Updated: August 2012
France is no Switzerland when it comes to traveling with your bicycle on its trains, but infinitely better than Japan (my other frame of reference for train-friendly countries), and probably better than most EU countries. Here is how you can take your bike around the country.
Intercités: middle-distance trains. On most of these trains (you need to check the timetable to make sure) you can take bikes onto the carriage reserved for them. Look for something like the symbol below as the train pulls into the station.
Even if the train you want doesn’t allow you to roll your bike on, you can bag it and store it as regular luggage (not recommended, from my experience, due to lack of storage space).
Some Intercités require reservations beforehand. You need to check this when you book, either online, or at a SNCF shop. You can’t (unbelievably) reserve your space online yet.
TER: (local trains for short/middle distances) you can push your bike right on. The new ones have excellent facilities, as you can see from this picture. Careful though, not all TERs are created equal. At the moment in Languedoc it’s a real crap shoot as to what century your next train will have been made in!
TRANSILIEN: The brand name for the network of commuter trains in the Île-de-France, i.e. Paris and around. Bikes are allowed on for free and there are spaces allotted on every train. However, you can’t take your bikes on during rush hour (6:30-9:30 and 16:30-19:30).
TGV: These long-distance, high-speed trains have limited space for bikes, but it is necessary to pay for this luxury when you book your ticket (10 euros). In addition, this reservation cannot be made online, so you have to do it at the station, at a SNCF boutique, or call them (36 35).
Overnight Trains: Now called Intercités de Nuit, these trains function the same as the TGV, in that you you need to reserve a place for your bike in advance, unless you want to bag it and take it as regular luggage (free).
Sending Your Bike Ahead: this is not for everyone, but I can certainly see the hassle savings if you are travelling from place to place in France. The SNCF will now ship your bike, from door to door, anywhere inside France. There is a flat rate of 80 Euros. You can book this service online here.
- Reservation site for the SNCF (National Railway of France). Tickets can be picked up at any station in France, either at the counter, or better yet, at the ticket machines themselves (but only if you have a credit/debit card with a microchip on it). They cannot be mailed to your home country.
- If you need your ticket before you leave home, you have to book through these guys. I’ve never tried them, but the SNCF uses them to sell to overseas customers.
- More information in English on making reservations here.
- The SNCF page for bicycles (the info above – and much more – in French).