Cycling in France

Mon, May 13, 2013


Cycling is a French national pasttime. The country may not have as many cycleways as the Netherlands, but cycle touring has been part of French life since the bicycle was invented. Just watch the fervour that springs up each year for the biggest sporting event in the country, the Tour de France. Combined with the impeccable cuisine and hospitality across the country, and it’s hard to imagine a better country for cycling holidays.

France is quite accommodating to cyclists. Drivers on French country roads all know to watch for cyclists on the weekend, from packs of speed cyclists riding ultra-lightweight bikes to individuals and families out for a ride. It’s not uncommon for French drivers to find themselves sharing the road with groups either preparing for or participating in local bike races and championships… and this is all year round.

During the summertime, the local cyclists share the roadways with long distance touring cyclists, either tourists riding hotel to hotel or traveling across the country loaded down with camping equipment.

Taking Bikes on French Trains

French trains are generally bike-friendly. Most regional express trains (TERs) allow people to take their bikes onto the train and do it free of charge. In theory, bike space on the train must be ordered when you buy your ticket, but this service is not available if you buy online. For rural train routes, most people just buy their tickets at the station from which they’re departing, buying a ticket for the next train out and indicating at the time of purchase that they have a bike with them. Fortunately, TERs are rarely full — except for commuter trains.

Intercity express trains and TGV high speed trains are somewhat more confusing for the cyclist. Some of these trains take bikes, and some don’t. Of the trains that do, some charge extra. Almost all of the long distance trains that take bikes have relatively little bike space. Some travel guides therefore suggest you buy a bike bag, so that you can carry your bike like hand luggage and make it count as ordinary luggage. That way, you can always buy your tickets on the Internet before you travel.

Where to Ride

Cycling holidays in France generally make use of the incredible network of country lanes and secondary roads. Almost all of France’s 880,000 km road network (excluding motorways) is open to bicycle riders. Most of that network consists of minor byways that have very light traffic and lorries quite few and far between. Cycling these roads ranges from safe to quite safe, making them a great way to plan cycling holidays all over France.

France also has a constantly developing cycleway network that’s even safer than the minor road network. The cycleway network consists of a few thousand kilometers worth of dedicated cycle tracks, most offering no hazards besides wildlife and pedestrians.

There are six substantially complete long distance routes that make for superb cycling holidays in France, and a few that connect with them:

- the Euro veloroute EV1 running north south from La Baule to Biarritz
- the Euro veloroute EV6 running east west from La Baule to Orleans
- the Atlantic-Mediterranean route from Arachon to Sète
- the Northwest France route from Cherbourg to La Baule
- the North-South Cherbourg to la Rochelle route
- the Normandy / Channel coast route

These should by no means be considered the only routes to take, but they are some of the most popular.

CC Velocia

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