How to catch a train with a bike in France

We have taken our bikes on French trains a number of times now and learned 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 rules vary depending on the service you travel on.

In this article, we share things we learned to help make your trip with your bike on French rail effortless. We cover the different train types and their rules for bikes. We also include information on booking tickets for you and your bike and navigating French train stations with your bike. Finally, some information on what you can expect onboard and what our experience has been.

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 it into your trip. Before we dive into 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 its 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.

TGV/inOui

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.

Ouigo

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.

Intercités

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

TER

The fourth type of train is the TER service. These are operated by the 11 different regions in France and offer services within their region or into neighboring 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.

Taking your bike on French trains

Now that you have an understanding of the different trains you will encounter while traveling in France, the next step is to look at the rules when traveling 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.

A 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 onboard 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 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 from 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 4:30 pm.

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. On each occasion, we noted that the trains become extremely full. If you plan to use this service be mindful of this.

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 SNCF Connect 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.

You can change the language on the SNCF Connect website to English by scrolling down towards the bottom of the page to where it says “Choix du Pays” and selecting “Europe – other countries from the list. The website can also be viewed in a number of different languages including German and Italian. When using the app, the language is set based on the settings on your mobile phone so you should not have to change it manually.

The step-by-step process to book your bike on a French train is similar on both the website and app.

  1. Enter your required destination
  2. Enter the starting point for the journey
  3. Enter the date of travel and time of day for the outward journey. If you need a return also enter a date and time of day for the inward journey
  4. Select the number and age of passengers traveling
  5. Add in any company or promo codes if you have them
  6. Click on the “Add Travellers, animals, bikes” and choose either “Non-dismantled bike” or “Bike in a cover” depending on your circumstance. Click on the “Book a bicycle spot”
  7. Click on “See prices” to review the list of available trains and prices. You will only see trains that have bicycle spots available.
  8. Select the time and proceed with the payment process.
  9. Tickets are available as E-Tickets and can be downloaded to your phone or computer and either printed or simply displayed on your phone to the conductor on the train.

A useful tip: for some reason when you select that you wish to book a bike in the booking process, TER services will not display in the search results. As such, at first, do not include a bike in the search parameters. This way you will see all the train services that are available including TER, Intercites, and TGV. If there is a TER service that suits, you can continue with the booking process and pay as no reservation is needed for a bike. If you need to book an Intercites or TGV service you will need to go back and add the bike to the search parameters and repeat the booking process to ensure there is a spot for your bike(s).

We have created a short Youtube video to demonstrate booking your bike on a French train. You can access it here.

Helpful tips when booking your bikes on French trains

Here are a few tips we have learned along the way about booking tickets with a bike on the French rail network.

No first-class travel with a bike

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.

Choose “No bike” to see TER service options

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

Passenger count equals bike count

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 need to make 2 separate bookings. This only applies to TGV and Intercités services.

Use the mobile app for e-tickets

Download and install the Oui SNCF mobile app. It allows you to book tickets and also display your ticket as a QR code. It is easy to do and means no worry of printing physical tickets. 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

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.

9 tips for travelling on French trains with a bike

We have traveled on TGV, Intercités, and TER trains with bikes and always found the experience to be pretty straightforward. We have traveled 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 traveling 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.  

Know your travel case dimensions

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 luggage rack space

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 partway through the train’s route you may find the luggage racks full. We traveled 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 ones we were on. On one train we used some empty seats for the bikes. We were traveling as a group of 4, so needed to find the space for 4 bikes rather than 1 or 2.

Allow plenty of time at train stations

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 traveling early in the day to be the quietest both at the station and on the train.

Empty platforms are great

When we used soft cases for our bikes on the trains we needed to disassemble and reassemble them before we traveled. 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.

Platforms are announced 20mins in advance

Train platforms are announced 20 minutes before the train arrives. This gives you plenty of time to make your way to the required platform. In our experience, we have always had plenty of time to get to the train with the bikes.

Designated bike carriages

On the Intercités and TER trains that we traveled 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 from this so far.

Put your bike in the correct place onboard

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 allowing 3 bikes to lean against each other with an elastic strap to prevent movement. These types meant we only had to take the rear panniers off rather than front rolls as well.

What to do if the bike places are full

If you get on a train and the bike racks are full what should you do? 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. However, we have seen it happen where there are more bikes than spaces. Again, discretion is the train conductors but we have not observed anyone being asked to move their bike.

Standard sized bikes only allowed

French trains allow only standard-size bikes onboard their trains. Recumbents, tricycles, or tandems, cannot be taken on a French train. Ebikes pose no problems on French trains as long as they are a standard size. This makes trains a great alternative to flying where e-bikes are banned.

Two cyclists in front of the train station in Bordeaux
Travelling by train while cycle touring in France is a great way to move locations

Discover more

Seek Travel Ride has lots of information to help you plan your next cycling holiday to France.

Our Practical pages have all the information you need to plan your trip before you get there. We include things like visa requirements, using your mobile phone, the best time of the year to go, car hire, and lots more.

Our Destination pages have information about specific destinations with information such as bike hire, cycling hotels, and how to get there.

Our Tour de France pages provide you with lots of information about this great event. Official tour companies, watching the Tour de France and details for the current year’s race.

We have lots of Articles about a wide range of topics which we add to regularly.