Navigating Train Stations In France With A Bicycle+Panniers

Navigating train stations with a bike+panniers

Navigating train stations with a bike+panniers

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.

Look for the elevator sign

Look for the elevator/handicapped sign

Ramp going up to the train tracks from the tunnel

Ramp going up to the train tracks from the tunnel

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.

Special services sign

Special services sign

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.

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. you can also try escalators when there is one . it’s a little challenge but after several times you’ll know how to practice .

    for bordeaux station or paris stations and others there is some devices at each end to forbid using bikes but we can pass trough them .

    during 10 past years they add elevators for disabled persons in many many stations in france but they are very narrow . we can use them but with difficulties .

    1. Thanks so much for your comments! I don’t know if I would be brave enough to try to take my bike on an escalator if I had my panniers on….I guess it would depend on how desperate I was to avoid the stairs! And I am so glad that you mentioned the narrowness of the elevators. I always want to take a photo to show just how small they are, but I never have the room to even move my arms to take the photo! Train stations are definitely a challenge, but a little bit of information is always helpful. My favorite stations are those with simple ramps, but you have to look for them, as they are usually near the end of the platforms.

  2. Thank you for these useful tips. During our cycling trip along the Danube last summer, we often took trains in Germany as it meant we could go further afield each day from our base. Getting to the platform is usually easy and once you’re in the train there is a special section where you can attach your bike, but actually getting the bike onto the train requires considerable technique and usually someone’s help because of the very high step. I simply didn’t have enough strength to get the bike in by myself most of the time!

    1. You are so right about using the trains to take advantage of the best part of long routes like the Danube. We have done exactly the same thing. Most of the new trains in Germany and France have entrances that are flush with the platform, which make getting your bike on and off the train quite easy. The old French trains with stairs were/are a killer. We discovered that they are still in use in some of the more rural areas. You really do have to remove your panniers to get your bike up the stairs and on the train, always a problem since you don’t know what type of train you will have until it enters the station! Thanks so much for always sending in such great comments!

  3. […] 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! Read more […]