The main operator of trains in France is SCFN (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer) Three type of trains exist on France. The Thalys, TGV (Trains Grand Vitesse), and TER (Transport Express Regional).
Comparing the different train options:
- TER trains does not need a reservation for passengers or bicycles. TER trains are included in an EUrail pass at no extra charge and you do not have to pay any reservation fee. You just need to show up on the tracks with your EUrail pass with 15 minutes before departure and you are good to go. No need to go to the station in advance to purchase a ticket. This made TER our first choice for train travel in France even if it took a little longer to get somewhere than using TGV or Thalys.
- TGV bike places are limited in the TGV and must be reserved in advance. They often are full far in advance and you must go to a SCFN station (not necessarily the one you want to depart from, but any train station along the cycle route) to purchase a reservation fee with an EUrail pass. If you do not have a pass, it is much easier as you can just buy it online. It was generally not suitable for care-free souls like us.
- Thalys just does not accept bicycles. It was our last resort but sometimes it was our only option as it turned out when we need to go from Gent → Brussels → Paris (Gare du Nord) to meet up with friends. We have managed to put our folding bikes, in a bag, on board for without hassles from the official. Bike Fridays was a hard fit on the very limited luggage racks on the train and a bit cumbersome between the narrow walkway path between the seats, but it did work!. A Brompton would have no struggles due to its folded profile.
Each French SCFN TER train compartment that accepts bicycles are limited to 6 spaces to hang bicycles. If all racks appear to be full, try another compartment as there may be more than one train car that accept bicycles. Worst case, get on anyways and leave your bike in the hall. Often regional trains are akin to commuter trains in North America and most people are riding the train for a couple stops and using the bicycle for the ‘last mile’ problem. A rack will eventually be free as your trip progresses as people take their bikes off.
Before boarding you have to look for the sign that also says Access Vélo, which tends to be the same spot for handicap access. That is the correct door to easily access the hanging racks.