So, you like the idea of trying to combine the fabulous sport of mountain biking, Alps trails and travelling by train together in some sort of holiday package? Is it possible?
Well, yes it is! But there is an important message to keep in mind up-front – and that’s about planning.
Don’t assume that you can safely simply turn up at the railway station and have a friendly chat with the goods wagon guard, who will then slip your bike on the train for nothing. It doesn’t always work like that anymore – particularly not once you cross the channel.
When it comes to a holiday involving mountain biking, Alps destinations are pretty accessible, but if you want to travel by train you are going to have to do some research beforehand.
Let’s assume at the outset that you are reasonably au fait with how things work in the UK. Once you get over into France, things are likely to be different. But then again, that’s partly why we cross that piece of water anyway isn’t it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with these tips to get you to France so you can start mountain biking! Alps trails are well worth the little extra effort, so read on.
Plenty of exceptions
France is a country that likes making lots of rules and then applying equal amounts of exceptions to them. Nowhere will you see this better illustrated than on some train services where bikes are concerned.
Whatever you may see through your research, it is always a good idea to contact your departure station in France in advance and check with them the position on the specific train and the specific date you are planning to travel with biking equipment.
French train services come under one of four categories, using acronyms that you may well see painted on the side of the trains concerned.
• Transilien – These tend to run into Paris and its surrounding areas, a part of France known as the Ile de France. If you are travelling to the Alps from the Channel ports, you probably won’t need to use these services.
• TER (Trains Express Regional). These services tend to run between major cities in the same general region, though not usually on what might be called an inter-city basis. For example, they may run from Rennes to Nantes stopping at a number of small stations en-route.
• Intercités. These are the ordinary train services that run longer distances between France’s major cities. They’re not as fast or as glamorous as their high-speed TGV cousins but they haul very large numbers of passengers from one side of France to the other.
• TGV (Train Grande Vitesse). These are France’s flagship high-speed trains that operate on a star network centred on Paris, running to many of the major cities at all points of the compass.
For the TER Services, you can usually take your bike free of charge – providing the train staff agree. Get to the station 20 minutes early and position your bike by the goods wagon. Remember you may be refused if it is full, and there are some services which are exceptions and do not carry bikes.
In the case of Intercités, unfortunately there is no set rule. Some trains allow bikes, others do not. On the services where bikes are allowed, in some cases you may have to book in advance and pay, but on others it may be free. Once again, you’ve no choice but to ask in advance.
On TGV’s, you typically can carry a bike on un-dismantled, if you have booked in advance and paid a relatively modest fee.
Don’t let the confusing rules of France’s trains put you off a fabulous experience mountain biking. Alps trails are some of the very best in Europe, and in fact the world. It’s well worth the little extra research at the beginning of your holiday to ensure smooth running!