Eurostar has been accused of treating cyclists as “third class passengers” over a new policy which will force them to dismantle their bikes before using the cross-Channel rail service.
National cycling charity CTC has joined forces with its partners in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to condemn the regulation, claiming it will discourage new cyclists and those who rely on cycling as a mobility aid from using the train and make bus and air travel more attractive.
Currently cyclists can take a complete bicycle and pay a £30 fee for it to be carried via a registered luggage system.
But from next month passengers will be forced to dismantle their bikes, put them into a box and reassemble them when they reach their destination. This is more restrictive than any train operator in the UK.
Eurostar claimed the change is needed to accommodate other passengers who are travelling with more luggage.
But CTC chief executive Paul Tuohy said: “There is nothing sustainable about this policy, as it actively discourages the people we want to see cycling more from using what is otherwise a fantastic service.
“For the new cyclist or those who rely on cycling as a mobility aid, dismantling and reassembling a bike for transit is too difficult.
“With London, Paris and Brussels each vying to be top cycling cities, and Amsterdam, arguably Europe’s cycling capital, due to join the Eurostar network in 2016, now is not the time to take a step back in cycle rail policy.
“Cyclists should not be treated as third class passengers, and we urge Eurostar to reverse their planned policy.”
The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), which represents cycling bodies across the continent, described the new policy as “extremely inconvenient” in a letter to Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic.
The ECF added: “We understand that there is a limited space for baggage on the trains but it should be allocated on a first come, first served basis. We would therefore request that the current policy of allowing the carriage of complete bicycles is retained.”
Holiday firm Blue Marble Travel, which organises trips for cyclists using the Eurostar, also criticised the new bike rule.
Its logistics manager, Nicolas Clifford, said: “If Eurostar puts its plans in place, the only realistic choice for cyclists seeking to join the type of itinerant trip we offer will be short-haul air, which makes a mockery of the company’s green mantra.
“Some will, indeed, fly, or drive to the continent. Others will renounce their cycling holidays and choose to motor instead.”
But Eurostar said the new policy will allow it to transport more bikes by train and all “reasonable size” bike boxes will be accepted.
A spokesman added: “Passengers with bikes have and continue to be important to us. Our new policy has been introduced so that we can use the space on our trains more flexibly, by carrying the same or more bikes depending on the demand from passengers.
“The only change is that bikes will now need to be carried in a bike box, which we are happy to provide. When packaging bikes in this way, they take up less space which means that we can carry more bikes or any other type of luggage.”
But Rosemary Dooley, 68, from Kendal, Cumbria, who recently went to Portugal for a cycle holiday, said: “I have to take my own bike everywhere due to arthritis in my hands – hence small adaptations.
“I am also not mechanical but it seems now that I will have to learn to remove and replace the front wheel. I just hope it doesn’t involve strong fingers.”
CTC accused Eurostar of hypocrisy by claiming the new policy does not match its support for sustainable travel.
The charity is urging members of the public concerned about the planned changes to write to the train operator.
A study commissioned by the European Parliament in 2012 found that there are 2.3 million cycle tourism trips in the EU every year.