If you have travelled with your bike by air or rail, you would have gained a bit of perspective on the importance of having a good bike bag. My first couple of trips were with a cheap bike bag. I did not find them to be very good even though there are plenty of people who seem happy with these basic bags, which are essentially oversized duffle bags. Then, I got one from Evoc a few years ago, and I am well pleased with it. I have a friend who has had an Evoc bike bag for much longer than me and used it more times than I have. He is well pleased too.
Eurostar recently changed their bike carrying policy and attracted more than a few comments from cyclists from both sides of the Channel. What was great about their previous service is that you could board with your bike without having the bike packed: just roll in, and roll out. For a price, of course, but for the convenience of arriving at the other end, say, St Pancras and be able to pedal off to your final destination, it was worth the premium. Now, all bikes must be in a bike bag or box. Your packed bike gets placed in a dedicated carriage, and you are charged a fee for it.
I can appreciate the thinking behind the change. Eurostar must have seen an increase in travellers with bikes. The old policy made it possible to accommodate only a few bikes on each train. In order to increase capacity, they had to figure out a way to use the same space more efficiently. However, what they could have done is to offer two levels of bike transport options: the standard one being the packed option and the premium one being the unpacked roll-on-roll-off option. There should be a premium for convenience, and I would be happy to pay a reasonable premium for the convenience of rolling on and rolling off. If not all premium spots are taken, then the space can be used to accommodate more packed bikes if required.
As for the standard service, there may be a question as to whether there should be a fee at all. Many airlines charge a fee for bikes, but train services tend not to charge for packed bikes. For example, it is free to bring a packed bike on board the TGV (or the Thalys). However, there is a slight difference.
When you board a Eurostar, you check in your bike at a desk dedicated to oversized luggage. The bikes are put on a separate carriage in contrast to your other bulkier luggage that are meant to be left on the luggage rack at the end of your carriage. When you reach your destination, you have to collect it from the specified area. It all seems like more hassle for you and for Eurostar, for no good reason. However, I do concede that extra-Schengen travel can require additional protocols, particularly with the UK having a history of being a high value target for terrorists, combined with the different types of risks arising from the train travelling underground.
In contrast, when boarding a TGV, you can pop your packed bike on the luggage rack at the end of your carriage. No special procedure or extra fee. It seems more convenient, more reasonable. However, there is a little snag: the permitted maximum length of the bike bag / box is 120 cm.
At 136 cm, my Evoc bike travel bag is 16 cm (about half a foot) over the official limit.
From the compliance standpoint, I have not come across anyone checking the measurements before boarding or during the journey. Actually, I don’t even know what would be the consequence of being found out that the bike bag exceeds the maximum dimensions.
On the practical side, the rule does make sense, given the depth of the luggage racks. The Evoc sticks out from the rack to the isle by more than 10 cm. It’s enough to get in the way of people passing through, which means that it is at risk of causing them harm. Conversely, they can potentially cause damage to your bike. The longer the train ride, and the more people there are on board, the risk level increases. For this reason, I was not entirely comfortable on the relatively long TGV ride from Paris to Turin a few years ago.
I suppose that I could have used a service like Sendmybag.com, but I think that would be my last resort in most cases.
What I would prefer is that Evoc introduce a bag that is 120 cm long. I would guess that there would be a limit to the maximum frame size that it can accommodate, so the commercial viability may be influenced by the limitation. However, I think that the desired solution clearly addresses a real, existing problem, so I would hope that there is enough reason to at least consider the potential market opportunity, before someone else does.