Biking in France and cycling tours of the countryside
Seeing the French countryside at the pace of pedal power is one of the best ways to appreciate the pace of life in the Olde World, and to see the kind of small villages and hamlets that feel straight out of a storybook.
D.I.Y. France by bike: Transporting and renting bicycles in France
You can rent bikes at private agencies in just about any city or town.
Avid cyclists who plan to tour a whole region by bike, however, will probably want to bring their own bicycle.
Some airlines charge extra to bring a bike; many count it as one of your pieces of checked luggage. Either way, your bicycle must be properly boxed—remove the pedals and front wheel; buy the box at a bike shop or the airport for around $10 (here's a good article on the best way to pack a bike for the plane ride).
You can bring your bike onto most French trains, sometimes for free, sometimes with a supplement. Some trains require advance reservations for your bike. It's best to make a reservation for a ticket along with your bike. Here's how:
- Use the French version of the official SCNF site: Oui.sncf
- Enter your stations/dates—but do NOT click the big "Rechercher" button to search. Instead, click on the little "+ de critères" line to the right of that button.
- Scroll down the new, more in-depth booking screen, just past the section about the passagers. You will see the line "NOUVEAU ! Voyagez avec votre vélo!" (Presumably, at some point they will drop the "NOUVEAU!" bit.) Click this.
- Tick the box next to "Je voyage avec mon vélo."
- If you are bringing your fully assembled bike on the train, that's it. It's time to click the Rechercher button.
- (If for some reason you are traveling with it parly dismantled or folded in a box, select the second radio button on the two choices below, the one that reads "1 vélo(s) plié(s) ou démonté(s) et rangé(s) dans une housse.")
Neophytes might want to try a short trip at home first to learn the basics and figure out the essential gear. Perhaps the best way to do it the first time is to hook up with a cycling tour:
Cycling tours of France
There are two basic types of bike tours:
- Escorted tours - The company provides everything: Bikes, accommodations, sag wagon, guide, and usually meals. You provide the pedaling and the enjoyment.
- Self-guided/Supported tours - You pedal yourself from country inn to village B&B, but a host provides the bikes, daily itineraries, and accommodation reservations (usually), as well as a sag wagon takes care of luggage transfers. Sometimes it's just you and your friends/family; other times there are others following the same itinerary in a sort of loose group.
The links below can hook you up with dozens of tour outfitters—as well as provide general useful intel—whether you are interested in a one-day bike trip or a multi-day cycling tour.