Bicycle riding is practically the French national sport. France may not have quite as many cycleways as there are in the Netherlands, but bicycling has been a part of French life ever since the first bicycle rolled out of a workshop. Just watch the excitement that surrounds France’s biggest sporting event, the Tour de France. Combine this with France’s incredible cuisine and impeccable hospitality, and it’s hard to imagine there being a better country for cycling holidays.
France is a very accommodating country for the cyclist. Just about every driver on France’s many country roads knows to look for cyclists during the weekend — from packs of ultra-lightweight bicycle riding speed-cyclists to families and individual s just out for a ride. French drivers often find themselves sharing the roadway with bicycle groups that are either preparing for or even participating in France’s many local cycle races and championships…that’s life all year round.
Come summertime, the local bicyclists are joined by hordes of long distance touring cyclists — many tourists that ride hotel to hotel, and others serious travelers that load down their bikes with camping equipment.
How to Take Your Bicycle on French Trains
Most French trains are bicycle-friendly. Regional express trains, or TERs, generally let people bring their bike on board for free. In theory, you have to order bike space when you buy your ticket. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible if you buy your ticket online.
For rural train routes, that means most people tend to buy tickets when they’re at the station. They just buy a ticket on the next train, indicating when they buy the ticket that they’re bringing a bike. TERs are fortunately only rarely full — with the exception of commuter trains.
For the bicycle tourist, the intercity express and TGV high speed trains can be a little more confusing. Some of them allow bicycles, and some of them don’t. Some of the ones that allow bikes charge extra. Of the long distance trains that take bikes, almost all have very little bike space.
To get around this problem, some travel guides suggest buying a bike bag that will let you count your bicycle as ordinary luggage. That way, you’ll always be able to buy your tickets in advance.
Where to Ride in France
Most cycling holidays in France use the country’s incredible network of secondary roads and country lanes. Almost the entire 880,000km worth of France’s road network (except for motorways) is open to bicyclists. Most of that 880,000km is minor byways with very light traffic and trucks few and far between. Riding your bicycle on these roads is either safe or very safe, so they’re a great way to plan a cycling holiday all around France.
France also has a network of cycleways that’s constantly being developed. Even safer than the network of minor roads, the network of cycleways consists of several thousand kilometers of dedicated cycling tracks. Most offer no hazards more severe than wildlife or pedestrians.
France contains six substantially complete routes for long distance cycling, with a few routes connecting to them:
– EV1 (Euro veloroute 1) that runs north-south from Biarritz to La Baule
– EV6 east-west from Orleans to La Baule
– an Atlantic-Mediterranean route running from Sète to Arachon
– a Northwest France route from La Baule to Cherbourg
– a North-South route from Cherbourg to la Rochelle
– a Channel coast / Normandy route
Don’t consider these the routes the only ones you should take, but they are the most popular.
To Sum Up
Between France’s bike-friendly culture, bike-friendly trains, bike-friendly road network, and long-distance dedicated bike roads, it’s hard to beat France as a place for a cycling vacation.