Trains reach all corners of France – climbing aboard with your bike need not be a hassle if you do a little research prior to departure
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.
Rail Europe has ticket information, as well as a full breakdown of services (including their respective bicycle carriage policies) in English. However French bicycle carriage policies can still be confusing, and are often implemented at the whim of a ticket office worker or conductor.
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 French train network
French trains are run (with a few exceptions) by the state-owned SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français). The network can be loosely broken down into three categories: international overnight/sleeper trains (see our guide to travelling to France by train); high-speed trains, and local services.
The high-speed network – with the excellent TGV the centrepiece – 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.
Some (but not all) TGV trains have space for unbagged bikes – you usually need to make a reservation for your bike when you book your ticket (a surcharge may apply). Bikes can travel free of charge on all TGVs as regular luggage if they are bagged. Tickets can be booked in person at any SNCF ticket office (at stations as well as in some city centres), online (in French – there should be a bike symbol near routes/trains that accept bikes) or via Rail Europe.
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.
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 usually also be booked ahead via the SNCF website.
See the Fédération française des Usagers de la Bicyclette's overview of regional train cycle carriage policies, or ask at the station.
See also our article on getting the train to France from the UK and elsewhere in Europe.