SNCF, operator of France’s national rail service has a new website designed to help bicyclists navigate the train network. The website is easy to navigate, is full of information you should know if you plan to carry a bike on a train while bicycling in France and it’s in English. The website doesn’t make it any easier to take your bike on a train, it does help you understand the rules. Since there has never been a centralized source of information for travel on French trains with bikes, this website is a huge step forward.
Whether you need information on bringing a bike into France on a train, traveling via train with a bike while in France, where to rent a bike near a train station or where to ride, this website will provide you with the basic information you need. Here’s a basic rundown of information on the website, and quick links if you need more information.
Whether you are traveling on Eurostar between Paris, Brussels or London, from Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany on Thalys, from Switzerland on Lyria, from Spain on Elipsos or from Germany of Italy on TGV, all the current rules and cost for bike transport are found here. Easiest solution regardless of where you are coming from: dismantle your bike and put it in a cycle bag no larger than 120x90cm. This way, your bike can be carried on any train as hand luggage, no fuss, no cost.
The website makes it easy here, giving guidelines for each type of train. Here’s a quick summary:
Translien Trains, regional trains in the Ile-de-France, the area surrounding Paris. This includes the RER trains. How busy the train is basically determines if you can take your bike with you on a specific train. As a general rule of thumb, you can take your bike on a Translien train anytime on weekends or holidays and M-F before 6:30, between 9:30 and 4:30 and after 7:30. If a specific train is full, you may be asked to wait for a later train. You are not required to disassemble your bike and there is no charge.
TER Trains, are regional trains that are the most conducive to travel with bikes. You can take your bike on almost all of these TER trains, space provided in the specially designated places in cars with the following symbol:
There are limited spaces and it is not possible to reserve a space. Chances are you will be the only one on the train, but unfortunately you never know. If you are on a popular route, you may encounter more people, so it’s a good idea to plan to be there at least 20 minutes before the train. That’s a wise idea anyway, because that leaves time to navigate stairs at the rail station, in the event you should be so unfortunate. Assuming there is room, you might be able to just pull your bike into the designated car like this:
This is my favorite option as it means I do not have to remove my panniers and everything else from my bike. If the bike car is full, you will probably have to hang your bike like this:
Intercites Trains, these are trains that run cross country. Depending on the specific train and time of day you are traveling, you may or may not have to book and pay for a reservation for your bike. On some Intercites trains there may be up to 20 spaces to carry bikes free of charge. For more detailed information on which routes do/do not require reservations/payment, refer to the Intercites page on the website. You can also search for the train on www.voyages-sncf.com and look for a bike icon and the “+de Details” box.
Once again, as with all French trains, if you have your bike disassembled in a bike bag no larger than 120X90cm, it can be carried on the train as luggage.
TGV trains require seat reservations for people and if your TGV accepts bikes, you must book a space for your bike too. On the TGV’s that allow bikes, there are usually from 4-8 spaces and reservations are required to be made at the same time as you make your reservation (a challenge described below). You can find out if a train has bike space by visiting www.voyages-sncf.fr and putting in your desired itinerary. If there is bike icon like the one on the reservation below
bike reservations are possible, but not easy to make if you are arranging plans from the US. There are currently several complications in making TGV reservations from the US. First of all, if you have ever used Bike Europe on your computer, there is memory of this in cookies, and you will have a hard time staying on the SNCF website. You will automatically get bumped to Rail Europe’s website, which means you cannot access the information you are looking for. If you figure out how to prevent jumping to Rail Europe, and you find the TGV train that you want, it’s not possible to book bike space via internet, at least not yet. You can only do this at a French rail station, at a travel agency selling SNCF tickets or by phone.
Sound complicated? It definitely is, at least right now. But there are some signs that things may get better. SNCF has announced that for the first time, spaces will be included in their double-decker high speed TGV trains that will undergo refurbishment. This won’t impact travel with bicycles until 2015 at the earliest, but it is a sign of progress.
For the time being, only sure/hassle-free way to travel with a bicycle on a TGV is to disassemble it, put it in a bag and carry it on as hand luggage. While they don’t check tickets on all SNCF trains, they definitely do on TGV’s. If you get on one without a booking for your bike, you may be fined 45Euro and asked to leave the train at the next station.
Over and above all the information on which trains you can take your bike on, this website can be a great resource for renting bikes for long-distance travel in France, as well as for city travel. SNCF has linked with 180 bicycle rental companies throughout France that are located close to rail stations. This link is available sometimes, and other times not, so how useful it is to you will depend on if its functioning at the time you look. There is quite a bit of coordinating that is needed for this service which probably impacts its availability.
If you are traveling to a city in Paris and would like to understand in advance how to use the city bikes, take a look at the self-service bike rental section of the website. There’s a map to show you the cities in France that have self-service rentals, and easy instructions so you understand in advance how the system works.
Last but not least, this SNCF website can help you figure our where to bicycle if you don’t already have a plan, and can help you figure out where to catch a train if and when you need to. There is a very cool TER+Bike Interactive Map that can help you easily access some very specific information such as the location of train stations and the train lines you can access, as well as links to actual current train schedules. At the present time, the TER+Bike Interactive Map is only available for the following regions: Auvergne, Brittany, Burgundy, Nord Pas de Calais, Haut-Normandie, Basse Normande and Ile-de-France.
I took a look at the Basse Normandie interactive map and with one click, I can see all the train stations in the region. Click on a station, and it tells me what trains run from that station, another click and I can access the train schedules for that line and one other click and I can get a great map of the town showing me how to get to the train station.
This feature alone would be a great tool to have on a bicycling trip where you are using trains to get from one bicycling area to another. In addition, you can use the interactive map to access bike rentals near train stations as well as major points of interest by type as well as bicycle paths in and around cities and towns that you click on. If you are planning on traveling to one of the regions that has this interactive map, do yourself a favor and play around with it. I think you will find that it is definitely a tool you want on your trip!
All in all, this website is very informative, easy to use and a great step forward in making bicycling in France easy for everyone, especially those visiting from other countries. So kudos to SNCF. Keep up the great work.