Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dealing with Your Bike on Trains

Just so were on the same page I’ll refer the SNCF below which is the French Train authority. Often there is a bit of miscommunication on whether bikes can be taken on trains. The answer is yes and no. For the most part the answer is yes, but it takes some special planning in some instances depending on your final destination.

As much as I wish I could give you all of the exact details in a succinct manner I think I could easily confuse you if I posted all of the possible scenarios. I traveled extensively in 2005 without a rental car so hopefully the time spent will help translate into useable knowledge in the following paragraphs. The good news is there are some terrific online resources (listed below) that will offer you all of the exact information to help you with all the specifics of your vacation.


Here are some general rules to help your travel plans. When traveling by TGV (high speed bullet train) you must use a softside bag named a housse (pronounced hoose) for the bike, or your hard case—this allows you to travel free with the bike as part of your carry on luggage. A housse differs from a softside case in the fact that it typically doesn't have anything inside to hold the bike in place.
The TGV does not serve all of France but is an easy way to get to and from to the major travel destinations of France. On some trains traveling south from Paris to the Mediterranean, you can reserve a spot for your bike if it’s built—in fact to get this space you must make a reservation and the fee is 10 euros. Also beware that the listed dimensions for a hard case or housse is 120X90x60cm….I can only assume that said dimensions are Length x height x width.

Between two cars on the TGV is a luggage rack big enough to bicycle. One tip is get on the train quickly before these racks fill with luggage.


The next type of train is called a Corrail, which is a slower train that is more common, and affordable than the TGV. Some Corrail trains offer bike hooks, which allow you to load your built bike without a housse (or case) and free of charge. When viewing a Corrail schedule you’ll often see a bicycle symbol denoted, which indicates what trains offer this service. The number of spaces provided is limited (from 2-6) depending on the train. If you’re planning on traveling with a larger group and need to use the train it may be in your best interest to contact the SNCF in advance.

One important note is that IF you have a housse, or case you can carry your bike on ANY Corrail train. For this reason I typically always have my bike in a housse when traveling by any Corrail or slower train. The practical advantage is that I can get on just about any train running at any time and not have to worry—when planning around the tight time schedules of Letour this is essential. Also pay attention for corrail trains with a bicycle symbol on the side of the train as they are the ones that offer hooks. The picture at the top of the post is a Corrail with bike symbol.


The next type of train is a TER, or regional train. These trains are often older 70’s era trains that are more basic but recently the SNCF has made an effort to modernize the older trains and put new ones into service. A TER would often be used to make a shorter, for example like getting you from your hotel/base to a town you could ride from to see the stage. The trick is to make sure that you can make it back after the stage ends, and get back on a train to the hotel/base.
An example was the opening time trial in 2005 when I took the TER from Nantes, to a small village about 40 kilometers from the start. I knew in advance by checking the train schedules the day before at the customer service office of the Nantes train station that I would not be able to make a return via train after the stage ended at 7pm ( 7 is unusually late for a stage to end) . Using the TER in the morning saved my legs for the 80k ride home. When traveling on the TER one can usually load the bike without the housse and just lean it in the storage section in the back of the last train car. Again, you should always be able to carry bike on in housse or in a case.
Bikes on Train Websites

During the last few year’s two sites have appeared that shed far more detail on the subject of bike/train travel than I do in the guide. The sites below can give you EXACTS that may necessary for your specific itinerary along with numerous photo examples of what to look for. The two links have a general URL and below the URL of the exact page I found the train info. (English Language site, full of detail and helpful info)

Luggage/Bike transport

The SNCF also has a luggage transport division named SERNAM that will transport your bike but you have to deliver it to them 2 days before you leave in order for it to be at your destination when you arrive.

Trains Sans Bike

Even if you are traveling without your bike don’t hesitate to use the French train system to maneuver throughout the country as the system runs very well. Beware when booking tickets online that what initially seems simple can become somewhat complex as far as picking trains and understanding the schedules. TGV tickets must be reserved and prepaid typically and many good travel agencies in the U.S. can help with the task.

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