Here's how to make a reservation for your bike online for French trains.
Making reservations for your bike
Note not all trains need reservations and not all trains accept bikes – see here.
There are two easy easy to make bike/train reservations in English from anywhere in the world.
1. Use the third-party Trainline service. This takes the hassle out of any language barriers and the functionality is very straight-forward. We have used it often and have had good reports from other cyclists, though one report from Canada suggested it was difficult to use cards and payapl from there.
2. You can buy via the official OUI.sncf website, which is the ticket outlet for the French national rail operator. It is easy to book direct in this way once you know how to navigate the website. ** Full instructions below **
Buying online means you get your ticket to print out or put on your smartphone, negating the need to bother with machines at the station.
See troubleshooting notes at the bottom of this pages if you encounter problems
Using the French SNCF website to book bikes on trains ...
It's important to note that to reserve a space for your bike on French trains via the official SNCF channel you need to use the FRENCH version of the SNCF website (not any UK/US redirects from Google).
With a little patience, it's easy to book using this link. You may be able to change the language to English, in which case it's all very simple. If the system does not show bike bookings, then just flip back to French and follow the directions below.
(Note the design of the website/colours may have changed but the logistics are roughly the same).
1) Start by hitting the little arrow in the corner.
2) See the images below.
a) If you see a direct 'velo' option, jump straight to step 3.
b) If you see 'de critères', click it. You will then revert to the 'arrow' screen above. Repeat step 1 by clicking the arrow again. You will then see the velo option. Progress to step 3.
Image for a)
Image for b)
3) Fill in your departure and arrival stations, plus dates and times. Click the 'velo' option highlighted, which is a fully assembled bike. Note you can only book one bike on at a time. if you are travelling in a group with more than one bike, you will need to reserve your tickets one-by-one/separately. This could mean you end up in different bike carriages depending on available space.
Aller-simple = one-way
Aller-retour = return
Bikes cannot be booked into first class so make sure 2nd class is ticket.
Hit 'rechercher' when you're done.
4) You will then see results for your search. These are all trains that will take fully assembled bikes.
If you click on any option, it will drop down to show more info about that service + full ticket price + include confirmation for the bike and how much a bike costs.
meilleur prix = cheapest option
non-modifiable = can't be changed or refunded
modifiable sous conditions = can be changed under certain conditions
modifiable = can be changed
IMPORTANT: If you get no results, it may be because you are searching a journey that involves too many station changes. You need to break the journey down into smaller chunks. See map here. TGVs do not all take bikes but local trains do and there is usually a way to get ANYWHERE in France on a train with a bike.
5) Confirm you want that ticket ('choisir cet aller' etc). You then go through to a confirmtion screen. It will probably try and sell you insurance and car hire and other stuff. You may (or may not) need to tick the box to confirm you don't want insurance: "Je ne souhaite pas être couvert en cas d’imprévu". Then check the ticket info and hit 'valider' at the bottom.
6) You may then get a popup asking if you want to register for an account. This is upto you but you can just enter your email address if you want to complete the purchase without an account.
7) You'll then get a confirmation page telling you if it's an ebillet that you print at home. You can also save it to your phone to show at the station or on the train. Some tickets can also be printed via machines at stations.
Fill in your details - name, date of birth, mobile number and confirm email on this screen.
Hit 'valider et payer'
8) You'll then go through to a payment screen.
9) You'll then go through to a payment screen. I won't do the next bit (I don't need any tickets at the moment!) but it'll bring up a confirmation screen and tell you you can print the tickets or save as a PDF. The confirmation will also go to your email/phone with the ticket.
A few notes:
* For Eurostar tickets you need to go here.
* This system does not guarantee that you can take bikes on ALL trains; there are still some services (see here) in France that simply do not take fully assembled bikes (ALL trains take bikes boxed/bagged as normal luggage).
* The system searches one bike at a time. If you have two people and two bikes, you need to make separate bookings.
* The system cannot handle too many multple stage journeys with bikes. If you need to change trains more than once on any journey, then search individual legs separately.
* The system recognises bagged bikes or folders, but records these separately as regular luggage.
* There isn't a field for trailers or for tandems.
* To guarantee a space for a child's bike you would need to buy a ticket for the child even if they were aged under the usual free-ticket threshold of 4.