Discovering France by bike: instructions for use

Inspiration

Cycling Tourism

Paseo en bicicleta por La Vélodyssée, cerca de Saint-Jean-de-Monts, en la costa atlántica.
© La Vélodyssée / Pays de la Loire tourisme - Paseo en bicicleta por La Vélodyssée, cerca de Saint-Jean-de-Monts, en la costa atlántica.

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 25 October 2023

With 26,115 kilometres of cycle routes and greenways, France is the world's second most popular destination for cycle tourism. And the champion when it comes to inventing great escapes to discover nature, heritage and local delicacies. Climb the mountains of the Alps or the Pyrenees in the wake of the Tour de France, stroll along the banks of the Loire between châteaux and vineyards, pedal along the coast or explore towns and cities by bike... We explain how to organise your touring trip, cycle in town, and book suitable accommodation and services. Saddle up!


1. plan your cycling itinerary

Unless you want to pedal with your nose to the wind as and when you feel like it, it's best to organise your cycling trip in advance so that you can make the most of it. Whether it's a weekend, a day trip, a mountain bike tour, a route specially adapted for families or a long-distance tour, the France Vélo Tourisme website lists the various cycle routes available in France: Eurovélo routes, national cycle routes, greenways, cycle paths, etc. An interactive map and search engine enable you to find the route you're looking for. An interactive map and search engine allow you to choose your route (a loop or a one-way trip), depending on your technical level (beginner, family or experienced cyclist), duration or theme (châteaux and monuments, in the heart of vineyards, in the mountains or by the sea). The websites of the regional and departmental tourist boards are also full of information to help you plan your cycling trip!

Jessica Pommier / Mes Ptits Bouts du Monde
© Jessica Pommier / Mes Ptits Bouts du Monde

Take your own bike or hire one locally?

Each solution has its advantages. Cycling with your own bike is reassuring for experienced cyclists, but it has to be transported. Hiring a bike is more suitable if you don't want to worry about transport or if this is your first experience of travelling by bike.

Travelling with a bike

By train The train is the most practical mode of transport for cycle tourists. Some TGV lines have spaces reserved for bicycles that have not been dismantled, as do "Ouigo classic trains" (€10 supplement) and Intercités trains (€5 to €10) and Intercités night trains (€10). Booking is compulsory on these lines. Reservations are not compulsory on most TER lines (with some exceptions). It is also possible to travel with a folded or dismantled bicycle on the TGV Inoui and Intercités lines (at no extra charge) and on the Ouigo Grande vitesse and Ouigo train classique lines (booking required, with an extra charge of €5). The bicycle must be placed in a cover measuring no more than 90 x 130 cm. Recumbents, tricycles, tandems and trailers are not permitted. During the summer (from June to September or in July/August), special services are available on trains to increase capacity for transporting bicycles. Travelling by train with a bicycle

By bus Some bus companies accept bicycles, such as Flixbus, on condition that they are packed or placed in covers (extra charge of 9 euros), or BlaBlaCar Bus (in a cover, with a maximum weight of 23 kg). It is generally possible to transport bicycles by air, although each airline has its own rules (weight, size, pricing, etc.). Travelling by Flixbus coach with your bike Travelling by BlaBlaCar bus with your bike

By boat You can also travel by boat, usually on ferries, but also in summer on boats or ferries between the mainland and the islands (check with the shipping companies beforehand). For a nice roaming tour, you can also opt to hire a barge, especially with your family. It's an ideal way of combining a soft mobility trip with cycling!

Hire a bike

You can book a "one way" hire (you hire the bike in one place and return it in another) from a number of hire companies, particularly on certain cycle routes.

  • Good to know: whether you choose to travel with your own bike or hire one, you can use luggage transport services (Bicybags, La Malle Postale, BagaFrance, Loire Vélo Nature, Bag Transfert, DeliverBag, etc.).

Book accommodation, restaurants and other dedicated services

To travel by bike in optimum conditions, cycle tourists can use service providers with the "Accueil Vélo" label, all of which are listed on the France Vélo Tourisme website. More than 7,000 are listed: accommodation, restaurants, cycle hire and repair services, tourist offices and tourist sites. These businesses make a number of commitments: they must be located less than 5 kilometres from a cycle route, have facilities for cyclists (secure bike shelter, repair kit, plug for recharging, etc.), provide dedicated services (luggage transfer, washing and drying of clothes, bike washing, etc.) and offer a personalised welcome to cyclists (advice, weather, itineraries, etc.). The accommodation listed includes campsites, guest houses, hotels, unusual accommodation, self-catering cottages, etc. A community platform offers (with a subscription fee for the first year) home-stay accommodation for cyclists, and the Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme also lists the best places to stay. Find a restaurant close to cycle routes Search for "cycle-friendly" accommodation near cycle routes


2. Cycle routes in France

Balade à vélo le long du littoral de Bretagne.
© cloetclem - Balade à vélo le long du littoral de Bretagne.

In France, each region offers an infinite number of routes to explore by bike, mountain bike or electric bike, as well as long-distance routes combining véloroutes and "voies vertes" (greenways) to discover the natural riches and heritage of the region: The Loire à vélo, along the king of rivers and his châteaux, the ViaRhôna, from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, the Vélodyssée, from the Basque country to Brittany or the Vélomaritime from Hauts-de-France to Finistère... Depending on your state of fitness and your desires, you can cycle part or all of them, unless you want to emulate the Tour de France riders and embark on a grand loop! Gourmets can also take advantage of the cycling and cheese routes: over 8,000 kilometres of routes and 1,500 cheese-making sites to cycle and enjoy!

Some not-to-be-missed cycle routes : La Loire à Vélo en Val de Loire the ViaRhôna from the Alps to Provence the Vélodyssée from Brittany to the Basque Country the Vélomaritime from Hauts-de-France to Brittany via Normandy

In towns and cities, cycling is a great way to get from one tourist site to another and around the surrounding area. Numerous improvements have been made in recent years to make French towns and cities even more accessible to cycle tourists, and the network of dedicated lanes is constantly expanding. All the major cities and many medium-sized towns have public bicycles available for hire (including long-term hire) at stations, based on the Vélib' model installed in the Paris region (1,443 stations in Paris and the surrounding area) and in 61 communes, with a fleet of almost 20,000 bicycles, 40% of which are electric (€1 for the first 30 minutes, €2 for each additional 30 minutes). Apps such as Weelo or Lime can also be used to hire electrically-assisted bicycles based on location. As well as the themed cycle tours and other bike treasure hunts on offer in Paris and many other major French cities, there are also long-distance routes such as the véloroutes that criss-cross the cities: in Paris, for example, you can cycle the Scandibérique route linking Belgium to Spain!

4. Learning the rules of road safety

Before taking your first turn on the pedal, it's vital to know the rules of road safety, especially in town where cyclists share space with pedestrians, motorised two-wheelers and cars. On the French road safety website, visitors can consult a few tips for good cycling behaviour and download a full information leaflet.

  • Good to know: helmets must be worn by children under the age of 12, whether drivers or passengers, and the use of devices likely to emit sound (earphones, earpieces, headphones) is prohibited on pain of a fine of €135. It is advisable to wear light colours, a hazard marker to prevent motorists from approaching, rear-view mirrors and trouser clips. Outside built-up areas, cyclists and their passengers must wear a certified retro-reflective jacket at night and in poor visibility.

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