Bikes and French Trains - A Guide for Cyclists

Trains reach all corners of France – taking your bike on French trains need not be a hassle if you do a little research prior to departure and know which trains allow bikes (and which don't), says Lynette Eyb.

Folding bikes are allowed on all French trains as hand luggage if they're bagged. Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann

Folding bikes are allowed on all French trains as hand luggage if they're bagged (and often also if they're not). Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann

See here for a guide to making online ticket reservations for bikes.

Note this article is about catching French trains with bikes – I have a separate article here on catching trains TO AND FROM France via Eurostar, Eurotunnel etc.

French trains reach cycle routes all over the country, and are often great when you want to skip busy sections of road (as Wendy Mewes suggests for the road to Brest from the end of the Nantes Brest Canal), or if you want to give your legs a break or avoid cycling in wet weather.

See voyages-sncf.com for train times and ticket prices, and also for trains that takes bikes. It's possible to make online bicycle reservations using the French SNCF site if you have a French/Eu address – here's how.

However, more and more cyclists are now using Trainline, a third-party booking site that is easy to use (it used to be called Captain Train). We road-tested it here.  

All trains accept bikes if they are dismantled and carried onboard in a bike bag (maximum size 120cm x 90cm), which can be stored in the luggage area. For individual train services and their bike carriage policies, see below, or search for tickets/destinations using the link above.

A bagged bike fits neatly into the baggage area of a TGV. Photo: Martin Q

A bagged bike fits neatly into the baggage area of a TGV. Photo: Martin Q

TGV and Intercités

French trains (with a few exceptions, such as those operated by French company Thalys) are mostly run by the state-owned voyages-sncf.com (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français). The network can be loosely broken down into three categories: long-distance trains (see our guide to travelling to France by train), high-speed trains, and local services.

The high-speed and long-distance network – with the excellent TGV and Intercités at the fore – reaches all corners of France, with millions of French people using it daily (often to commute) between city centres. The TGV links Paris to Lyon in just two hours, and Bordeaux, Marseille or Grenoble to the French capital in around three hours.

French train station

Bagged or boxed bikes

Bikes can travel free of charge on all TGVs and Intercités as regular luggage if they are bagged or boxed as regular luggage.You simply place your bagged/boxed bike in the luggage area as you would a suitcase. The size limit for bagged/boxed bikes is 120cm x 90cm but I've never heard of anyone's bag being measured or anyone being stopped for a slightly oversized bag.

Fully assembled bikes

For services that DO require reservations for fully asssembled bikes, you'll need to book your bike in when you buy your ticket (a surcharge of €10 may apply). Tickets can be booked in person online at Voyages-SNCF or at any SNCF ticket office (at stations as well as in some city centres), or via the English-language voyages-sncf.com (you may need to phone for the bike reservation). You can also use Trainline.

Printed and online timetables carry a bike symbol against services that have space for unbagged bikes. Check with station staff when you arrive to see what carriage you should load your bike into and where on the platform you should wait. 

TGV services

Some (but not all) TGVs take fully assembled bikes. You need to check the online timetable or ask at the ticket counter (or by phoning Voyages-SNCF – see website link above) to confirm.

For example, the Paris-Lyon TGV does not take fully assembed bikes. On this line you need to get the local TER regional service between Paris Bercy station and Lyon Part Dieu. You do not need a bike reservation on this TER service - simply buy your ticket and roll yor bike onto the bike carriage.

Likewise, the Paris-Avignon TGV does not take fully assembed bikes. You will need to use a combination of local trains, such as go form Paris Bercy station to Lyon Part Dieu and then on to Avignon - all on local regional TER services. You could also take the TGV Paris-Toulouse and head east from there on regional trains. Alternatively you could take a combination of TER and Intercites trains from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand and then onto Avignon – all with a fully assembled bike.  

If your TGV DOES take fully asembled bikes, your bike MUST be booked in when you buy your ticket. You can do this on the French Voyages-SNCF site if you have a French/EU addresss to send the tckets to. If not, use Trainline.

Intercité trains that DO NOT need a reservation

Intercites train map

Click map to enlarge or download it here.

There are usually bike spaces for between 12 and 20 bikes (though this can vary) on Intercité trains. Arrive on the platform early and ask a staff member where on the platform the bike carriages will stop so that you are positioned well to get your bikes and panniers etc on. (During busy times people sometimes put luggage in the bike areas, so it's good to get in first).

You can take you bike on the following Intercité route WITHOUT a bike reservation (though it's usually best to buy your own seat in advance during busy times).

  • Paris - Amiens - Boulogne
  • Paris - St Quentin - Maubeuge / Cambrai
  • Paris - Rouen - Le Havre
  • Paris - Caen - St Lô / Cherbourg / Trouville Deauville
  • Paris - Granville
  • Paris - Orléans - Blois - Tours
  • Paris - Royan
  • Paris - Bourges - Montluçon
  • Paris - Nevers
  • Paris - Troyes - Mulhouse
  • Nantes - Lyon

Intercité trains that DO need a reservation

You MUST have a seat AND bike reservation IN ADVANCE on these services (and a small charge may apply). The same advice applies as per the TGV for booking - see TGV above for booking links.

  • Paris Bercy / Nevers / Moulins / Vichy / Clermont-Ferrand
  • Paris Austerlitz / Vierzon / Châteauroux / Limoges Bénédictins / Brives / Cahors / Toulouse Matabiau / Perpignan
  • Bordeaux St Jean / Montauban / Toulouse Matabiau / Montpellier / Nîmes / Marseille St Charles / Nice Ville
  • Quimper - Nantes - Bordeaux - Toulouse

Intercité night trains

These DO NEED reservations for both you and your bike. There is usually a separate carriage to carry bikes. As above for reservation info and links.

  • Paris Austerlitz – Briançon
  • Paris Austerlitz - La Tour de Carol - Luchon – Cerbère
  • Paris Austerlitz - Toulouse / Rodez - Carmaux – Albi
  • Paris Austerlitz - Hendaye (Irun) / Tarbes
  • Paris Austerlitz – Savoie
  • Paris Austerlitz – Nice
  • Hendaye - Bordeaux – Nice
  • Hendaye (Irun) – Genève
  • Luxembourg - Nice / Port-Bou
  • Strasbourg - Nice / Port-Bou

Taking bikes on local trains in France

Efficient and fast TER trains link 21 local and regional train networks to busier city hubs. They are great for linking bike routes, or taking shortcuts if you’re pressed for time (or if your legs just need a break). TER trains link some of the more remote villages and towns in France – as well as some of its prettiest.

Transilien and RER trains operate into and around Paris.

Teoz trains run on medium-distance routes from Paris to Auvergne, and also link cities across south and central France, such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse, Caen, Reims and Paris. Tickets can be bought at the stations prior to departure, although they can be booked ahead at voyages-sncf.com or via Trainline.

On most of these services, bikes can be carried free of charge if space permits.

However, note that the following restrictions apply:
Alsace: Some TER200 trains can't take bikes between Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Basel Monday to Friday 6am-8.30am and 4pm-6.30pm.
Nord-Pas de Calais: TER-GV trains do not take bikes (check local timetable or ask at stations to confirm which services these are).
Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur: TER trains don't take bicycles Monday-Friday 7am-9am and 4.30pm-6.30pm.
Ile-de-France: Transilien and RER trains don't take bicycles Monday-Friday 6.30am-9am and 4.30pm-7pm.

See the Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette's overview of regional train cycle carriage policies, or ask at the station.

Avoiding problems

The Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette (French bicycle users' association) advises to do a little research in advance and, if possible, take a copy of the train operator's cycle carriage policy with you:

“If you get on a train that accepts cycles, and the inspector says no and wants to put you off:
* keep the document (original or a copy) showing that cycles are allowed on that train;
* keep calm and polite, it makes things easier. Tell the inspector where you got your information. The inspector should not forbid you to get on board (if) the train has no cycle space or luggage van (when) it should have;
* if you are unconvinced, but he insists, you can always obey, get off the train, and (shh!) get on again at the other end. Or you can ask him to write out the fine, and get it cancelled later if you are within your rights. It’s a bit chancy. Inspectors have been known to delay a train to throw cyclists off, even from trains allowed to have cycles!”

The federation has English translations of some of its other advice for travelling with bikes on French trains, including a rundown of various regional services.

SNCF bike delivery service

If you have an address in France, SNCF can deliver your bike to you for €80. See the Bagages à domicile information or ask at a station.

See also our article on getting the train to France from the UK and elsewhere in Europe.

UPDATE: Note that some of the comments below – any made BEFORE September 2014 – may be out of date when discussing booking bikes onto trains. A booking service DOES now exist ONLINE for bike reservations for French trains. See here for more information (or just use the very easy Trainline service)

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