Cyclists at Grand Galibier pass
About-France.com

      Cycling in France

About-France.com
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A guide to cycling in France; the opportunities, the main long-distance cycle routes,  the highway code for cyclists, and other practical information.



Loire valley cycleway
Loire valley cycleway

Cycling by the Canal du Midi
Cycle trail beside the Canal du Midi, in Languedoc

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Essential English-French cycling vocabulary

  • Bicycle : un vélo
  • Bicycle pump: une pompe à vélo
  • Breaks : les freins
  • Butterfly nut: un écrou papillon
  • Chain: la chaine
  • Gears: les vitesses
  • Handlebars : le guidon
  • Inner tube: une chambre à air
  • Light: une lampe
  • Mudguard : un pare-boue
  • Pedals: les pédales
  • Pump: une pompe
  • Pump up: gonfler
  • Puncture: une crevaison
        I've got a puncture: j'ai crevé
  • Saddle: la selle
  • Spanner: une clé
  • Spokes: les rayons
  • Springs: ressorts
  • To tighten: serrer
  • Tyre: le pneu
  • Wheel: la roue

Cycle lanes in Paris
Cycle lanes on a Paris street



Going further:

Sign on Euro Veloroute


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Cycleway marker in Vendée

Cycleway markers in eastern and western France



Descent from the Grand Galibier pass
Descending from the Grand Galibier pass



France - a cycle-friendly country

On this page Cycling in France Cycling on secondary roads Long-distance cycle routes Cycling in the Alps Highway code for cyclists in France
    This page is for pedal-cyclists, and does not concern motorcycling.

France on two wheels

While France is certainly not as cycle-friendly as the Netherlands, and some parts of the country are distinctly lacking in dedicated cycle ways, cycling has a place close to the heart of many Frenchmen - witness the degree of national fervour aroused by the country's biggest annual sporting event, the Tour de France.

Atlantic cycleway France
Leisurely cycling on the Atlantic cycleway, western France  
    At weekends in France, drivers on country roads know that it is advisable to look our for cyclists - either bunches of speed-cyclists on sleek bicycles preparing for or taking part in local races or championships; or just individual cyclists or families out for an afternoon ride. That is common all year round. In the summer months, local cyclists are joined on the roads and cycle-ways by an ever increasing number of international cycle-tourists, making the most of the opportunities that France offers for long-distance rides or circuits.

Bikes on trains in France

   It is worth noting that cycles can be taken free of charge on many trains in France, notably on most "TERs", the regional express trains that cover the whole network; bike space must in theory be ordered when buying your ticket – but according to the French train company SNCF this service is not available online. On rural routes, the most common practice is to buy your ticket at the station for the next train - indicating that you have a bicycle. TERs are not usually full, except for commuter services.
    The situation with regard to intercity expresses and TGVs is confused. Some take bikes for free, others charge; most of those that accept bikes have only limited space, and others don't take bikes at all.
    The safest solution is perhaps to buy a lightweight bike bag in which you can carry your bike as hand luggage; bike bags count as ordinary  luggage, and there is no charge, and no reservation needed. This way, you can safely buy all your tickets in advance from  SNCF's online international ticketing website Rail Europe .

Byways

     By far the largest opportunity for relaxed cycle-tourism in France is provided by the country's vast network of secondary roads and country lanes. France has some 880,000 km (550,000 miles) of roads - excluding motorways - and almost all of this network is open to cyclists. The vast majority of this road network is composed of very minor byways, where vehicle traffic is very light, and lorries few and far between. Cycling conditions on these roads are generally safe to very safe, meaning that cycling holidays can be planned throughout the country.

The main dedicated and marked cycleways in France

Map of main cycleways in France    However, even safer than the minor road network is the constantly developing network of  long-distance cycleways which - if it can not yet be said to criss-cross France - does now offer a couple of thousand kilometres of  dedicated tracks where the most serious hazards are likely to come in the form of jay-walking pedestrian hikers or wandering wildlife.
   The map on the left shows the six most substantially complete long-distance cycle routes in France today - plus a few other routes that connect with them. As the map shows, it is possible to travel safely by bicycle using marked and often dedicated cycle routes from the Channel to the Mediterranean, and from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or to the German border. See below for essential route information.

The six most substantially complete long-distance cycle routes in France

Terminology:
Cycle-way
: marked bicycle route either on dedicated way or on minor byways.
Veloroute
: or "Voie verte": dedicated cycle route with smooth tarred surface.
Hard surface: graded compacted hard surface - smooth cycling, but not suitable for rollers.
Unsurfaced : usually a rural track or towpath with old gravel surface.

Major long-distance cycle routes in France Brief description of the route
North-south route (blue):
Euro veloroute EV1.
Atlantic coast cycle route
Route (Roscoff) La Baule to Biarritz.
An almost uninterrupted dedicated cycle way from La Baule, at the mouth of the Loire, to Biarritz.  South of the Gironde, in the region of Aquitaine, the route is almost entirely a tarred veloroute. The most complete long-distance cycle route in France.
East-west route (red):
Euro veloroute EV6.
Loire - Danube cycle route
Almost complete cycle-way from La Baule at the mouth of the Loire to Orleans. Hard surface. Some gaps in the Loire valley between Orleans and Digoin. Almost complete from Digoin to Strasbourg, via Besançon and Doubs valley. Following rivers and canals, much of the EV6 is on former towpaths or levees.
East-west route (violet):
Atlantic-Mediterranean route
Route: Atlantic coast to Mediterranean coast.
Tarred dedicated veloroutes from Arcachon or Lacanau on the Atlantic, almost to Langon s-e of Bordeaux. Then tarred veloroute - "Voie verte du Canal du Midi" to Montferrand, 49 km southeast of Toulouse. After that the route follows the surfaced or unsurfaced canal towpath to near Sète, on the Mediterranean.
Northwest-France (green)
Normandy and Brittany cycle route
Route: from Cherbourg via Coutances, Mont St. Michel, Dinan, Loudéac and the Nantes-Brest canal, to Roscoff or Brest. Over half of this is on dedicated hard-surface cycleways, the rest on tracks or minor roads. Connects with the north-south tarred veloroute from Mauron to Questembert, and via a mix of dedicated routes and byways with La Baule, for EV1 and EV6.
North-south route (orange)
Cherbourg to la Rochelle
Route: Cherbourg, St Lo, Domfront, Laval, Angers, Saumur, Parthenay, Niort. About half of this is on dedicated hard-surface cycle routes, the rest - notably south of the Loire - on marked cycleways.
Normandy (sky blue):
Channel-coast cycleroute
Route:  From Fort-Mahon plage 50 miles southwest of Calais, via Dieppe and Fécamp to Le Havre.
Marked cycleways mostly on small byways. Plenty of hills.
More information: French association for Veloroutes -  website

Cycling in the French Alps

The French Alps attract cyclists from all over the world. There are those who just wish to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Alps at slow speed; and there are those who come to relive the exploits of the great mountain stages of the Tour de France - also at a slower speed.
  Unfortunately for cyclists, the Alps also attract large numbers of motorists during the warmer seasons (June to September) when all Alpine passes are open to traffic.
    For those just wanting to enjoy the alpine scenery, there are plenty of bike hire facilities (notably mountain bike hire) in resorts and other towns and villages all over the Alps. Cycling can be a great way to enjoy the Alps, as long as you stay clear of the busy through routes

Col d'Izoard
The col d'Izoard, in the Queyras regional park  
   For those in search of an enjoyable and quite strenuous Alpine cycle tour, About-France.com recommends the southern half of the French Alps, where there tends to be less traffic on the roads than in the more developed Savoy Alps. The following four or five day itinerary largely avoids the busiest Alpine routes. While climbs of up to 1200 metres (days 2 to 5) can be undertaken by reasonably fit cyclotourists carrying paniers and even very lightweight camping equipment, the climb from St.Michel de Maurienne to Grand Galibier should not be attempted on touring bikes carrying luggage – or at least, certainly not in a single day. 

Serious cycling: Alpine pass cycle tour: St. Michel de Maurienne to Grasse - 325 kilometres

  • Stage 1 Starting at Saint Michel de Maurienne, altitude 700 metres, (easy access by train from Paris via Chambéry), there is a 35 km climb, via the Col du Télégraphe and Valloire, to the Col du Grand Galibier at 2642 metres; but be warned, this is serious cycling. The climb can be broken into two days, with an overnight stop at Valloire (altitude 1400 metres). However, the descent from Grand Galibier pass to Briancon is free-wheeling most of the way.   Accommodation :  Saint Michel - Valloire    Briançon
  • Stage 2 From Briançon (altitude 1160 metres – train station ), the route heads up over the stunningly beautiful Col d'Izoard, at 2361 metres. This climb, a "mere" 1200 metre ascent, is considerably less strenuous than the 2100 metres of combined ascent from Saint Michel de Maurienne to Grand Galibier. From the Col d'Izoard, the route drops down amid spectacular scenery, to the small town of Guillestre, at an altitude of 867 metres.
    Accommodation :     Guillestre
  • Stage 3 South from Guillestre, the route takes riders over another high pass, the Col de Vars at 2109 metres altitude, then down via Saint Paul Ubaye, to Barcelonette, at an altitude of 1100 metres.  There is no train station at Barcelonette.
    Accommodation :  Barcelonnette
  • Stage 4:  After Barcelonette, the next climb is a 17.5 km climb to the Col d'Allos, at a height of 2250 metres. On Friday mornings in July and August, the road up to the Col d'Allos from Barcelonette is closed to motorised vehicles, and given over entirely to cyclists. From the top, the route then goes down the beautiful Val d'Allos and the high valley of the Verdon, to Saint André les Alpes, where there are train connections to Digne or Nice by the Chemin de Fer de Provence (4 trains a day - timetable).
    Accommodation Saint André les Alpes   Castellane
  • Stage 5: For those wanting another day's cycling, albeit rather less strenuous, after a night at Saint André les Alpes or Castellane, the last day's cycling can take in either the Col de Clavel, at a lowly 1080 metres, or the Col de Valferrière,  at a slightly less lowly 1163 metres. The former is on the route between Castellane and Draguignan (73 km), the latter on the road from Castellane to Grasse (63 km). The train station at Draguignan les Arcs is on the main line between Paris, Marseille and Nice; the station at Grasse is on a branch line with regular trains to Nice.
  • Accommodation Grasse


Highway code for cyclists in France.

NB. The lines below are given solely for information, and are valid at the time of writing. They do not constitute an exhaustive list of all laws and rules governing riding a bicycle in France, and may in time be changed..
  • To be roadworthy, bicycles must be equipped with a bell, fully functioning brakes, and after dark with reflectors and front and rear lights.  
  • The wearing of cyclists' crash helmets  is not compulsory in France, but is strongly advised.  Cyclists must also wear a high-visibility waistcoat if cycling after dark outside urban areas.
  • In urban streets, cyclists must use the marked cycle lanes where these exist.
  • Cyclists must obey traffic signs and signals in the same way as other road users; this includes respecting  "no entry", "one way"  and "stop" signs.  
  • Like cars, cyclists riding behind each other on a roadway are obliged to keep a safe distance between them. Cyclists may ride two-abreast, but only during hours of daylight. At night, single file cycling is obligatory.
  • Drinking and cycling: cyclists are subject to the same alcohol limits as other road users. Cycling while under the influence of alcohol can lead to a hefty fine, the impounding of the cycle, and/or the withdrawal of the cyclist's vehicle licence if he/she has one.


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