Here's how to make a reservation for your bike online for French trains.
Making reservations for your bike
Note not all trains need reservations and not all trains accept bikes – see here.
Firstly, it's VERY easy to make bike/train reservations in English from anywhere in the world using the third-party Trainline service. This takes the hassle out of any language barriers and the functionality is very straight-forward.
However it's also possible to deal direct with French train operator SNCF, which makes it easy to cancel or change tickets if necessary. You can buy via the official OUI.sncf website, which is the ticket outlet for the French rail operator.
Buying online means you get your ticket to print out or put on your smartphone, negating the need to bother with machines at the station.
It's important to note that to reserve a space for your bike on French trains via the official SNCF channel you need to use the FRENCH version of the SNCF website (not the UK/US site, though the two were in any case being merged in 2018 and the French site was becoming multilingual).
With a little patience, it's easy to book using this link. You may be able to change the language to English, in which case it's all very simple. If the system does not show bike bookings, then just flip back to French and follow the directions below.
(Note the design of the website/colours may have changed but the logistics are roughly the same).
Using the French SNCF website to book bikes on trains ...
Start by entering your basic search – stations and dates/times – in the search box and hit 'rechercher'.
The screen should expand to reveal a larger search box with + de critères:
You need to click '
Tick 'Je voyage avec mon vélo'.
Then tick the first circle if you have a regular bike that does not fold and can't be stored as regular luggage.
Tick the second circle if you have a folder or dismantled/bagged bike that CAN be stored as regular luggage.
The next screen gives you ticket and time options, plus prices. Simply choose your preferred train and continue through to book ('valider cel aller').
The next screen will bring up the confirmation plus try to sell you insurance and various other add-ons. Just scroll down and hit 'valider'.
You may then get a popup asking if you want to register. This is upto you but you can click 'commandez sans compte' just to get pay and get the tickets without creating an account.
You'll then get a confirmation page telling you you can get the ticket on your phone, print it at home or via your loyalty card (for French residents/regular travellers). Some tickets may also be available for collection from the machines and ticket office any French railway station (the one I'm using as an example here is not).
Simply fill in your name and email. The last 3 spaces in the passenger info are for your birth date. Hit 'valider et payer' (don't forget to tick the conditions box at the bottom).
You'll then go through to a payment screen. I won't do the next bit (I don't need any tickets at the moment!) but it'll bring up a confirmation screen and tell you you can print the tickets or save as a PDF. The confirmation will also go to your email/phone with the ticket.
A few notes:
* I tried this for the Eurostar Paris to London, but the system told me the train did not take bikes (when it did) – you still need to go through Eurostar for bike bookings.
* This system does not guarantee that you can take bikes on ALL trains; there are still some services (see here) in France that simply do not take fully assembled bikes (ALL trains take bikes boxed/bagged as normal luggage). But at least with this online booking system there is now an easy way to check. If a bike can't be taken on a service you're searching or at the times you want, then it will bring up a result saying just that.
* The system searches one bike at a time. If you have two people and two bikes, you need to make separate bookings.
* The system cannot handle multple stage journeys with bikes. If you need to change trains more than once on any journey, then search individual legs separately.
* The system recognises bagged bikes or folders, but records these separately as regular luggage.
* There isn't a field for trailers or for tandems.
* To guarantee a space for a child's bike you would need to buy a ticket for the child even if they were aged under the usual free-ticket threshold of 4.