By Maggie LaCoste
What type of bike should you take/rent for a bicycling trip to France?
The answer to this question depends on the type of trip that you have in mind. Will you be cycling mainly on primary and secondary roads or will you be traveling along canals, towpaths, voie verte and veloroute? Is your goal to cover a lot of miles or are you a recreational cyclist interested in casual cycling and sightseeing by bike? When will you be traveling and is it likely you will encounter rain? Are you planning to carry your own bags, be based out of one location and take day trips, or arrange for baggage transfer? Your answer to each of these questions will determine the type of bike you should consider for your trip.
Road surfaces vary tremendously throughout France, depending on the itinerary. The routes that I write about cover surfaces ranging from local paved roadways, to gravel and dirt paths, sand covered paths, pebble and stone paths and cobblestone paths. Often you’ll encounter several of these surfaces on one itinerary. Here are some examples of route surfaces:
When you are doing your bike trip planning, make sure you know what kind of surface you will be biking on. Last fall, we encountered a group riding the Burgundy Canal on road bikes. They were miserable and ended up riding a large part of the route on the highways because the dirt and pebble bike path was brutal on the skinny tires. Biking on the highway is whole different experience than being on a car-free bike path.
If you are a serious cycling enthusiast planning to do some serious bike riding in France, such as the Tour de France route, you are probably going to want to bring along your own road bike. Planning to rent a gite for the week and spend the days training for a triathalon? You’ll probably want to do it with your own road bike. If you have a $3,000-$10,000 road bike it probably isn’t an unreasonable expense to spend $300-$400 roundtrip to transport your bike. And for those not interested in the complications of transporting their own road bike, the good news is that more and more rental companies in France rent road bikes, especially in Southern France.
For those of us who are recreational cyclists primarily interested in leisurely exploring the French countryside, a hybrid bike is the probably the best choice. With wider tires for better traction on dirt and stone paths as well as on wet pavement, hybrids combine the best features of road bike and mountain bike features, and are well-suited to recreational cyclists. While not built for speed like road bikes, they are more light weight than mountain bikes, so enable you to cover good distances daily. Flat handlebars enable riders to sit more upright and a wide range of gears also help riders manage changes in road elevation. Basically hybrids are comfortable and make traveling by bike enjoyable for people of all ages.
Planning to carry your own baggage in panniers? A hybrid or similar bike will be your choice. If you bring your road bike, you will need to arrange for luggage transfer or just plan on taking day rides from one central location.
Bottom line, with a little bit of upfront planning and research into your route and the road surfaces on your itinerary, you can be sure that you make the right decision for your upcoming cycling vacation!