Train-cruising France with a bike

When you live in a land that’s as flat as Belgium, especially Flanders, and you’re actually deeply attracted to every tiny bit of elevation there tends to be a problem. A problem of boredom, not being able the run in the right conditions, and an overall feeling of ‘I would give the world for just 1 mountain or hill in my neighbourhood’. While yes, there is an artificial 30m ski hill close by, it is just not the same as running up a 3000m high mountain.

Each summer I seek out a mountain range to train in the right conditions, have great fun and to simply see the mountains at my doorstep. This year and the last that mountain range was the Pyrenees (Spanish side). For 1 month we biked, ran, climbed and surfed our way through this magnificent place.
In order to get all our gear (no surfboard, though a 80m climbing rope and camping gear) to the different valleys in the Pyrenees we decided to go by bike. However we ain’t the kind to bike all the way from Belgium to the Pyrenees, thats too much flat (or medium flat) before you get to the good stuff. We took our bikes on different kind of trains (TGV, Intercité and TER) across France.

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With the current end-of-the-world, climate change, global warming issues it’s kind of weird to go enjoy nature if the plane that gets you there destroys a significant part of it. As full-blown treehuggers we opted to go by train. A bit slower and more expensive yet i’m pretty sure saving the planet is more important than time or money in the long haul. Additionally you get to relax and enjoy some awesome landscapes along the way.

Before we started the trip there was a lot of confusion about how exactly, and if we were even allowed, to transport the bikes. That’s why I made this blog, to spare you from nailbiting concerns and stress before your trip.

Long story short: it’s pretty simple but you need to know how it works.

1. TER consists of the local french trains: Good news, your bike can travel free, just look for the doors on the train that show a bike sign and ship them (and yourselves) in.
Piece of cake.
Your bike will either be hanging on a hook by the wheel or parked in a separate compartment.

BUT BEWARE: certain trains at certain busy periods (summer weekends) may have restrictions to board your bike. In that case you’ll have to disassemble your bike (=take out the 2 wheels, and put the bike in a bag or cover it in plastic foil). Ask at the local station, they can also provide you with plastic foil, or check online whether any restrictions apply.
We know of 1 restriction on the line Hendaye – Bordeaux where bikes have to be disassembled on certain trains during the weekend (http://www.ter.sncf.com/aquitaine/gares/vos-trajets/voyager-avec-son-velo-cet-ete). Between you and me, the train conductors weren’t very pleased with this rule, as disassembled bikes almost take in more place than fully assembled hanging ones. Don’t be surprised if they change the rule in the near future. Altogether it might be best to avoid these busy trains, because your bike might get banged up.

2. Intercité: These kinds of trains have special bike compartments where you can easily hang, or set your bike. It’s not strictly necessary to reserve a bike spot, but when it’s too crowed the conductor can refuse your bikes. The other option is to pay €10 to reserve a spot. Better be safe than sorry!

3. TGV: This one is a pain in the ass. TGV doesn’t have any option to transport your assembled bike. Period.
The only thing you can do is disassemble your bike before you board the train and try to fit the bike in a luggage compartment.
TIP: If you’re on a double decker train, the luggage compartments are bigger upstairs. While actually not allowed we also placed a bike right next to a luggage compartment in the aisle, but as long as you don’t block anybody there’s no problem according to the conductor (unless you have a grumpy conductor, then god save you!). Also you might have the urge to arrive at the station 2 hours in advance, just to be ready. You should know that the platform is only announced 20 minutes ahead.
Happy pacing in front of the departures board!

IMG_1033
This is how you store your bike on a TGV

A summary of bike travel options mentioned above can be found here: http://help.be.voyages-sncf.com/en/services/transport-bike

Hope this helps!

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – JRR Tolkien

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