On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists

The French government wants more of its working population to head to work and back by bike. Here’s how they’re gearing up for the plan.

On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists
Photos: AFP

The stereotypical image of a Frenchman may be intrinsically tied to a bicycle as much as it is to a beret or a baguette, but the reality is very different. 

Only 3 out of every 100 workers in France commute by bike, with car driving being the primary means of transport for 70 percent of the working population.

On Friday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with the country’s Eco Transition Minister François de Rugy and Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne to try and curb that trend by unveiling the government’s brand-new bike plan.

The mission is to triple the number of cycling commuters in France in the next six years, up to 9 percent by 2024.

Here are the main points the French ministers will lay out in the western city of Angers on Friday:

Cycling lessons at school

France wants to rear a new generation of cyclists by making sure every child can learn to ride a bike at school if they don’t have the chance to at home.

The target is that all pupils know how to ride a bicycle by Sixième (6e), when school kids are 11. There won’t however be any funds for bike purchasing assistance for families.

More cycle paths

France’s government wants to enlist more budding cyclists by expanding the bike lane network nationwide.

The State will give a total of €350 million to French municipalities that “have bike paths interrupted by other road infrastructure”, such as ring roads, slip roads or any other road meant for bigger vehicles and which could pose a danger to cyclists. 

Less dangerous

Under the new bike plan it will become mandatory for all French municipalities to have clear bike markings on the road surface just before traffic lights, giving cyclists a safe place at which to stop and also acting as a warning for drivers.

Town halls will have ten years to comply to the measure and it will also be extended to municipal roads in towns where the speed is limited to 50 km/h.

Safer parking for bikes

Although unlikely to be enforced by law, France wants the country’s SNCF rail system to build secure parking for bikes at its stations. In fact, the government would like municipalities across l’Héxagone to follow suit, all in a bid to stop a longstanding problem in France: bike theft.

According to a 2017 study by France’s National Observatory of Delinquency and Criminal Responses yearly bike thefts have remained at roughly 400,000 for the past fifteen years.

A study by France’s Interior Ministry put the number at around 308,000 bike thefts in 2016, up from 248,000 in 2008, still clear evidence that bike theft in France is rife.

READ ALSO: Forget the Paris Velib' bikes chaos, there is an easy solution

Bike number plates

Another crime-stopping measure set to be unveiled is the introduction of number plates for bikes, or at the very least a clearly marked registration number that identifies the cyclist as the rightful owner.

According to France Info, the measure is focused primarily on the sale of professional bikes but can also apply to older second-hand bikes as well.

French police will have access to a record of these bike registration numbers when trying to catch thieves.

Bike expenses paid by employers

Cyclists will have the right to a transport expenses allowance paid for by their company, in the same way as commuters’ train, bus and petrol costs can be claimed back from their companies under the current indemnité transports en commun regulations.

The French government wants cycling to get the same treatment as other means of transport and will replace this new measure with the already existing bicycle mileage allowance.

This “sustainable mobility fee” will see commuters using bikes get up to €400 a year from their companies, whilst the government itself will also offer €200 packages to its workers.

SEE ALSO: Ten roads in France you just have to cycle


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What are the rules on taking your bike on the train in France?

The French government is keen to encourage cycling and has published a decree relating to bike commuting, but travelling on a train with a bike can still be quite complicated.

What are the rules on taking your bike on the train in France?
Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP

Can I commute with my bike? 

The French government is keen to encourage ‘multimode’ commuting – or people who cycle part of the way to work and take the train or bus for the rest.

On June 10th 2021, it published a decree which makes it mandatory for SNCF train stations and Paris’ RATP stations which have high numbers of passengers to provide secured parking spaces for bikes by 2024. This obligation concerns 1,133 train stations, which represent 37 percent of all train stations in France. 

How can I carry my bike on the train?

When it comes to taking a bike on longer train journeys, the rules vary depending on the type of train you are using. 

You can bring your bike, without having to disassemble it, on every TER (regional train) for free and without having to make a reservation, but keep in mind that space is limited. Since March 2021, every new trains or trains that are being renovated must have at least 8 spaces for bikes on board. 

Some TGVs (high-speed trains) and most Intercités (non high-speed national trains) offer a possibility to take your bike aboard, and in those where you can, you must make a reservation online or at the train station when you buy your ticket. 

THIS MAP allows you to check all the main long distance train lines that allow bikes on board.

When to take the train with your bike? 

In TERs, spaces for bikes are available on a first-come, first-served basis and cannot be booked, therefore it’s better not to travel during rush hours. 

You’ll find special information about when and how to travel with your bike on TGVs and Intercités on the SNCF website. 

How to reserve a spot for your bike?

For TERs, making a reservation is not possible. 

For TGVs and Intercités, if you want to travel with an assembled bike, you must make a reservation for a dedicated spot when you buy your ticket on the website . The price to add a bike on a TGV starts from 10€ and from 5€ on an Intercités. Adding a bike after you bought your ticket is not possible. 

Also, it’s important to note that you won’t be able to reserve a space for your bike when you  make a reservation from your phone on the app You can add a bike from your phone with the app Trainline

How to carry a disassembled bike?

You can carry your bike in every SNCF trains as long as it is disassembled in a bag which dimensions doesn’t exceed 90x120cm. In this case, it is considered hand luggage. 

Are trailers, tandems and cargo bikes allowed? 

Only regular bikes are accepted on trains. Carrying recumbent bikes, tricycles, tandems or trailers is not allowed. Only one train makes an exception during summer: the train Loire à Vélo, a train that goes from Nevers in the Center of France to the Atlantic Coast

Special info and tips if you want to travel by train with your bike this summer 

On the line Bretagne / TER : From June 7th to September 30th 2021, making a reservation for your bike to travel on a TER in the Bretagne région is mandatory. You will have to pay 3€ per bike and you can only reserve a ticket that includes a bike on the website

Travelling with the Train Loire à Vélo : This train that goes from the city of Orléans to Le Croisic on the Atlantic Coast is back on track. The ride is free and you don’t have to make a reservation for your bike. 

The Nouvelle-Aquitaine / La Vélodyssée service : In the Nouvelle Aquitaine region which includes Bordeaux and Biarritz, a special TER service with bikes allowed will be working from mid-July to August 2021. It will be free and without reservation, you can find some info on this map

On the line ViaRhôna / TER Lyon – Avignon : From July 3rd to September 19th, it will be possible to travel between the cities of Lyon and Avignon by train with your bike but only during week-ends and bank holidays. You must make a reservation and the price per bike will be of 3€.

La Véloscénie :  is a special itinerary for people who want to cycle between Paris and the Mont Saint-Michel and visit different places along the journey. From May to September the line from Paris to Pontorson Mont Saint-Michel embarks your bikes for free.