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This page last updated on: January 18, 2012
By David May
Transporting Your Bicycle by Train, Bus, Air or Car in Europe
Take your bicycle on the train?
In Europe, trains are generally as fast, and often much faster, than automobiles. They are normally clean, comfortable, on time (except perhaps in southern Italy), flexible, and economical. While riding the train you have time to look at the countryside. Trains are generally relatively inexpensive, and in some countries they are very inexpensive.
On the other hand, carrying assembled bicycles on higher speed trains is not always allowed, and the use of a bike bags ("housse"--see below) can be quite inconvenient. Some destinations are not accessible by train. See the detailed discussion of trains and bicycles below.
Take your bicycle by bus?
Only rarely can you put your bicycle in the passenger section of a bus. Normally you will have to put it in the cargo area underneath, on its side. Bus companies can refuse to carry your bicycle—and would probably do so if the cargo area were filled—but this has never happened to me. If the bike handlebars are wide, it may be necessary to turn them fit in the baggage compartment, and sometimes these areas are so short that it might be necessary to remove a pedal. I have had to help the bus driver to fit the bicycle in, but never actually had to remove parts.
A bus ride can be somewhat rough, and your bicycle that has traveled on its side in a bus baggage compartment may need some re-regulation or repairs after a bus trip. Of course, if you are coming from the airport and have your bicycle properly packed in a box, this should not be a problem.
By taking the bus you will have a good view of the countryside, and probably save money over other options.
(From England, there is a bus service that transports riders and their bicycles to western France, Spain and northern Italy. Information is available at http://www.bike-express.co.uk. or by phone at (44) 1642-251440.)
Take your bicycle by air?
Transporting a bicycle by air within Europe can present problems: Airlines usually have a 20 kilo (44 pound) baggage allowance, and charge extra for transporting bicycles (around $30 - $70 in 2012). You will need to ride or your bicycle(s) to the airport or hire a taxi or take a bus, which may be more difficult or expensive than riding to a railroad station; and, usually, you will have to to box your bike. If you are returning from a different city than the one you arrive at, or, if you can not specify ahead of time the exact date and time of your return, airfares could be quite costly. Most budget airlines, such as EasyJet, do not transport bicycles.
Inner-European flights are best used in conjunction with your international air ticket, since the bike will already be boxed and there is not an extra charge for carrying the bicycle. However, this can considerably limit your flexibility.
Take your bicycle by car?
With two or more persons travelling together, rental of a station wagon or SUV can be relatively economical, providing that you are starting your tour in a major town. However, if you have been thinking of renting an automobile to carry your bike to or from a tour, check out the total costs carefully. Toll fees for similar distances may be double to triple those of the United States; these can be avoided by staying off the toll roads, but then the time of travel between points may be up to 50% more. Gasoline prices are two to three times more in Europe than in the USA. The new European diesels are powerful, economical, and nonpolluting. On my latest trips in France, the per-mile cost of fuel used by a manual-shift diesel SUV was less than it would have been in the United States with my heavier automatic-transmission sedan. If you have your own car in Europe, you can work out a place to leave it that is convenient to tour starting and ending points.
Within France and within Italy the author has found it convenient to use Hertz or Avis , which have relatively reasonable rates (if reserved from the USA) for one day rentals of station wagons or vans — which you may drop almost anywhere in France, for a French rental, and most anywhere in Italy, for an Italian rental, at no additional charge. (Do check out the rates with various rental companies, as these often change.) Renting a car in one country and returning in another is still very costly (and not always possible). Car rental days can be combined with most rail passes. One way to reduce the cost of car rental is to book on the Internet from the USA and to use an airline discount or other code. These can be found on the Web for various rental companies and airlines or affinity groups. Be careful in selecting a code: some codes actually result in a higher rental price. The best practice is to test several alternatives with each of several auto rental companies.
Detailed Information: Bicycles on European Trains in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Ireland and Britain.
Researching connections and buying Tickets for European Trains:
The best site for researching international trains in English is the German Rail site. This is particularly true if you wish to bring your assembled bicycle onto the train. Go to the German Railway site: http://www.bahn.de. Click on the flag on the upper part of the page and choose a country. Fill in the railroad stations and dates using the formats shown (and day/month/year sequence), and click the text "further search options". On the next search page, check the box for bringing bicycles with you, and then "search". When the choices of trains appear, click on an option for a detailed list of all connections. It is also possible to obtain a listing of all stops of the trains in your routing. Caveats: 1) For France, not all trains that carry bikes are listed. The only way to obtain this information is by calling the French Railways directly, as explained in the French section below. 2) You can't find out fares on-line for travel outside of Germany. After you have your itinerary, you can call a railroad for fares.
Where to buy your tickets for a European Rail Trip
Rail Europe (a USA and Canada company which represents several European railways) has recently upgraded its site, and now is easy to use. It now lists most railway stations in Europe. Certain connections between countries require you to piece your itinerary together, by adding together several point to point tickets. For example, to go from a town in central France to a town in northern Italy, a division into three tickets was required: from the French town to Lyon, from Lyon to Milan, from Milan to the Italian city. Rail Europe's software is savvy as to rail passes (of which they are the major distributor): If you check you have a rail pass, the site only prices the cost of supplements and reservations. Prices are quoted for tickets in US$ and for itineraries throughout Europe. Prices can be much higher on this site than booking directly in the country your are traveling in. When I wrote this paragraph in March 2011, a ticket from Paris to Avignon on the 7:46 AM TGV cost $126 from Rail Europe, and only 56 euros (= $79) on the French SNCF site. The French site also was offering a first class seat at $81! Note: Rail Europe provides no online information on bicycle transport. Rail Europe personnel will have to gather this information, and book directly through the country. In my opinion, if you wish to use Rail Europe, it would be best to research the itinerary you want in advance.
For more information on connections and booking in individual countries, see the rest of this page.
Trains and Bicycles—France: In France, trains are faster than elsewhere, but also are somewhat less bicycle friendly than in the northern European countries. You still may not take your assembled bicycle on may trains, and thus may have to consider a portable bicycle bag, as described below. Fortunately, after many years of neglecting the needs of cyclists, the French railroads now make it easier to bring your bike on the train
If you wish to begin a French biking tour from Paris or one of the Paris airports, or wish to cycle in the Paris region, please see the detailed bike routes out of Paris and regional train information, on my other site www.mayq.com.
For fairly complete maps (PDF) of the French long-distance rail network, showing which trains carry bicycles during the day or the night, click on this link. Then "Grand Lines Accessibles", then select the pictogram for day trains or night trains.
In France, to purchase a ticket on the day of departure, go to a ticket window at the station. Ahead of time, stop into a French railways ticket sales office (which are found in most Paris railway stations and elsewhere in Paris).
The least expensive rail tickets for France are available only from the SNCF. You must take delivery at a French address, or pick them up at a French railway station ticket window. The cheapest tickets of all, very much cheaper than full fare tickets, must be purchased several weeks in advance from the SNCF on their Internet site, and mailed to an address in France.
Alternatives for transporting your bike on French Trains:
You have three alternatives: (1) take a train that carries assembled bicycles (including now many TGVs); or (2) use a housse (bike bag) or box or case on any French train; or (3) ship your bike. The author has tried all three alternatives. At this writing, with more trains now carrying bicycles, I am no longer going to discuss alternative 3 (which might be a good one for French families going on vacation).
Summary information on taking your bicycle on the various types of French trains may be found on this link: http://www.velo.sncf.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Mémo_Vélo_SNCF.pdf
It is now much easier to find trains carrying assembled bicycles.
From Paris, you may bring your fully-assembled bike with you on certain trains to Berlin, Frankfurt, Berlin, Basel, Geneva and Zurich. All night trains are said to transport assembled bicycles . All TGVs (high-speed trains often running at 180 miles per hour) on the southwest line (to Bordeaux, Spain, the Loire, and Brittany and all TGVs on the east line to Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy and Germany now have compartments for assembled bicycles. One to three TGVs per day carry assembled bicycles to most other destinations. In some cases planning requires some ingenuity. For example, to go from Paris to Marseilles, one must take a bike carrying TGV as far as Avignon, and then transfer to another TGV that also carries bicycles.
It is finally possible to determine which trains carry bicycles on the Internet, though you must read a few words in French. Navigate to Voyages-SNCF.fr. Enter the cities for the start and end of your trip and press "Horaires" [timetables] at the bottom left of the page. It the bicycle symbol appears beside a train it carries assembled bicycles. There is a button on the listing for subsequent or precedent trains. Don't book your ticket on the web site if you are close to the day of your departure, because you must also make a bicycle reservation, and that can only be done in a licensed travel agency, a SNCF boutique, a rail station, or by phone at 36 35 from within France (0.34 Euros/minute), or (33) 892 35 35 35 from out of France, and ask for an English speaking agent, or 892 35 35 39 (Eurostar -- they speak English and they usually will help you with regular reservations. There is a small fee for a bicycle ticket. Using an agent to book your ticket as well may be a bit more expensive than doing so on line, but is probably worth the convenience.
Regional French trains: There are many trains that carry bicycles, other than the ones on the main intercity routes: the TER (regional) trains. To obtain their schedules on the Internet, go to this Site: http://www.ter-sncf.com. Click on the region that interests you. On the new page, click on "Telechargement Fiches Horaires". In some regions, all TER carry bicycles. The regions are Ile-de-France (during non-rush hours and only certain stations) , Rhône-Alpes, Alsace, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Centre et Limousin. Careful! Not all trains listed on the timetables are TERs. In the other regions, bicycle pictograms indicate the trains carrying bicycles. At this writing, one way to research TERs is to start at the site http://velo.sncf.fr. Click on TER and then on the region the interests you. French is required. An easier approach is to use the German rail site mentioned above. bahn.de. This provides a quick easy listing. Another approach is to simply show up at a train station with your bicycle and ask. There is very likely to be a TER that carries bicycles.
On the French railroads, you can ship your bike ahead, either from a freight terminal, or door-to-door. You can arrange things when you buy your train ticket in advance, or, if you speak some French, contact SERNAM (in phone books or at telephone number 3635, menu item #41, 0.34€ surcharge per minute ) for rates and information on where to take your bike (39 Euro in July, 2006) or for a door to door pickup (includes hotels or railroad stations) (49€ in July, 2006). You must have a rail ticket to obtain these prices. The problem with this method is that you must hand over and collect your bicycle on weekdays, and you must allow at least two and possibly three business days between shipment and collection. SERNAM is responsible for your bike during the shipment.
You can carry your bike on any train to any country, including TGV's (very high speed trains requiring reservations that serve most major destinations in France and other countries) in a bike bag called a housse (pronounced oosse) (or, though its not mentioned anywhere in the train literature, surely in an appropriately-sized bicycle box or case.). TGV trains have a large luggage compartment at the end of each car, and the floor level shelf of this is fairly high. By sliding your bike in its housse to the back of the compartment (temporarily moving blocking luggage) it will be nicely out of the way, or if your dismantled bike is too tall, you can lay it on its side on the shelf. The box - housse dimensions allowed on a train are 120 x 90 centimeters (47.2 x 35.4 inches), which fits on the shelf. However, many road bikes, even dismantled, cannot fit into a housse of that size, and the commercial models described below, specifically sold to carry onto a TGV, are substantially larger. So most people carrying bicycles have ignored the specification (which would require complete disassembly of a full-sized bicycle, including rear fenders), and to my knowledge no French train staff has ever questioned anybody about it. If, during vacation period, the rack is completely full, you might just lay your housse against it, as there may be no other choice. For non-TGV trains put the house, box or case wherever you can find a place.
The general directive of the SNCF for baggage carried on board is: Don't take any baggage on board which you cannot carry, and which cannot be stored in the spaces provided for baggage storage. In many trips, the author has yet to see this rule enforced, but also he has never seen the aisles of a train seriously blocked.
To fit an average size bicycle into a bike bag, bike box, or bike case , you must remove the seat and at least the front wheel and fender (and, if you plan to keep the bag size to regulation, unfortunately, in most cases the rear fenders and rear rack); you must also turn or take off the handlebars, and you may want to remove the pedals as well. Be sure to try out at home, and to bring along, the necessary tools.
Making Suitable Bike Bags (Housses): Assuming that you are not doing a circular trip, so that you will want to transport your bag with you on your trip in your panniers, you will need to make your own bicycle bag, or have it made for you. (See directions on this page.) The commercially available bags and cases, in France and elsewhere, are all too heavy and bulky to carry with you on your bicycle. Your homemade bag will eventually get a few holes poked through it, which is probably why you cannot buy a light-weight bag commercially. Houses (bike bags) can also be used on many airlines.
Authors strong recommendation: Make or have made a housse if you you are going to take high-speed French trains that don't carry assembled bicycles, or Italian high speed trains. For detailed housse-making directions, click here.
Your home-made housse will roll up tightly and weigh only 15 ounces (380 g). A high-enough quality, lightweight, homemade housse can be fabricated with a sewing machine, some pack cloth, nylon thread, and a zipper. ( According to several train officials the author has chatted with, even crude home made housses are acceptable. You could make one with some wide sheets of bubble-wrap or heavy polyethylene and tape.)
Housses are best carried by grasping the frame of the bicycle within. No handle is necessary, but with a handle it may be possible to carry the bicycle on your shoulder, possibly freeing up a hand to carry a pannier.
Bike Boxes: A question that has come up on reader mail: Is a bicycle box a good substitute for a housse? The author believes that it is not, except perhaps for certain circular trips: The disadvantage of the box (and a store-bought housse, and a case) is that they cannot be transported on your bike, so you would have to somehow find another box for the return trip. (However, if you are arriving and returning from the same railway station, you could arrange to store a box or store-bought housse in a nearby hotel you are using, ).
Bike Cases: Many brands of folding bicycles supply a bicycle case to carry them in. This is treated by trains and airlines as luggage. These have the same limitations as bicycle boxes, unless you also purchase a trailer which pulls the case along behind your bicycle. The weight of the case and trailer, for one folding bike company, is about 15 pounds. If you are thinking of this option, check whether the trailer wheels fit into the bicycle case. Some folding bicycle companies also sell bike bags. However, the bike bag example the author knows of is too heavy and bulky to be carried in panniers; you should strongly consider making your own bag to fit your bicycle as explained below.
When to put your bicycle in its bag, or box: It is easiest to do so at one's hotel or lodging and take a taxi or bus to the station. If you do so at the railway station, disassemble (if need be) the pedals, fenders and luggage rack before the train's track is announced. Hang your panniers from the handlebars, or carry them. When the platform is announced, wheel your bike to your train car. Then disassemble the wheels and put the bicycle in the bag.
After your arrival, you will have to reassemble your bicycle: on the arrival platform, in front of the station, or at a hotel (if you take a taxi or bus).
Author's experience: To take my bicycle to La Baule, the beginning of the point-to-point Loire itinerary, I purchased a commercial housse. The travel time to La Baule, on a TGV train from Paris to La Baule was a rapid 3 hours, to which must be added the time and embarrassment of disassembling the bike's saddle, handlebars, wheels and fenders on the platform of the Montparnasse railway station; of stuffing it into the housse during the twenty minutes after the train was announced and before it departed; of reassembling the bike at night on the rail platform upon arrival (one hour); of making readjustments. Still, all in all, taking the train with a housse was better than the alternatives. In Paris, I kept his bicycle in its housse, and carried it in the rear of a taxi back to my apartment.
Another time I and a friend with no assembly skills left Paris by night train and descended at 9 AM onto the platform in Florence, Italy, with two bicycles in two housses. Because of a stripped thread on a screw holding up a rear rack, it took two and one-half hours to put the two bikes back in service while trains and crowds of people came and went on the platform, and another hour to cycle to a bicycle store and obtain an unusual-sized screw. The moral is, be prepared with spare screws of all types and sizes! In the afternoon we rode some 50 kilometers out of Florence and into the Chianti hills. Note that there was really no alternative to a housse for getting the bicycles from Paris to Florence by train. Because of the border crossing and the itinerary, travel by rental car or air was ruled out.
When I was staying in Paris, I twice started trips by shipping my bicycle from freight terminal to freight terminal, and in both cases had no problem. However, I did not like the process: first because the freight terminal for shipment was way out in the 12th arrondissement, and on arrival a half-hour's walk from the railway station; and second, because I was worried about the chance of an error or a strike, which would have resulted in a ruined bike trip.
If you ship your bike by train, the rail company is responsible for its safety. If you carry it on board - whether boxed or fully-assembled - you are full responsible for its safety. At departure, if your bike is assembled, ask the conductor where to put your bike (many trains have specific compartments).
Many regional trains in Italy do carry assembled bicycles (sometimes a fee is required), but not many long-distance trains do so. Therefore, in Italy the author has carried his bicycle in a bike bag (housse) (see the section on housses under France, above)—on trains from Rome to Bologna, Bologna to Verona, Verona to Milan, and Milan to Geneva, Switzerland), placing it at the end of the corridor or in the vestibule, and getting up to move it aside at railway stations. The official maximum size of a bike bag is only 0.80 x 1.10 meters, 10 centimeters smaller than the French official size in each direction. Luckily the author was not questioned. On Eurostar and some other high-speed trains, the bike bag must be placed in the baggage car; otherwise the passenger may be subject to a €260 fine (2006).
Italian timetables are said to have symbols showing which trains carry assembled bicycles; the author does not know how to access these on the internet; however a list of international trains carrying bicycles to and from Italy can be accessed on the Italian railroad site: http://www.trenitalia.it. Click on "Servizi", then click on "Viaggiare con bici al seguito", then click on "internationale" in the text. Here is the direct link to the page in 2013. The author recently researched, on the German rail site bahn.de, a trip from the French Riviera to Roma with a bicycle. This trip requires three regional trains; but the layovers were not large. However trains can run late in the south of Italy. Given that inernational trains carrying bicycles enter Italy mainly from Switzerland or Germany, consider routing a trip from Paris or London through these countries.
Many German trains will carry your assembled bicycle, and it is not necessary to use bicycle bags.. For information on bicycles and trains, I recommend the following site: http://www.brianwasson.com/trips/trains.htm, which also contains useful information on Czechoslovakia and Austria. Many train stations rent decent quality bicycles. You can do a search in English with your destination as a search term, or use the German terms "fahrrad" (bicycle) and"verleih" (rental)
The German Rail site, http://www.bahn.de, provides excellent information on all European trains in English. (Click on "English" in the upper left corner of the home page.) This is the best English language site to use for specific timetable research throughout Europe , or to search for itineraries that allow assembled bikes to be carried on board (by clicking the appropriate box on the advance search screen that comes up). For details, see "Researching Connections", above.
This page discusses taking bicycles on trains in Austria: www.oebb.at/en/Planning_your_trip/Car_motor-_and_bicycle/Bicycle/Intercity-Biking/index.jsp The main page for fare information and obtaining timetables is at www.oebgb.at. This site should come up automatically in English if you are Britain or the USA.
Trains and Bicycles—Switzerland: Most Swiss trains will carry your assembled bicycle. For details go to the Swiss Railways site: www.sbb.ch. Click on "English", then choose "Advanced Search". Check "Carriage of Bicycles Required." Enter a search for your route and travel time. If you receive a list of stations for your destination, pick the first one, unless you know otherwise. If you receive a summary listing of trains click on any of them. In the detailed listing, look under services. The notation"VN" means that you cannot load your bike yourself on the train.
Check out the following site: http://www.aero.lr.tudelft.nl/~bvo/fiets/nlbybike.htm(Cycling in the Netherlands by Bas van Oudheusden). The following direct quote is from the site: "You're allowed to take your bike with you on most trains. For this you have to buy an additional ticket, which you attach to your bike. Single fare prices for distances less than 80 KM are NLG 10, for more than 80 KM NLG 15 (day return prices are NLG 17.50 and 25, respectively). The main restriction is that it's not possible to transport bikes during rush hours on week days (that's before 9.00 and 16.30-18.00 on Monday through Friday), but this does not apply to the months of July and August. You have to take care of the loading/unloading yourself, for which you should preferably use the luggage compartment or those areas specially assigned to bicycle storage. The latter are indicated by a pictogram of a bicycle with attached label."
Trains and Bicycles in Spain: Regional trains in Spain carry bicycles but not national trains. To cross the country with your bike, you must switch from regional train to regional train. The Internet site of the Spanish railways is: http://www.renfe.es. Click on "English", "Timetables and Price", and "Regional". Now you should select the regions that interest you, linking between regions. Obviously your travel across Spain with your bicycle will take a good bit of time.
All (or almost all) local trains carry bicycles. Each local trains has a special bicycle area where one straps ones bike against the train wall. For local trains, no reservations are required. It is usually necessary to carry your bike up and down three steps to enter or leave the local trains.
All or almost all trains from Germany to Copenhagen carry bicycles, but reservations and tickets are required. The trip from Germany to Copenhagen by train is long—6 hours from Hamburg, 10 hours from Berlin. By contrast, the train trip with bike to a starting point in Jutland (the western island), for example to the very interesting historical city Ribe, takes less than 5 hours from Hamburg. In many areas of the country, local trains run every one-half hour. The train trip from Copenhagen to Malmo in Sweden takes only one-half hour, but it appears that bicycles may not be carried unless in bicycle bags. See the discussion of bicycle bags in the discussion of France. There is also a ferry from Helsingor to Helsingborg, which carries bicycles.
The following page from Irish Rail tells you everything you need to know, including some bike rental locations: www.irishrail.ie/index.jsp?a=86&n=153&p=120. The Irish language name for Irish Rail is "Iarnród Éireann". All trains carry bicycles.
The Eurostar to continental Europe: With an advanced reservation and a fee of £20 (in 2009) you can arrange to have your bicycle dispatched on the same Eurostar train you are travelling on from London to Paris or Brussels (or vice-versa). If the reserved space is already reserved, you can arrange for the same fee to have your bicycle shipped 24 hours in advance of your departure for collection on arrival. See the Eurostar site (http://www.Eurostar.com) and navigate to "travel information" and then bicycles. The telephone number for these services, whether calling from the UK, France or Belgium is listed as: +44 (0)8705 850 850.
One can also carry on your bicycle if it fits within a 90 x 120 centimeter bike bag, which is highly improbable unless one has a folding bike. Since everyone has to pass through security before boarding trains, it seems unwise to attempt to exceed the size limit. And thus checking full sized bicycles as discussed above appears the best solution.
Within Britain: For the main rail lines, see this map: www.girr.org/girr/england/rail_map.html. Information about taking your bicycle on non-Eurostar British trains can be found on this web page: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/passenger_services/cyclists.html. The site can be extremely helpful. In my experience, traveling on a British train with a bicycle can be a bit chaotic: First you have to contact the national rail group by phone or Internet learn which companies service your departure point and destination. If your route is served by a company that requires reservations, you have to contact the reservation service of that company. Some companies require reservations, some don't. Some trains carry bikes, some don't. There may be several routings to your destination serviced by different companies. If your route uses two or three train companies, as is not uncommon, then you have to work out all the schedules and connections. Bicycle reservations may need to be made several days in advance. To simplify things, one possibility is to ignore any requirements for reservations; and unless you meet up with a very disciplined controller, this will only be a problem if several bikers are at the station or on the train before you. Another pointer: When multiple companies are involved, do not try to buy your tickets on-line with each company, but go to a railroad station (or a travel agent?) where the agent can book you a through ticket with all the companies, and can request bicycle reservations.