How to travel easily with a bike on French trains


We have taken our bikes on French trains a number of times now and learnt plenty along the way. Overall, we have found the process relatively easy to do, although there have been a few hiccups we have encountered.  Bikes can be taken on all types of French trains but the rules vary depending on the type of train you are on.

 

In this article we want to share with you the things we have learned to make your trip with your bike on French rail as effortless as possible. We will cover the different train types and their rules for bikes, how to book tickets for you and your bike, navigating French train stations with your bike and what you can expect onboard.

The French rail network

The French rail network is extensive and is a great way to get to parts of the country with your bike and incorporate into your trip. Before we dive in to the specifics of taking your bike on the train we will run through the different train types you will see in France. There are four different types of trains that you will need to consider and each of them has their own requirements when it comes to taking your bike with you. You may find some journeys will be a combination of train types. We have also included the rules for the Paris metro and RER lines, given many people arrive and depart France through Paris and may need to travel within in the city.

 

The first train type is the high-speed TGV /inOui. These trains travel between major cities at up to 300km per hour and are great for covering long distances quickly. They are also a great alternative to flying. Both 1st and 2nd class tickets are available and can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

 

The second type are the Ouigo trains. These are similar to the TGV/inOUi services but they are akin to a low-cost airline. As such there is only a single class and the services offered are limited compared to the other trains. Tickets can be booked up to 90 days in advance.

 

The third type of train are the Intercités. These trains service routes that the high-speed TGV does not, connecting major centres across the country. Tickets can be booked up to 90 days in advance for both 1st and 2nd class.

 

The fourth type of trains are the TER services. These are operated by the 11 different regions in France and offer services within their region or into neighbouring regions. Tickets for these trains can be purchased up to 120 days in advance.

A french train alongside a platform showing the bike designated carriage.
Cyclist standing in front of the Rochefort train station

Taking your bike on French trains


Now that you have an understanding of the different trains you will encounter while travelling in France, the next step is to look at the rules when travelling with a bike on them. We will go through each of the 4 services in turn with all the information you need to make your trip nice and easy.

 

The quick summary of bikes on French trains is that you can take a folded bike or bike in a case (dimensions 120cm x 90cm max) for free on all services except Ouigo. Ouigo charges a €5 fee. Bikes carried this way are simply stored in the standard luggage racks at your own risk. Bikes that are not folded or stored in a travel case can be taken on some TGV/inOui services, all Intercités services and all TER services. However, there are limited spaces available and you must reserve a space for the bike on TGV/inOui and Intercités and pay a fee. At the moment Ouigo has no capacity for non-folded bikes or fully assembled bikes. Bikes travel for free without reservation on TER services.

 

 

Bikes on TGV/ inOui services

 

You can take a bike on any TGV/inOui service for free if it is folded or in a case 120cm x 90cm in dimension. In this instance your bike is treated as normal luggage and no fee or reservation is necessary. Bikes are stored in the normal luggage racks along with everyone else’s luggage. TGV/inOui train on some routes do have spaces for bikes that are not folded or in a case. For these services you must reserve the bike space and pay a €10 fee when booking.

 

Bikes on Ouigo services

 

Ouigo train services only offer spaces for bikes that are folded or in a travel case that is less than 120cm x 90cm. Unlike the TGV services you must book and pay a €5 fee for your bike. There are no places available for bikes that are not folded or disassembled.

 

Bikes on Intercités services

 

Intercités train services allow bikes on board for free if they are folded bikes or in a travel case less than 120cm x 90cm. These services also have spaces available for non-folded bikes which attract a fee of €10 and must be reserved and booked when making your travel booking. 

 

Bikes on TER services

 

In general TER services allow all bikes on board without the need to reserve and pay for a space. It is simply a matter of turning up with your bike and going to the designated carriage. Bikes are allowed on in a “first come, first served” basis and it is up to the train staff to determine if they will allow bikes on in excess of the available space.

 

As the TER services are operated at a regional level it is possible that different rules will apply for different regions. The only difference that we are currently aware of is TER Bretagne services which introduced mandatory bookings for bikes from 7 June to 30 September on its services. You need to go to the specific TER Bretagne page to book bikes, which is done separately to the normal booking. The fee is currently €3 per bike. 

 

 

Bike on the Paris Metro and RER services

 

Bikes are not permitted on the Paris metro, tramway or buses at any time. The exception to this is the M1 line which allows bikes on Sundays and public holidays before 4:30pm.

 

Bikes are permitted on the Paris RER lines (A, B, C, D and E) outside peak hours which are defined as follows:

 

Mon – Fri 6:30am – 9:00 am and 4:30pm – 7:00pm

 

There are no peak periods on weekends or public holidays, you are free to take your bike at any time on these days.

 

Bikes are prohibited from using the escalators within stations.

 

We have caught the train (RER line B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport into central Paris a number of times and noted that the trains become extremely full. On these occasions we have not had bikes with us.

Two bikes hanging on racks on a French train
Three bikes in the designated bike storage area on a French Intercités train.

The two styles of racks for bikes on French trains you can expect to see.

How to book your bike on a train in France

Booking a bike on a train is easy to do in France and there are a couple of ways of completing this. The first way is online, either through a web browser or the OuiSNCF app (Android and iPhone) and the second way is through a ticket office at a train station.

 

The easiest way to book and pay for your bike where necessary on French trains is to use one of SNCF’s online platforms, web browser or mobile app. TGV/Inoiu, Ouigo and Intercités services can be booked up to 90 days in advance while TER services can be booked 120 days in advance. Book as early as possible to get the bookings you wish, especially for those that require a reservation for your bike.

 

The step by step process to book your bike on a French train is very similar on both the web version and app version.

 

1.    Enter “From” station and “To” station

2.    Enter date of travel and time of day for outward journey. If you need a return also enter a date and time of day for the inward journey.

3.    Select the number and age of passengers travelling

4.    Add in any company or promo codes if you have them

5.    Select “add bikes” under other services

6.    Choose from the options “No bike”, “Non folded or disassembled bikes” or “Folded or disassembled bikes” and then click on the “Apply” button

7.    Click on “Search”

8.    A list of available options will be returned, and you can select the best option for you. You will only see trains that have space for your bike.

We have created a short Youtube video to take you through the process of booking your bike on a French train. You can access it here.

The first step is to enter the details of the journey you need to take

Choose from the options for bikes. If you want to see TER services select "No bike".

Different options will be displayed and you can select the preferred time and train. If you have selected the non folded or disassembled bike option, only journeys with space will be shown.

Confirm your choices and proceed to the checkout for payment. Tickets are e-tickets and can be displayed on the app, printed at home or printed at a ticket machine once you get to the station

Helpful tips when booking your bikes on French trains

 

You cannot purchase first-class tickets on TGV and Intercités services if you are planning to bring a non folded or disassembled bike. First class carriages do not have space for bikes and you are not allowed to travel with your bike in a separate carriage to where you are sitting.

 

You can only see the TER services when you select the “No bike” option. We found it was easiest to select the “No bike” option first to see what trains were available and then select “Non folded or disassembled” if we needed a train that required a reservation.

 

The booking system does not allow you to vary the number of bikes to the number of passengers. IE if you are booking for 2 people but only 1 has a bike, you will need to make 2 separate bookings. This only applies to TGV and Intercités services.

 

Download and install the Oui SNCF mobile app. It allows you to book tickets and also display your ticket as a QR code, saving the need to print anything. Note there is an SNCF and a OuiSNCF app. The SNCF does not allow you to book tickets online so make sure you download the OuiSNCF version.

 

Select France as the country option in both browser and app versions. We have discovered that certain information that you may require is not displayed unless France is selected. Even if you cannot speak French it is relatively easy to navigate the booking process. We discovered that TER Bretagne services required a booking for bikes from June to September. After some testing we have discovered that this message only shows up if the country selected is France.

The reality of travelling with your bike on French trains

 

We have travelled on TGV, Intercités and TER trains with our bikes and in all cases found the experience to be pretty straight forward. We have travelled both with our bikes in cases and with the bike fully assembled in touring mode. It is not without its hassles though and we have learned a few things along the way.

 

Following are some of the things we discovered and experienced on our journeys that will help you navigate the French train stations and trains with your bike. We don’t want to turn people off travelling by train with a bike, but we want to be realistic in what it is really like. We definitely recommend it as a way to move around France with your bike.  

 

If you plan to take your bike in a bike bag or case for free, make sure that it meets the dimension requirements of 120cm x 90cm. Train conductors have absolute discretion as to what is allowed on board and you may find yourself on the platform watching the train depart without you. You may get away with a larger bag, but you may not, the risk is totally yours. We were on a TGV with some friends from Bordeaux to Lourdes all with bikes in bags. One of our friends had a larger bag and was threatened with having to get off the train at the next stop. In the end she agreed to take the bike off and not block the passageway at each stop and all was ok but she nearly ended up on the platform.

 

Don’t expect there to be lots of room for your bike if you plan to bring it in a case and store it in the luggage racks for free. If the train is very busy and you get on part way through the train’s route you may find the luggage racks full. We travelled on TGV’s with our bikes in cases and had mixed results with the luggage space. We found that the older TGV carriages seemed to have more space than the newer one we were on. On one train we used some empty seats for the bikes. We were travelling as a group of 4, so needed to find the space for 4 bikes rather than 1 or 2.

 

Train stations can be very busy places, especially in cities, and navigating them with a bike can be a bit tricky at times. Some stations have lifts to get you down or up to the platforms while some don’t, and you may need to navigate stairs. This is more an issue if you are touring and have a loaded bike. We found travelling early in the day to be the quietest both at the station and on the train.

 

When we used soft cases for our bikes on the trains we needed to disassemble and reassemble them before we travelled. We found that empty platforms were a great place that was out of the way and safe. Quite often there were large crowds outside the stations and we needed a bit of space for everything. The platforms were perfect in this instance.

 

Train platforms are announced 20 minutes before the train arrives. This gives you plenty of time to make your way to the required platform and we never had any issues with time.

 

On the Intercités and TER trains that we travelled on the designated bike carriages were 1 and 4 on a four-car train and 1, 4, 5 and 8 on an eight-car train. We have not observed anything different to this so far.

 

Make sure you use the designated bike space available to you. We have seen 2 different types, hanging and standing. The hanging types require you to lift your bike and hang it by the front wheel. For us it meant taking most of the luggage we had on the bikes off to make it light enough to lift. The standing types are easier and allow 3 bikes basically to lean against each other with an elastic strap to stop them from falling. These types meant we only had to take the rear paniers off rather than front rolls as well.

 

If you get on a train and the bike racks are full there are a couple of options open to you. Firstly, you can simply get on the train and hold your bike in the open area near the doors. Try to keep as out of other people’s way as much as possible but you should not have any issues. You could also check the other designated bike carriages and might space in another carriage. In theory, trains that require you to book your bike should not have issues with space but we have seen it happen. Again, discretion is down to the train conductor but we have not observed anyone being asked to move by train staff.

 

French trains allow only standard size bikes onboard their trains. If you have a recumbent, tricycle or tandem, then you are unable to travel with your bike on a French train. Ebikes pose no problems on French trains as long as they are a standard size. This makes train a great alternative to flying where ebikes are banned.

Two cyclists in front of Bordeaux St Jean train station
A rinko bike bag on a train platform

Travelling early in the day means less crowds.

These Rinko bags are great for taking a bike on French trains and complying with size restrictions

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