This is Part II of cyclist Antoine Podvin’s adventurous 34 day bike journey along France’s border. Read about his personal experience and his reflections on the challenges of integrating inter-modality in France. In case you missed Part I, you can read it here
Integrated Mobility in France
I cycle to the university daily and on weekends I sometimes take the TER, with my bike, to Orleans. Travelling by train with your bike is not that simple, as multiple studies have concluded. Information can be hard to come by. Platforms are also an issue. Too few bus stations and SNCF stations are equipped with infrastructure adapted for bicycles. Where elevators exist, they are often too narrow for special bicycles such as tandems or cargo bikes. And then boarding is also complicated. For TGV or OUIGO, cyclists must dismantle their bikes, then pack them up in a box or bag to be transported, which is complicated for those who have little mechanical knowledge. Plus, you must pay an extra 5 to 10 Euros.
Boarding the TER is much easier and they even offer some free berths for bikes. And regions such as Pays-de-la-Loire and Centre Val de Loire provide an entire train during busy tourist periods to facilitate transport to the famous Loire à vélo path.
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Buses are also a problem for cyclists. The bike is put on hold and is not secured, and the capacity of the holds can be limited. In addition, it is very difficult to anticipate if there is space for your bike, with little information or tracking of availability.
During my tour, travelling through Alsace, I punctured my tyre and was unable to fix it myself. My only option was to take the TER to Strasbourg, to get it fixed there. My journey involved a connection by bus, which was an issue given that the station in Haguenau had no information regarding transport for bikes, and I ended up having to put my bike on hold without protection.
Luckily for us cyclists, the regulatory framework is evolving both in France and at the European level. As from March this year, renovated trains must be equipped with a minimum number of bicycle spaces: eight for national trains and at 2% the number of seats for regional trains. Coaches must also carry a minimum of five un-dismantled bicycles. For instance, private players like Flixbus have already taken the initiative in accommodating cyclists.
I would like to see the authorities go even further. For example, they could group all bicycles in the same compartment in trains to simplify connections. SNCF and bus operators should provide precise information to users on the number of bicycle places available, how to reserve tickets for bicycles, and the pricing. We could also take inspiration from the Paris Métro and display the available connections from the station to cycling routes such as the Vélodyssé, the Loire à vélo, or the vélo Francette.
If France wants to lead the world in cycle friendliness, for both daily commuting and tourism, it must do a better job in facilitating connections, harmonizing road use, modernizing infrastructure, and improving information. Billions of people across the world enjoy watching the Tour de France, with its scenes of professional cyclists riding through beautiful landscape. But we can do more for ordinary cyclists to experience the joys of two-wheel travel safety and convenience. While the professionals have support vehicles to fix breakdowns, I had to rely on local facilities, which weren’t always that helpful for cyclists. In Grenoble and then in Chambéry, I had to search long and hard for brake pads. In most places in France, it is far easier to fix a car tire than it is a bicycle tire.
The natural elements – like torrential rain, steep hills and stiff wind – were part of the adventure. However, with better support systems for cyclists, more people would be happy to brave these factors knowing that at least they are safe on the roads and that there are supportive systems in place to smoothen the journey.