travels in another compartment on the train (you have to trurn up a bit earlier to wheeel it to the correct place).
    You can then cycle across Paris to get on a French train (not a TGV) where it can be stored.

    Just talk to the train people about the various options (you may want to use a sleeper service to Avignon). It can take some planning, but train travel through France often does, with or without bike.

    And don't forget to plan it well in advance - it is a LOT cheaper.

  6. I travel several times a year on Brittany Ferries between Portsmouth and Caen or St Malo. From Easter onwards you see quite a few cyclists, especially in the high summer, riding onto the ferry car-deck. As far as I can see there is no big issue about it. They check in the same way as cars, at the drive-through, and in practical terms are handled in much the same way as motor vehicles are from then on.

    Bikes go on to the bottom deck of the ferry and tuck between the various bulkheads, as do the motorbikes. I couldn't say whether they are let off first because I have never been so lucky myself in a car, but I would guess they go no later than the last vehicles on the bottom deck, before they lower the ramps from the higher car decks.

    Not much use for Abbeville of course.

  7. Exiting the Newhaven dieppe ferry last year I also was made to wait on the fumy deck to exit last. After slowly filltering through the queuing vehicles, my 4 riding companions and I were told off by an almost comically aggressive female border control guard, and made to wait 30 minutes for every last vehicle to go before being allowed through. We were the only cyclists on the ferry, and it's not hard to see why!

    I have also often fantasised about being allowed to cycle the tunnel! That would certainly be an experience!

  8. I was considering using eurostar. As I remember it the website suggests you can ravel with your bike, but that first you must buy your ticket, and then phone a separate number to book a space for your bike. Spaces for bikes are limited, so you stand a real chance of booking your fare only to find you can't get space for your bike!! conversation.

    When we then continued to look at the onward journey to Geneva, the idea of travelling across Paris to catch a connecting train was not encouraging - further more the train to Geneva seemed to require the bike be transported by bike box!

  9. Freshly returned from my first cycling holiday since childhood, in Holland, I found this page while bemoaning the cost of channel crossings (or any continental crossings) involving bicycles, and wondered if somehow hitchhiking might be a good solution. While hitching-on-foot is well covered on various sites, doing so with a bike ain't. I'm picturing it involving a trucker or van driver. Who is obviously self-employed. And doesn't mind hitchikers with bicycles. Which somehow has to be a vanishingly small constituency.

    Of course the second problem is, assuming this magical bike-hitcher-friendly creature exists, I'm rather wondering whether the absence of "bicycle-friendly" green routes on Google Maps between Calais and Holland means it ain't safe. You sound rather experienced on cycling in France, would you have any thoughts on the matter? Many thanks