How to use Planes, Trains and Bus !
International Flights to France from Australia go to Paris, Lille, Lyon and Nice. Domestic connections can be made to Bordeaux and Toulouse. Geneva, Switzerland, is also a convenient airport for trips based in the East of France.
Bikes are well catered for by the French transport systems and can be transported on all planes, trains and bus if disassembled and in a bike bag (velo sac) or case. Check your airline’s policies on the transport of bikes but, we have found that many airlines will allow bicycles to be carried/counted as luggage (in bike bag, box or case) and, if you can keep under the baggage weight limit, can be an easy way to travel.
We pack our bikes in soft bike bags which also include one of two panniers containing tools for assembly and any items of luggage which can’t be included in carry on luggage. The other pannier is used as carry on luggage. Because they’re soft, we can fold and pack them on the bikes and, after setting up bikes, we can ride straight from the plane or train. Hard cases may offer more protection but they impact on up and go portability.
For short trips between towns, the Bus System is handy and extensive. You will need to check if the bus will carry your bike as not all bus operators can take bikes. Often you will need to arrive at the bus station approx an hour before departure to ensure loading of your bike.
France has an excellent railway system (SNCF) utilising a number of different types of trains and is extremely bike friendly. Most trains have a section in one or more carriages for assembled bikes. These canb be highly sought after in holiday times with large numbers of bike tourers taking advantage of the system.
TGV – high speed super trains – bikes can go on TGV trains if in a bike bag (120 x 90cm). On some TGVs, a dedicated carriage can carry assembled bikes if booked in advance.
RER – Regional Express – these fast intercity trains usually have a carriage where a fully assembled bike can be carried (often on ceiling hooks) – these are indicated by a large bike symbol on the door.
Bookings for all trains can be done online from overseas or when you are in France – at the OUI.SNCF site. Alternatively, you can buy tickets from train stations either at the booking office or from the automatic ticket machines….most of which have options for directions in English.
When you do your booking, it is important that you check on the timetable to see if your train has a bicycle symbol – meaning the train has carriages capable of carrying bikes.
If you find that your train has one or more connections, don’t forget to give yourself plenty of time to change platforms…this may involve negotiating several up and down flights of stairs, escalators or, if you’re lucky, large luggage style lift.
TGV trains and some RER trains only have their departure platform listed on the Departure Screens 20 minutes before departure. So you will always find a large crowd gathered beneath the Departure Screens waiting for the train to come up and then a mass stampede to the platform. Take the time waiting for the Departure Screen update to scout out possible lifts/elevators to various platforms rather than trying to drag a fully laden bike up escalators.
Train tickets need to be time and date stamped in the yellow composter machines found at the entrance to the platforms.
Where to buy / hire bikes
If you don’t feel comfortable taking your own bikes to France, your other option is to either buy bikes or hire them. Buying is often cheaper for longer tours but then you have the problem of what to do with the bike at the end of the holiday. There are lots of great bike shops in larger towns where you can buy or hire however, Decathalon (a large sports chain store) will have a large range of all types of bikes with varying entry prices. Racks and panniers can also be purchased there. If hiring, many good bike shops or hire companies will deliver to your door. Freewheeling France has a great site with a map detailing where to hire bikes – sort it out before you travel!
When to go
We recommend that you travel from mid Spring to mid Autum as this gives the best and most consistent weather patterns. Summer is the best weather for comfortable cycle touring.
We have found that smaller airports are easier to find your way around and simpler for managing bikes in that there are less options for terminals to negotiate. Nice and Geneva (Switzerland) are within bike riding distance from the centre ville – with a spectacular bike path from Nice Airport along the Promenade des Anglais to Nice.
A number of airports in Europe have an area where bikes can be assembled or disassembled. These are called Space Montage Velo -and signposted with a Green Spanner above a green Bike symbol. French Airports which offer Bike Working Areas include ; Nice,
Where to get Bike Boxes
Cardboard bike boxes can be sourced at a small (if any) cost from Bike Shops – but you may need to check the size of the box fits your bike. Bike Boxes are also increasingly available (at cost) from airports and specific airlines – always check before you turn up! Nice Airport has bike boxes available at the “Safe Bag” counter near the check in area at Terminals 1 and 2.
Packing A Bike
Packing A Bike into a Bike Bag/sac or hard case.
- Lower the seat as far as p0ssible.
- Remove pedals and secure them to the bike frame.
- remove handlebars and secure to front forks – I find PCV tape good for this.
- remove the front and rear wheels and deflate tyres.