Tandems and French trains

Cycle-touring, Expeditions, Adventures, Major cycle routes NOT LeJoG (see other special board)
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Tandems and French trains

Postby Brantome » 15 Jul 2010, 11:18am

We've just got back from a ride from the Dordogne to the Med, returning to Périgueux by train.
I initially thought I'd cracked the problem of transporting our tandem by using the French luggage in advance system (which was advertised on the SNCF website) only to find when I tried to book it that the service had been discontinued for bikes on 1st April. As all the other arrangements had been made and we were doing the ride with 4 (or as it turned out 3) solo riders, we bit the bullet and ordered a Thorn Raven (Rohloff hub) with S&S couplings. All £3,200 of it (with a few extras like tungsten carbide rims).
Bikes cost 10€ on the leg in a "Corail" train from Sète to Bordeaux and I booked the tandem on as 2 bikes to make sure. There's a picture on the SNCF website of the bike arrangements - a hook for the front wheel and a V-shaped holder for the back wheel. I calculated that for the rear half of the tandem, if the rear wheel was hung on the hook, the front chainwheel would be about where the back wheel would be on a solo. I therefore I planned to use a bit of high-density foam as padding and a luggage elastic to hold the bike in place. The front half (much shorter) wouldn't reach the "rear wheel" holder and I planned to fix this to the back half with another elastic and more foam padding. The foam rolled up very small, weighed nothing and fitted on the rear rack. This all went more or less according to plan, although the train only stopped at Sète for a couple of minutes, we had the tandem and 3 solos to sort out and the train was already packed to the gunwales (I don't recommend doing this on the first Saturday of the French school holidays). There was a problem getting the back wheel over the hook to hang it up - there wasn't enough clearance above the hook - on the main bike racks but luckily there was a single hook mounted a bit lower. I'll carry something like a toe strap next time. Also, I would only pay for one bike next time, lashing the front half underneath the back as I did on the next train. In fact no-one checked that we'd paid for the bikes and there were more bikes than spaces for them.
The next rain from Bordeaux to Périgueux was a "TER" (smaller and slower) and bikes were carried free in a special area (big bike logo on the door window). This train had the same sort of hook arrangement and this time the rear wheel fitted fine. To save space I just slid the front half underneath the hanging rear half and lashed it with an elastic. No problems.
We also in fact travelled from Agde to Sète along the Med (about 12 miles) by train as the main road was closed to bikes and we couldn't face the long and unpleasant alternative (it was about 33 degrees C). This was another TER with no special bike accommodation. We just piled into a passenger compartment and got in people's way, but no-one seemed to mind on the short journey.
The tandem proved to be very quick and easy to separate (but remember to disconnect the cables...) and only slightly awkward to put back together (lining up the couplings is a bit of a pain).
So we now have a tandem that really can go on trains and should open up many more touring options.

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Re: Tandems and French trains

Postby boblo » 15 Jul 2010, 11:49am

Bl00dy 'ell, £3k just to use French trains....

We booked our tandem on the TGV from Montpellier to Calais last year. BEWARE, there are two types of TGV rolling stock:

Oui Tandem and

Non Tandem

Predictably, our train had 'Non Tandem'. The luggage car (at the back of the train) is different in each case and even though I'd checked double checked and confirmed we would be OK, the train guard would not let us on.

We rented a car and drove in the end, next time we'll fly. Crappy Jet take tandems (or have without any grief in the past) and fly down that way. I'll trouser the £3k and spend it on something really important :-) Nice way to avoid ending up with a Thorn as well :lol:

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Re: Tandems and French trains

Postby Brantome » 15 Jul 2010, 1:58pm

My information is that NO French trains take tandems (officially). Eurostar in theory will take one if you can get the length down to under 2 metres (front wheel off?).
We flew the previous tandem to Nice 2 years ago by EasyJet. They were a bit funny about it at Luton but accepted it. However they bent a chainwheel and nearly ruined a tour of Corsica.
And I'd been wheedling for a new tandem for some time - seemed a good excuse!

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Re: Tandems and French trains

Postby ConRAD » 15 Jul 2010, 9:53pm

TER Dole-Besançon, 11-JULY-2010: simply another option :mrgreen:


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Re: Tandems and French trains

Postby twowheels42 » 4 Dec 2010, 12:07pm

Very interesting posts chaps but any ideas how you get to St Pancras from Yorkshire without uncoupling the bike to get on board Eurostar (other than Cycling down) as I understand none of our carriers take Tandems into the Capital.
We flew with Ryannair £50 return 18 mnths ago for Tandem, booked on as 1 bike as their booking system does not differenciate between 1Tandem or 1 Solo ie only 1/2/3 etc "bike/s" for Fuertaventura return as we have the SS couplings also did Tenerife the same way the year before (it was £25 then !!).