Nothing can ruin a day for a bicyclist more than having to maneuver stairs at a rail station! Sometimes, no matter how well you plan a trip, you need to take a train to connect to another cycling itinerary, to avoid a bad part of a route or oftentimes to return a rental bike. Regardless of the reason, managing stairs when your bike is loaded down with all your gear is tough. I’ll never forget the first time we arrived at a train station, bought our tickets and then patiently waited for our track announcement. Of course the track was announced literally as the train was coming into the station and getting to it required going down and then up two very long sets of stairs! There was no time to look for any alternative. My husband and I instantly went into survival mode, ripping off our panniers and carrying our bikes down and then up to the platform, then going back to collect the panniers and doing the same. We made the train that day only because of the kind heart of the conductor on the train. We think he felt sorry for us as he held up the train, waiting for us to load the last of our stuff! As we entered the train, trying to catch our breath, we vowed that we would never put ourselves through an experience like that again.
Now, anytime we know that we will have to take a train with our bikes, we try to “case out” the station ahead of time. The good news is that most small train stations are very easy to navigate with bikes, with a simple path at the end of the station where you can cross over the tracks. It’s the large stations that are the most challenging, like the train station in Bordeaux which I go in and out of a lot. As is often the case, things are easy if you know what to look for, so I thought some photos might help you the next time you find yourself in a large station with a loaded down bike.
While navigating large train stations with a bike can be intimidating, almost all of them are handicapped accessible, that means elevators and/or ramps down to the tunnel and back up to the tracks. Large stations will have a “Espace Services” sign, which means special services. This sign should provide information for handicapped services, and for bicyclists, this means easy access to the train tracks, either with elevators or ramps.
If you arrive at a train station and only see stairs to get to the main building, walk to either/both ends of the platform to look for alternatives. Many times a ramp is located at the end of the platform, and they are difficult to see unless you walk down there. At less busy train stations, this is where you will find a crossover the tracks which is used to carry baggage carts and is also where you can cross with your bike.
If you want to minimize the temporary distress you might experience navigating though a large train station in France with your bike, get there early and check out your options. If the station has access for the handicapped, there will be an easy option for you and your bike.