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).

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

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

The French train network is generally very good if you're travelling by bike – especially once you understand it and know how to make the most of it.

French trains reach all corners of the country, and different types of trains offer different services – from fast point-to-point routes to slower local journeys that can help you link to bike routes or avoid cycling in poor weather.

We try and explain them on this page, along with  

A quick note on buying tickets: If you are taking a longer journey that involves multiple changes (or more than one of the train types listed below), you should search individual legs separately on the OUI.sncf website. This is because the online booking system cannot cope with multiple journeys by bike and will tell you it's not possible to take your bike on a route when in fact it is. You therefore need to break the journey down into smaller chunks using the map below, search leg-by-leg and buy each ticket separately. There is more here on making ticket reservations.

Map of entire French train network (click to enlarge)

train map for franceClick here or on the map for a larger jpeg you can download.

Fast trains: TGV and Intercités

The high-speed and long-distance network – with the excellent TGV and Intercités at the fore – links major city/town centres. The TGV links Paris to Lyon and Paris to Bordeaux in just two hours, and Marseille or Grenoble to Paris in around three hours.

French train station

Taking bikes on TGV trains

What are TGVs?: TGVs are very high speed intercity trains that only stop at major towns and cities. They often travel between major cities non-stop or with very few stops (e.g. Paris to Bordeaux may only have one or two stops en route). They are the fastest way to travel. Trains have buffet cars with food and drinks. There are also 'OuiGo' TGVs that run on high-speed lines offering discounted tickets.

Buying TGV tickets: TGV tickets can be booked at OUI.sncf or at any station or SNCF ticket office. You can also use the Trainline booking service from anywhere in the world. Your ticket should be marked 'velo' (or similar) and you will have been allocated a specific seat with a bit storage area nearby.

Bagged or boxed bikes on TGVs: Bikes can travel free of charge on all TGVs if they are bagged or boxed. 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 on TGVs: Some (but not all) TGVs take fully assembled bikes. You need to check OUI.sncf to confirm (our list below may be subject to change but will provide a general guide to problematic lines).

Here is a summary of which TGV lines take fully assembled bicycles ...

The west coast TGV line almost without exception does take fully assembled bikes. Travelling between Paris and Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes and Rennes is therefore possible on TGVs with a fully assembed bike (and indeed we have travelled on all these lines with bikes). You need to make a bike reservation for these services at the same time you buy your own ticket. See this how-to guide

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.

The Paris-Avignon TGV only has a few trains (sometimes one a day, sometimes none) that take fully assembed bikes. In peak periods (e.g. summer) these fill fast and it can be impossible to get bike places. You can instead use a combination of local trains, such as go from 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.  

The Paris-Strasbourg TGV does not take fully assembled bikes. Try Paris-Dole and then Dole-Strasbourg. Or Paris-Troyes-Mulhouse and then Strasbourg.

For the above suggestions on TERs you need to check individual legs individually on OUI.sncf website, or use the local TER equivalent website. The main SNCF system cannot handle multiple changes/stations with a bicycle. Check station-by-staion, and buy each leg individually. 

If your TGV DOES take fully assembled bikes, your bike MUST be booked in when you buy your ticket. A surcharge of €10 usually applies for bikes.

If you do not book your bike in when you buy your own ticket it is not possible to add the bike on to the reservation later. For this reason, it is very important that you check if your TGV takes bikes before buying any tickets. You can do this on the OUI.sncf website or via Trainline.

The bike storage on TGVs varies depending on model but usually looks something like the photos below. You usually take your bike on board, up a few steps and into a separate cabin with room for two bikes. You strap your bike in with the 'seatbelt' provided. If you have panniers, it's easiest to take them off before boarding and board in two gos.

TGV bike sign

Bikes on a TGV train in france

Taking bikes on Intercités trains

What are Intercites trains?: Intercities are a step down from TGVs. They are a little slower and they stop at more stations than TGVs. They usually stop at all major town and cities, though they will not stop at smaller towns and villages (you need a TER - see below - for those).  

Here is a map of Intercites destinations: 

Intercites train map

Click map to enlarge map of Intercites lines or download it here.

Buying Intercites train tickets: Tickets can be booked online at OUI.sncf or at any station or SNCF ticket office. You can also use the Trainline booking service from anywhere in the world.

Bagged or boxed bikes on Intercites trains: Bikes can travel free of charge on all Intercités trains if they are bagged or boxed. 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.

Fully assembled bikes on Intercites trains: There are usually bike spaces for between 12 and 20 bikes on Intercités trains, though this can vary depending on the train length. Train carriages with bike storage have a bike logo or are marked 'velo'. 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).

Some Intercites trains require reservations for bikes and some do not. If your Intercite train DOES need a bicycle reservation, you need to book your bike in when you buy your own ticket (a surcharge of €5 or €10 usually applies).

The following Intercités lines DO NOT usually need a reservation for bicycles – the ticket system should tell you which trains take bikes 'sans reservation'. If this is the case, you can just buy your own ticket and climb aboard with your bike.

These 'rules' are always subject to change so always check ahead on OUI.sncf

  • 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

The following Intercités lines DO need a reservation – you must buy a ticket in advance and it will be marked for bicycle carriage.

  • 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

The bike storage area on Intercites varies depending on the model of the train but may look someting like this (make sure you board early on busy trains to beat the luggage trap):

bicycle on intercites train in france

Intercites train with bike

 

Taking bikes on local TER trains in France

What are TER trains?: TERs are local trains. They stop at all stations, including the smaller towns and villages that TGVs and Intercites bypass. Very, very small vilages/stations may receive every second or third TER train rather than every train on the timetable, but they are nevertheless still serviced. 

TER trains are great for linking bike routes, or taking shortcuts if you’re pressed for time (or if your legs just need a break). 

In and around Paris, TER-equivalent trains are called Transilien and RER trains. Similar to TERs, 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.

Buying TER tickets: Tickets can be bought at stations prior to departure, although they can also be booked ahead at OUI.sncf or via Trainline, or use the local TER equivalent website

Taking bikes on TERS: On nearly all TERs, bikes can be carried free of charge if space permits. You simply walk your bike on after having bought your own ticket.

However, note that the following restrictions apply, usually relating to peak-our commuter trains:

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 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.

The bike carriage area on TERs will look something like this and be marked with 'velo' or a bicycle logo on the door:

TER trains bikes France

Bicycle on TER train France

Avoiding problems with bikes on trains

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.

Tandems, trailers and other bikes

Tandems, trailers and other 'non-standard' bikes are not permitted on TGVs or Intercites services. They are also generally banned from TERs, however we have received dozens of reports from cyclists who have used local TER services with no problems. Arrive early, be courteous and avoid peak-hour travel. Also be prepared to wait for the next service if you do happen across a conductor who won't let you on. It also may help to collapse trailers etc to make your load look as small as possible.

Bus replacement services

Occasionally when there is track work or on lines where buses have replaced redundant train lines, SNCF runs buses (marked as 'autocars' or sometimes just 'cars' on timetables). We have used these a number of times over the years and have never had any problems with the driver storing our bikes under the bus in the luggage area. Be courteous, remove all luggage, and be prepared to wait for the next bus if the service is particularly busy.

We have a separate article here on dedicated bus services. See also the budget Flixbus service.

SNCF bike delivery service

If you have an address in France (including a hotel), SNCF can deliver your bike to you for a surcharge, but it is my understanding that you still need to be travelling on the same train to use this door-to-door service. Contact SNCF about this or ask at a station. Feedback from anyone who has used this service would be appreciated.

More on bikes and French trains

Donation button

UPDATE: Note that some of the comments below – any made BEFORE September 2014 – may be out of date when discussing booking bikes onto trains. As discussed above, 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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