11 Helpful Tips Traveling on French trains with a bike

Like anything traveling on French trains with a bike for the first time can be daunting. It certainly was for us when we first did it in 2018. While you can see what the rules are online it is always hard to gauge what it will actually be like until you have done it. Thankfully the first trip went well, although not without some stress, and we have subsequently caught trains with our bikes many more times. Our experience has included taking our bike for free packed in a travel bag on the TGV as well as taking an assembled bike on both Intercity trains and TER trains. While it can still be a little stressful overall until you are on the train and seated, we have never had any negative experiences to report.

Traveling by train in France is popular with locals and visitors alike and is becoming more so. We catch trains in France regularly with and without our bikes and recommend it highly as a way of getting around France.

Here we list 11 things we discovered and experienced on our journeys to help you navigate the French train stations and trains with your bike. Our goal is to provide some real-world information about what it is really like based on our own experiences. If you have never traveled on a train in France before you might want to head over to our article about booking a bike on French trains to understand the different services offered, the rules for bikes on each of the services, and how to book your bike.

Two cyclists in front of the train station in Bordeaux
Traveling on a French train with a bike early in the day helps you avoid some of the crowds

1. Understand the rules for bikes on French trains

Perhaps the most important tip, if you are traveling on a French train with a bike, is to understand the rules for bikes on the service you are traveling on. There are 3 types of train service in France, TGV, Intercity & TER, and each handles bikes slightly differently. On both TGV and Intercity trains you must reserve and pay for a bike space, while TERs allow bikes on without reservation. Bikes can be carried without disassembly on all Intercity and TER services while some TGV services only allow bikes that are disassembled in a bike bag or case. To read up further on this head over to our How to book a bike on French trains page which explains this further.

2. Don’t expect luggage rack space

Don’t expect there to be lots of room for your bike bag if you plan to bring it in a case and store it in the luggage racks for free. It’s not to say there won’t be any space but don’t be surprised to find racks full. If you are getting on the train at the start of the route space is usually much easier to find compared to getting on at one of the stops along the route.

Our experience has been mixed when we have had the bikes in a bike bag to go in the luggage rack. Ultimately we have always found somewhere to put the bikes but there have been times the bikes have been stored in empty seats or next to the luggage rack. If you can’t fit the bike in the rack do your best to make sure it is not in the way, otherwise, the train staff may ask you to move it.

3. Book your bike space as early as possible

If you are traveling on a TGV or Intercity train make sure you book your tickets and bike space as far in advance as possible. This is especially the case if you are traveling in the busy summer period and in a popular cycling destination. TGVs and Intercity trains can be reserved up to 90 days in advance.

While it may be possible to grab a space for your bike at short notice, don’t assume you will be able to. We have experienced some issues in the past with being able to get the spaces for the bikes and the earlier you do it the more likely you are of getting the trains you want to.

4. 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 of an issue if you are touring and have a loaded bike but can apply to any type of bike.

5. Travel early in the day

Following on from the previous tip, traveling early in the day is best to avoid crowds both at the station and on the train. As an example, we arrived at Bordeaux station late in the afternoon at a station that was packed with people and difficult to navigate with fully laden touring bikes. When we left Bordeaux the following morning at 7 am, the station was practically empty as was the train. It made the whole experience of the station nice and stress-free.

6. Empty platforms are great places to pack or unpack a bike

If you need to assemble bikes after your train journey just stay on the platform once everyone is off the train. We found it provides a nice safe and quiet place to get everything ready for your bike before you get on or off the train. Often train platforms are quite long and moving to the end of the platform keeps you out of the way of any other trains that pull in.

7. Platforms are announced 20mins in advance

Train platforms are generally announced 20 minutes before the train arrives. This gives you plenty of time to make your way to the required platform, especially if you are at a larger station. If you are on a train with designated carriages and seating, the display on the platform will show you where you need to be for your carriage number.

8. Designated bike carriages

The vast majority of Intercités and TER trains that we traveled on have had the designated bike areas in carriages 1 and 4 on a four-car train and 1, 4, 5, and 8 on an eight-car train. The trains generally have a large bike symbol on the door, or next to it, showing you where you need to be. We have never had any problem identifying the correct carriage.

9. 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 the front rolls as well.

10. 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? In theory, if the allocated bike spaces are full you should not bring your bike on board. In practice, we have observed people getting on the train and simply standing with their bikes making sure it is not interfering with other passengers. While we have not seen anyone kicked off the train it is possible. The train conductor has absolute discretion as to what happens but we have generally found them helpful. We would also suggest checking the bike spaces in other carriages as you might find them empty.

11. Only standard-sized bikes are allowed on French trains

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.

More information

We provide a step-by-step guide to booking your bike on a French train that also includes general information about the French train network. If you prefer to watch a video demonstration of booking the bike head over to our YouTube channel where you can watch our How to book a bike on a French train video. We provide a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.