How to take a bike on a TER train: my experience

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Are you planning to take your bike on a TER train in France, but feeling apprehensive about how it all works in real life? You’re not alone. Many travellers find it daunting to navigate the requirements and restrictions of taking bikes on trains in France, especially if it’s their first time. As an avid cyclist and frequent TER traveller, I understand the challenges firsthand and have put together this article to share my experience and provide some tips and tricks for a smooth and stress-free journey.

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about taking your bike on a TER train in France, so you can confidently plan your next adventure on two wheels. I want to share some of my own experiences about what it is actually like, rather than simply rehashing the information from the SNCF website.

TER Trains in France

The TER trains are regional services that operate generally within a region or into neighbouring regions. These trains do not travel long distances across the country as the TGV or Intercité services do. There are 11 different regional train services across France but thankfully the same rules apply nationally with only 1 exception that I am aware of.

Taking your bike on a TER in France is one of the easiest ways to use trains as no reservation or payment is required. It is a simple matter of purchasing your ticket and rolling your bike onto the allocated bike carriage and you are good to go. I use the TERs on a regular basis and take my bike on board with me on many of those occasions. In fact, my preference is to find a TER service where possible for journeys with bikes because it is so easy to do and costs nothing other than the price of the ticket.

Exceptions for bikes on TER trains

While taking your bike on a TER in France is usually free and without the need for a reservation, some regions are introducing reservation requirements and, in some cases, a fee over the summer months. This is a good thing, in my opinion and it also comes with additional services and places for bikes. It is typically in regions that are popular with cycle tourists and will help guarantee you can get the train that you want to.

In 2021 there was only the Brittany region that had introduced this service. Now in 2023 there are seven regions that have some form of reservation for the summer. Some reservations are mandatory, while others are offered so you can guarantee a space on the train.

Here is the list of the different TER regions and a brief overview of what they are offering for bikes on their services over the 2023 summer. There is also a link to their website so you can read the full details of the service.

Auvergne Rhone Alpes region

This service is available on trains between Lyon and Marseille and Lyon and Avignon and is free of charge. Reservations are mandatory if you wish to use the service. The service runs from late May to early September and only applies to weekend and piublic hoilidays. Find the full information on the Auvergne Rhone Alpes TER website, where you will also find the link to reserve your place.

Bourgogne Franche Compte region

Bike reservations are compulsory TER trains for the Paris-Dijon-Mâcon and Paris-Morvan routes all year round. Travellers with weekly or monthly subscritions or a Mobigo pass are exempt from this requirment. On the Paris-Lure, Paris-Vesoul and Paris-Belfort routes you must reserve a place for your bike in July and August at a cost of €3. All the details are available on the Bourgogne Franche Compte TER website.

Brittany region

For those planning on taking their bike on a TER in the Brittany region from early June to late August, you must reserve a place for your bike. This region is very popular with cycle tourists and everyone is keen to use the TER services. This was introduced as a means of guaranteeing you a space on the train and I think it is a great idea. It only costs €1 and gives you the peace of mind there is a place for your bike. The BreizhGo website has all the details including links to reserve your place.

Grand Est region

Reservations will be required for bikes on the Paris-Mulhouse and Paris-Strasbourg lines during July and August. The reservation will cost €3 per bike and there will be more spaces available for bikes on these services. Head to the Grand Est TER website for all the details. There are some specific requirements for certain destinations.

Normandy region

This service does not require any reservation or payment that I can see on their website. Rather, they are making things easier for people travelling with a bike over the summer period on the Caen – Granville – Rennes and Caen – Le Mans – Tours lines. The service will operate between late June and early September and increase the number of bike spaces from 6 to 16 on certain services. Read more about it on the Normandy region TER website.

Nouvelle Aquitaine region

This is one I have only come across recently when I was looking at booking a TER for our own cycle touring trip. It applies to 4 lines in the region and will cost you €5 per bike. There will be a dedicated bike carriage that will hold up to 25 bikes and there will be staff to assist people get on and off the train as well as look after the bikes during the journey. This requirement runs from June to September, although it only applies on weekends in June before moving to 7 days from July. The Nouvelle Aquitaine website has all the details as well as links to reserve and book your place.

Pays de la Loire region

In the Pays de la Lore region you can reserve a place for your bike on a TER service between late April and early October. This applies on a daily basis between 10 June 2023 and 1 October 2023 and on weekends and holidays outside this time while the program is running. This is not a mandatory service, but rather, a service that guarantees you a space for your bike. It operates only on the lines between Nantes and Orleans and Nantes and Le Croisic at certain times. Check the Pays de la Loire TER website for all the detailed information.

What I have learned about taking a bike on a TER train.

Taking a bike on a TER service is my preference when travelling with bikes. The main reason for this is that it is free, no reservation is required, and it offers the most flexibility. Having travelled regularly on them over the years, here are 5 points that I think will help you plan for your own journey to make it as easy as possible.

A french train alongside a platform showing the bike designated carriage.

1. Traveling early in the morning is usually the quietest

I have found that travelling as early as possible in the morning is usually the quietest option. TER trains are popular among commuters in France, which means they can get pretty crowded during peak hours. However, if you plan to travel early in the morning, you’ll have the best chance of avoiding crowds and finding empty bike spaces. Plus, travelling early means you’ll have plenty of time to cycle later in the day and explore your destination without rushing. This is especially helpful if you’re travelling into or out of large cities where trains tend to be busier.

This is good for two reasons. Firstly, it means that you are less likely to find the bike spaces already full, and secondly, it makes navigating the train station with a bike so much easier. We arrived at Bordeaux’s St Jean station at about 5 pm in the afternoon on a recent trip with fully laden touring bikes. Getting the bikes from the platform and out of the station was difficult, to say the least. The train station was packed and we had to get the bikes up and down stairs. By contrast, we left the following morning at 7:00 am and the station was empty and so much easier to navigate.

2. Only use the dedicated bike carriages

It is important that you only use the dedicated bike carriages for you and your bike and that you place your bike in the racks that are provided. This is not only for the safety of everyone on board but also for the comfort of fellow passengers. The carriages for bikes are always clearly marked, and, in my experience, usually at the front and rear of the train. Train guards will not appreciate bikes in carriages that they should not be in, and you will most likely be asked to move them. Nor will they tolerate bikes out of the racks when there is space for them there.

I was travelling with my wife and some friends on a TER from Bergerac to Bordeaux a couple of years ago. We had all been bikepacking and the train trip was our last day on our route. When we boarded the train, we were the only bikes and the carriage had hooks for the front wheels. Now given we had our gear on the bikes, we thought we would simply leave the bikes on the floor leaning against each other. As soon as the guard came through the bikes caught her eye and she immediately told us to get them in the racks. So we had to get the gear off and hang them up properly. She explained it was for safety reasons and we had no problems sorting it out.

3. Get to the train station at least 30 minutes early

To avoid a last-minute dash with a bike through a crowded station I always aim to get to the train station at least 30 minutes before departure. This allows plenty of time to get the bike sorted, get tickets if you need to and wait for the platform number to be called. If you are at a large city train station there will be multiple platforms and the number will be displayed on the departure board 20 minutes prior to departure. Smaller stations may only have a single platform so this is not as critical.

Once the platform number is called I recommend heading to the platform as soon as possible. Access to the platforms in many cases is via underground tunnels. Many stations I have been to only have stairs and no lifts which means getting you and your bike up and down stairs to the platform. Being there nice and early allows you plenty of time to get to the platform without being in a panic about missing the train.

4. Don’t panic if the bike spaces are already full

I always like getting onto the train and finding no other bikes in the bike racks, but that’s not always the case. Lots of people take their bikes on TERs in France and it is not unusual to find the bike rack space full. So what should you do if you find yourself on the train and no space for your bike? My recommendation is not to panic, I have been on many trains where there are more bikes than allocated spaces and everyone has stayed on the train and arrived at their destination.

In this situation, the train staff do have the authority to ask you to leave the train. I have not personally observed this and they usually seem happy if everyone is nicely out of the way. However, I have had a friend who was not able to board their TER service as there were too many bikes already on it. But here are a few things to consider that should improve your chances of staying on.

The first thing you should do is to make sure your bike is not blocking other passengers. There is usually plenty of space in the bike carriages so see if you can find somewhere that will be out of everyone’s way. Don’t leave your bike in an aisle that will impede others as it is more than likely you will be told to move it.

If you have time I recommend checking the other bike carriages and you may find them empty or at least with space available. I find that most 4-car trains will have at least two bike carriages and 8-car trains have at least 4 bike carriages. I have seen smaller 2-car trains that only have a single bike carriage. Train staff may assist you with this and check for you.

The final option is to get off and take your bike on the next TER service. This is not always convenient and the next train may be hours away but it may be your only option if the train is really full or the guard either does not let you on or asks you to get off.

5. Purchase your tickets online and as early as possible

TER tickets can be purchased up to 120 days in advance and I always recommend that you book the train as soon as you can using the SNCF Connect website. This will guarantee that you get a seat on the train you want as well as get the best price for it. I have watched in dismay as a train that was only going to cost €5 jumped to €20 a few days later, so it does make a difference.

Booking online means you have a QR code that is scanned by the train staff. I would also recommend the SNCF Connect app and I use it for all my purchases.

The downsides of taking a bike on a TER

While taking a bike on a TER is free and easy to do, it does not mean it is perfect. The biggest downside of taking a bike on a TER is the fact that because spaces are not reserved there is no guarantee you will be able to get on the train with your bike. There is always the risk that the carriages are already very full and the chance of you and your bike getting on is slim. When you do have to reserve and pay for a spot on either a TGV or Intercité service you are at least guaranteed that the space is there for you.

Any time I am taking my bike on a TER service I make sure there is flexibility in my plans in case things don’t turn out as expected. Thankfully I have never had to watch the train pull out of the station without me on it, but it is always a possibility. I have observed that train travel in France, on all train services, is very popular and it is rare you find yourself on an empty train.

You might also like

If you are considering taking a bike on a TER you might also like our articles about taking a bike on a TGV, tips for travelling on a French train with a bike or how to book your bike on a French train.

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