A non-commercial website
All rights reserved ©2001-2022
This page last updated on:August 20, 2022
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 and the Mediterranean region of France), flexible, and economical. While riding the train you have time to look at the countryside. Trains are generally relatively inexpensive, and in some countries 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 you will not break your budget.
(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.
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. Easyjet, which has a large network of flights throughout Europe, and which, depending upon the time of booking, can be inexpensive, will carry bicycle in a box or bag (handlebars turned and pedals removed) for €45 (2015). Lufthansa will no longer transport assembled bikes.
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 or airport. You would have to remove the front wheels of the bikes and lay them on their side. While not ideal, this can work on the mainly smooth European roads. An alternative, if you are starting from a city, is to rent a cheaper car and purchase a bike rack for that car. In stores such as Decathlon, you can obrain a bike rack for about €100.
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 my manual-shift diesel 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.
I checked rental car rates in the summer of 2022 and they are no longer reasonable. 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 "Deutch" on the upper part of the page and choose English. Fill in the railroad stations and dates using the formats shown (and day/month/year sequence), and click the text "Further options". On the next search page, check the box for "carriage of bicycles", and then "search". (Note: You can also increase the standard time for transfers if, in your results, it appears they are to short.) 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: For France, some trains that carry bikes, notably TERS are not listed. On the other hand, I was able to find a TGV routng that carried a bicycle starting from the French Riviiera, which was not possible on French sites.
If you wish to buy your tickets for a European Rail Trip in the USA or Canada:
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 often be much higher on this site than booking directly in the country your are traveling in. When I researche 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! (In 2017 I found prices on the fierst French route I checked higheron Rail Europe by 10% to 80%, and on the second, the prices was slightly lower(!) on one train (that did not carry assembled bicycles), no price was given for the one that did, and many possible trains did not show up at all (none of which carried assembled bicycles, but do carry bicycles in bags). 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 first research the itinerary you want.
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 less bicycle friendly than in the northern European countries. On many trains you still cannot take your assembled bicycle , and thus to travel rapidly a portable bicycle bag may be necessary, as described below. Fortunately, after many years of neglecting the needs of cyclists entirely, the French railroads now sometimes make it easier to bring your bike on the train, and some of the tours that I describe can be accessed by putting your bike, fully assembled, on a train. At this writing in 2019 it is impossible to take an assembled bicycle from Paris to southeast France beyond Lyon on TGVs or vice-versa (one exception found on bahn.de). So a slow TER train would be necessary from Lyon to Marseille, and another TER from there. On certain days the French booking sites propose a night train where you would sleep in a couchette (a bunk bed in a shared room).
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.
In Paris, 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 online from France and you will need to understand a little French. If you switch the language to English, you will be redirected to Rail Europe. There are now several travel agencies offering online tickets. The biggest one is now called oui.sncf. (Yes that is the full Internet address.) You have two choices to receive your ticket: (1) printing or downloading it at the time of purchase; or (2) picking it up at from an automatic machine at the station using the same credit card you bought it with (and a pin if there is one). (You can, if need be, go to a ticket window or sales office.)
To book bicycles on the oui.sncf site, Click at the top "Train"and put in your itinerary, dates and time. Now click on "Ajouter and then "vélo(s"). Click "Rechercher". If a train is proposed, click on "1 Voyage and change the boxes as necessary. (You may not go first class). Choose whether you want the best price or a modifiable ticket, then "Choisir cet aller..." On the next page, assuming that you don't want additional purchases, click "Valider". You will then be directed to enter your information and obtain an e-ticket. Then click "Valider et payer". Obviously, this is a very combersome procedure if the TGVs on the line are not carrying bicycles, as is the case at this writing for Trains to Avignon, Marseille and the French Riviera off-season. It will be much more productive to use the German site described above (bahn.de) to locate a train carrying assembled bicycles before booking a ticket on the French site. See below for an example of linking TER trains when there is no TGV carrying bicycles. After using the bahn.de site it will be best to book your tickets on a French site.
f you will be stopping in Paris or another French city after arrival in the country, you can book your tickets at a licensed travel agency, an 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 may be worth the convenience.
Alternatives for transporting your bike on French Trains:
You have three alternatives: (1) take a train that carries assembled bicycles (including now some TGVs on some lines and in some seasons); 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, I am no longer going to discuss alternative 3 (which might be a good one for French families going on vacation), because if you are going to put your bike in a box, bag or case, you might as well take it with you..
1. Trains in France carrying assembled bicycles:
From Paris, you may bring your fully-assembled bike with you on certain trains to Berlin, Frankfurt, Basel, Geneva and Zurich. All night trains are said to transport assembled bicycles, but the number of these is quite limited. Many 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, perhaps out of date, to go from Paris to Marseilles, one must take a bike carrying TGV as far as Lyon (if it exists), and then take a series of local trains that also carry bicycles.
Regional French trains: There are many trains that carry bicycles: the TER (regional) trains.In some regions the TERs only carry bicycles out of rush hours. In the other regions, bicycle pictograms indicate the trains carrying bicycles. 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.
Hypothetical TER example: To get to Avignon from Paris in one day in November without putting my bicycle in a bag, I would have to buy a TER ticket from Paris to Dijon, another TER ticket from Dijon to Lyon, and a third from Lyon to Avignon. A departure at 7:36AM allowed arrival at 3:38 PM and the total cost came to €102. By contrast, a TGV carrying a disassembled bicycle in a bag, leaving Paris at 7:19 arrived at the Avignon TGV station at 9:59, and cost €45. Disassembling my roadbike and reassembling it would add perhaps 2 hours of hassle because I would have to remove the fenders and bike rack. See the next section.
2. Bike Bags Housses, Boxes and Cases:
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 in French 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. You can buy a bike bag of this size in France or in the United States for a reasonable amount. However, many road bikes, even with front wheels removed, cannot fit into a housse of that size. (many mountain bicycles can.) So many people carrying road 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 road bicycle euipped for touring 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, or somewhat smaller than 120 x 90 centimeters. Your homemade bag will eventually get a few holes poked through it, which probably is why you cannot buy a large light-weight bag commercially. Housses (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 or Italian trains that don't carry assembled bicycles. 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 home made housses that are crude are acceptable. You could make one with some wide sheets of bubble-wrap or heavy polyethylene and tape.)
Housses with bikes in them 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 for most trips a home-made housse is more appropriate. The disadvantage of the box (or a store-bought housse) is that they cannot be transported on your bike, so you would have to find another box for the return trip. Moreover, they would be more cumbersome to put onto and take off tof rain cars.
Bike Cases and commercial bike bags: Many brands of folding bicycles supply a bicycle case to carry them in. This is treated by trains and airlines as luggage. To my mind, unless your bike trip is circular, these have even greater limitations than bicycle boxes; that is, you can't take them with you on your bike trip – 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 brand, 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 examples the author knows of are too heavy and bulky to be carried in panniers, and would serve only for a circular trip. Rather you should strongly consider making your own light-weight bag to fit your bicycle as explained above. If that is not possible, leave time to get hold of a bike box at your destination.
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 using a regulation-sized housse) 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.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).
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 some yers ago, the beginning of the point-to-point Loire itinerary, I used a 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 at that time. 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 descendedfrom the train at 9 AM onto theplatform in Florence, Italy, with two bicycles in two housses. Because a thread on a screw holding up a rear rac was strippedk, 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.
Trains and Bicycles—Italy:
Many regional trains in Italy do carry assembled bicycles (sometimes a fee is required), but most long-distance trains do not. 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.
Italian timetables in stations are said to have symbols showing which trains carry assembled bicycles; the author does not know how to access these on the internet; however international trains carrying bicycles to and from Italy can be accessed on the Italian railroad site: http://www.trenitalia.it. Change the language to english.then click on "main" 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 either of these countries. For trips within Italy, click on "regional".
Trains and Bicycles—Germany:
Many German trains will carry your assembled bicycle, and it is not necessary to use bicycle bags. 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" (road bicycle) and"verleih" or "mieten" (rental). On most trains you must purchase a daily bike ticket for a minimal price.
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. You can also purchase tickets for your bicycle on this site. They are needed for many trains, and the train compartments often sell out quickly.
Trains and Bicycles—Austria
This page discusses taking bicycles on trains in Austria: www.oebb.at/en/ On the main page for fare information and obtaining timetables is at www.oebgb.at. Enter your itinerary and the date and click "search connection". In the list that comes up click individual trains to see details about carriage of bicycles (most trains). If you click "Book Ticket", expect to wait up to a minute before the page comes up.
Most trains carry bicycles. You can reserve your bicycle space, which may be necessary in season, by calling the phone number given.
Trains and Bicycles—Switzerland: Most Swiss trains will carry your assembled bicycle. For details go to the Swiss Railways site: https://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html. Click on "Timetable and fill in your itinerary, date and time. Then lick on "Advanced search". Now click on "Change extended search". On the next page check "Carriage of Bicycles Required. and click "Search for connection". Click on any of the offered trains for details of the route.
You must buy a bicycle ticket. You can buy that at the station or online. Reservations are obligitory for travelling through the Gotthard tunnel and on ICN (tilting) trains. You can make reservations here: https://www.sbb.ch/ticketshop/b2c/adw.do?sprache=en&artikelnummer=1966
Trains and Bicycles—The Netherlands:
Book your ticket at: www.ns.nl/en. Bicycles may be carried on any NS or Intercity train off-peak, providing there is space. . For IC trains to Berlin or Brussels a reservation and international bicycle ticket is required.This is defined as 9:00AM until 4:00PM and after 6:30PM on Monday - Friday, and at any time on weekends or during July and August. A ticket is required
Trains and Bicycles in Spain: Regional trains in Spain carry assembled bicycles but not national trains. To cross the country with your bike, you must switch from regional train to regional train. Conventional regional trains are called "MD". Services that carry only bikes in bags include ALVIA, AVANT-LD, LD AND AVE. The Internet site of the Spanish railways is: http://www.renfe.es. At the very top of the page click on "Welcome", "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. This page gives the rules on carrying bicycles on trains: http://www.renfe.com/EN/viajeros/info/bicicletas.html.To book regional train tickets you will probably require assistance: If calling from abroad the sales number is: +34 91 214 05 05.
Trains and Bicycles in Denmark:
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.
Trains and Bicycles in Ireland:
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.
Trains and Bicycles in Britain:
The Eurostar to continental Europe: With an advanced reservation and a fee 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 your 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.
Next page: Panniers and Clothing