Cycling in France: Quality Bike Rental Becoming Easier

Finding a reputable place to rent a quality bike is one of my first steps in planning a trip to France.  Fifteen years ago we always took our own bikes to Europe.  It was inexpensive and necessary, as there were very few places back then to rent bikes.  Since September 11, transporting bicycles overseas has become increasingly more difficult and expensive.

Major changes in airline checked baggage regulations and the airlines’ quest for lucrative baggage fees has created an environment very unfriendly to bicyclists.  The current fees to transport a bike at 5 of the top airlines range from $150 for American and Delta, to $200 for US Air and United, to $285 for Air France.  That’s each way, per person!  If you are a preferred member on one of these airlines, there may (or may not) be a reduction in fees, but you won’t know for sure until you’re at the airport checking in your bags.  If you do get a reduction departing from the States, it’s extremely unlikely that you will receive a reduction on your return trip from France.

If you are a world class cyclist or a triathlete traveling overseas to compete, the cost and the effort of taking your own bike may well be worth the effort, but for the rest of us, it’s just not worth it. Traveling by plane with your bike is a hassle, a worry and a great way to ruin the start of a perfect vacation.  I would much rather rent a bike in France any day.

Fortunately new bike rental services are springing up in major cities along popular routes throughout France, providing great equipment and services to visitors wishing to explore France by bike.  An increasing number offer pick up and drop off services, luggage transfer, and other services designed to make your bicycling vacation in France easy and enjoyable.  The following details some of the newer services, as well as some of my favorites from past trips.

Three companies are setting the standard in France for making bicycling easy, even for a first time bicyclist:  Detours de Loire, VeliBourgogne and BagTransfert.  The first two have a business model that provides easy pick up/drop off capability for cyclists:  the well-established Detours de Loire with 20 locations along the Loire, and newcomer Veli Bourgogne with more than a dozen locations along the Burgundy Canal.  The pick up/drop off services offered by these companies, together with great train service along each route makes it easy and effortless for cyclists to enjoy a weekend or longer vacation along these popular routes.  The third company, BagTransfert provides bag transfer services along the Burgundy Canal.  More cyclotourists are certain to choose one of these itineraries because these services make renting and returning bikes and getting luggage from one location to the next easy.  Here are some details on these companies:

Detours de Loire

I have rented from this company numerous times and it is my favorite bike rental agency along the Loire.  The main office is located within walking distance of the Tours train station.  The company has divided the Loire into 20 zones and you can pick up and drop off your bike in any zones.  For example, if you want to start your trip in Nantes, you can pick the bike up there, and return it in Tours, seven zones away.  The drop off fee is 8 Euro for the first zone and 2 Euro for each additional zone, over and above the cost of your bike rental.

This drop off service makes it very easy to plan your trip as you don’t need to worry about doubling back to return your bike.  It saves time, giving you more time to explore by bike.  Trek bikes are available for pick up only in the following locations:  Blois, Tours and Saumur and may also be arranged in other locations.  The company offers other services ranging from baggage transfer to self-guided tours in the Loire region to wine excursions in the Loire Valley.  Bike rentals are available from May 1 to September 30.  Inquiries are handled by Candice who speaks perfect English and is a wonderful resource for questions on the region.  For further information, you can reach her at contact-detours@orange.fr.  It is possible to use a credit card to pay for bike rental services.

veliBourgogne

Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal has become a lot more attractive in the last year   thanks to a new bike rental service from Veli Bourgogne.  You can now pick up/drop off your bicycle at one of 16 locations along the Burgundy Canal including Migennes, Montbard and Dijon.  

VeliBourgogne rents Giant all-terrain bikes which are very well suited to the dirt and gravel packed roads along the canal.   The rate for a three day weekend rental picking up Friday and returning on Sunday is 45 Euro.  A seven day rental is 99 Euro.  I have been advised by Laurent Richoux that plans are underway for an English version of the website in 2013.  For the time being you will need to use Google Translate to use the site, but the  service they offer are well worth any extra effort!

BagTransfert

In case you need another reason to choose the Burgundy Canal for an upcoming bicycling vacation, BagTransfert could be it!  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to compare bicycling 50 km with full panniers, and 50 km with no panniers, you’ll understand why BagTransfert is such a great service!  Regardless of whether you will be biking along the canal for a weekend or a week, touring along the canal is more enjoyable and relaxing with the easy-to-use luggage transfer service offered by BagTransfert.  This company has offered luggage transfer services for its private customers for over 10 years, so you can be sure that your bags are in good hands.

With panniers

Without panniers

Bags can be transported between the following cities along the Canal:  Migennes, Brienon, Auxerre, Tonnere, St. Florentin, Thunder, Ancy, Montbard, Venarey, Semur, Flavigny, Pouilly, Vandeness, Dijon, Beaune, Santenay, as well as many intermediate villages.  Luggage can be transported to hotels, B and B’s, private homes, campgrounds as well as local tourist offices, which is nice in case you don’t have a reservation yet for the night!

The luggage transfer service is available from May 1 to August 31 and is very easy to use.  Just go to the website, www.bagtransfert.com, and make your reservation by 5:oo p.m. the night before.  Provide the pickup and drop off locations and date of transfer. Pay for the luggage transfer online, in advance with Visa or Mastercard.  You will receive a bag tag to place on your luggage.  Leave your bag at the pick up location by 9:00 a.m. and it will be delivered to your destination by 5:00 p.m.  It is also possible to arrange for transfers in advance before leaving the States by contacting Laurent Richoux at info@bagtransfert.com and providing him with your itinerary and your credit card information. Laurent speaks great English and is very quick to respond to inquiries.  The cost of this service is 8 Euro per bag, there is a minimum requirement of 2 bags and there is a 20% discount for families and groups.  To me, this is one of the best bargains on the Burgundy Canal and it is a service that I would love to have on other major itineraries in France.

Bike Rental France

If you want to rent a road bike for an upcoming trip to Southern France, Bike Rental France is definitely a company that you should take a look at.  A partnership between Arnaud, a mechanic and Philippe, a former competitive cyclist and tour organizer, this company emphasizes customer service and quality equipment to insure a great customer experience. The partners hope that a great customer experience will translate to their customers recommending the company to others, and of course, coming back for future visits.

Services are based out of three specific areas:  Toulouse, Beaune and Saint-Remy.  From these locations, the company rents Giant and Cannondale carbon fiber bikes and hybrids for cycling in Burgundy, the Pyrenees, Dordogne, Provence and the Alps.  Local delivery in any of the three locations is free and delivery services to other locations are available with prices depending on the distance from the base.  For example, delivery of a bike to Dijon from the base in Beaune is 90Euro, to Avignon from Saint-Remy is 20Euro.  For delivery questions, contact Philippe atinfo@bikerentalfrance.com.  Important note:  road bikes come without pedals, so if you rent from this company, you will need to bring your own.

There is a three day minimum booking requirement for rentals, 5 day minimum in July.  In 2012, the daily rate for a road bike was 46 Euro/day, dropping to 32 Euro at 7 days.  For hybrids, the rate per day was 21 Euro, dropping to 18 Euro/day at 7 days.  Rates for 2013 are not yet published, but if you have specific dates in mind, contact the company.   All rentals include a repair kit which includes a spare tube, patch supplies, a tire lever and a mini tool kit.  All bikes have a mini-pump, and a larger floor pump is provided for those traveling in a group or by car.  An emergency phone contact is provided should any major repair issues arise.

If you want to rent a bike during the busy vacation months of July and August, it is suggested that you make a reservation well in advance to guarantee availability.  There is great demand, especially for road bikes during the summer months, and not many companies offering rentals in these markets.

Brittany Borders Bicycling

If you are thinking about cycling in Brittany or Normandy and are looking for a reputable place to rent a bike, you should contact Brittany Borders.  John and Veronica Hall supply mountain bikes, touring/hybrid bikes, kids bikes and tandems to tourists looking to explore this gorgeous part of France by bike.  They pride themselves on great customer service, and I can testify that they will do anything and everything to make sure that you have a terrific vacation, regardless of the scope of service they provide.  From bike rental, to assistance choosing hotels, attractions to see, places to eat and transportation options, the Halls are willing to help with it all.

John and Veronica Hall

If you have never ridden a tandem before, the Halls will provide some basic instruction to ensure that your tandem experience will be a positive one.  Bike delivery is free of charge within a 25 km radius of St. George de Reintembault.  Over this distance, the charge is 1 Euro/kilometer.  They also offer a delivery and collection service to local railway stations, the Dinard and Rennes airports and Saint Malo ferry terminal.  This makes it possible to pick up your bike to begin your trip in Rennes, as I did, and complete it in Saint Malo.  This service enables cyclists to spend more time biking and exploring the region, and less time doubling back to the origination point to return the bike.

John and Veronica are also willing to hold unneeded luggage for you while you are bicycling, which can really be a great service, especially if you have been touring in France prior to cycling.  They also can provide luggage transfer services from one hotel to the next for a fee.  For 2013, bike hire is available from March 1 to October 31, and rates are available online.  You should note that payment for bike rental services must either be a bankdraft, cash or credit card via Paypal.  For additional information regarding a booking, contact info@brittanybordersbicycling.com.

O2cycles 

Norbert Audouin has been in the bike business in Bordeaux for almost 10 years. He now specializes in renting bikes for longer distance travel in the region as opposed to city bikes for cruising around Bordeaux.  He rents German bikes with high quality components that are perfectly suited to long distance riding in the Atlantic region.  We rented these bikes for almost 3 weeks this summer and found them to be some of the best bikes we had ever ridden.

The all-terrain Cube is 24 speed with Shimano components that can accommodate both front and rear panniers. For more serious riders who want to stick to fast riding on paved roads, O2cycles also rents GT brand road bikes.  For families traveling in the area, kids’ bike rentals are available, as well as trailers.  If you are fond of traveling very close to a loved one, tandems are available too.  If you do not have your own panniers, those are available for rent also.

O2cycles does not have an actual storefront.  Bikes are delivered to your choice of destination, making renting from this company easy.  Deliveries in and around the Bordeaux area are free, so you can make arrangements to have your bike delivered to the airport, train station or your hotel or B&B in Bordeaux.  Support services are provided for an area of 100 km around Bordeaux.  Norbert has designed his rental services to be easy and effortless for the renter, and is one of the reasons why he is my choice for bike rentals in the Bordeaux area.

Pricing information can be found online, or you can simply contact Norbert directly with your specific details at:  contact@o2cycles.com.  Norbert is terrific to work with.  He speaks great English and he is very prompt in replying to e-mail requests, something that is very important to me when choosing a company to work with.  He is also a great resource for information on biking in the region, so be sure to ask him for information on his favorite routes.

Bike Atlantic

Bike Atlantic is located in the small town of Anglet near the town of Bayonne.  They specialize in bike trips and bike rentals in Basque Country and the Landes, and they deliver and pick up anywhere free within a 20 km area.  They also pick up and deliver for a fee throughout Aquitaine and Northern Spain.  The company rents 24 speed Trek bikes, including a handlebar bag with lock, spare tube, patch kit and pump.  If you don’t have your own panniers, they also can provide them, approximate cost for two weeks is 30Euro per pair.  The company also offers luggage transfer for a fee, road assistance and route advice.  These people know the region and are a great resource for information on the best routes for different ability levels, which is pretty important in this area which is extremely hilly.  Bike Atlantic offers a self-guided bike tour of Southwest France beginning in Bayonne and ending in Les Eyzies in the Dordogne Valley.  For questions, a  quote or for additional information, contact Marc Fenies at: mfenies@hotmail.com.

Bike Hire Direct

If you are planning a bike trip to the Charente or Charente Maritime, look no further than Bike Hire Direct for bicycles!  This company really has the entire customer service thing down pat, and they make renting bikes for your Atlantic Coast vacation fun and easy.  This is a family run business, started by Neville and Natasha Wright in 2006 after falling in love with the area when they got married.  Very responsive and helpful, this company bends over backwards to answer all your bike rental and route questions quickly and thoroughly.  Their website is very easy to use, is in French and English and answers most of the general questions you may have about biking in the Charente or Charente Maritime areas.  And if you need more information, Natasha will be more than willing to follow up with answers to all of your questions.

Bike Hire Direct has all the equipment you need for family bike trips including all terrain bikes, kids’ bikes and tandem bikes.  These bikes are perfectly suited to exploring the paths in the Charente Maritime.  The company also offers a wide selection of accessories to make travel easier.  If you are planning a family trip to this area, Bike Hire Direct can not only provide you with safe kids bikes, but they can also provide tag-a long bikes for kids too small to ride alone, bike carriers, bike seats and cargo trailers.  All bike rentals include free helmets, a lock and tool kit and full French liability insurance.  Delivery and pick up is free throughout the Charente and Charente-Maritime and they will also deliver to Bordeaux.

Bike Hire Direct is the only bike rental company that I encountered that has an early booking and family rental discount.  They also have a couple package and have a special discount if you reserve your bikes package before May 1.

The website has a some good information on bike paths in the Charente and Charente-Maritime areas, most of which is in French, but they are making a big effort to include more information in English.  If you can’t find the information on bike routes you are looking for on the website, be sure to ask Natasha.  You can contact her for information on bike rentals at info@bikehiredirect.com.

Bourgogne Randonnees

Located less than a 5 minute walk from the train station in Beaune, this was one of the first bike rental companies I used in France.  Based in Beaune, one of my favorite towns in France, Bourgogne Randonnees rents high quality bikes for exploring the gorgeous vineyards and hills of the region.  Started in 1995, this was one of the first companies to rent high quality bikes to tourists interested in exploring the area by bike.  Their excellent bikes and customer service has set the standard for many others who have followed since this time.  The company is run by Florian and Cedric and regardless of who helps you, you’ll quickly find that they are very serious about providing customers with the best touring bicycles possible.

Me with Jerome Leroux

The company rents custom made 27 speed Gitane hybrid bikes with lightweight aluminum frames and a rear carrier for standard panniers.  All bikes utilize a new generation puncture proof inner tube, which means that the chances of you getting stranded with a flat tire are slim to none.  These bikes are perfect for exploring the many vineyards and voie verte in the region.  All rentals include a pump, water bottle holder, bell and lock and a removable handlebar bag with map case. Credit cards are accepted for payment.

Since they have been in business for so long, there isn’t much about cycling in the region, or in France, that they are not aware of, so don’t hesitate to ask for their advice on where to go and what to see.  They can tell you the best vineyards for tasting and the best routes to explore.  If you’re interested in a self-guided tour in Burgundy for a week or a weekend, I can’t think of a better company to choose than Bourgogne Randonnees.  Their connections with the best local accommodations, restaurants and vineyards will ensure that your vacation will be a memorable one.

Choosing the right company for a bike rental is an important part of planning a successful and safe trip.  I’ll continue to review rental companies throughout France, and these reviews will be included in a new Resources section that I will be adding before the end of the year.  This will enable readers to access this information quickly and easily.  I hope that you will find this information helpful as you plan upcoming trips.  If you have a bike rental company that you would like me to review, please send the name of the company along to me!

Posted by Maggie LACoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. Cycling in France: Quality Bike Rental Becoming Much Easier … | Bicycle News Gator November 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm

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  2. First: thanks for the excellent blog!

    Two things:

    If you are travelling between major airports, find out if they are served by non-American airlines: I usually fly with Virgin Atlantic or British Airways (both of which have competitive prices for direct flights), and both of them carry bikes for free.

    I have twice travelled with friends to the Loire: the friends rented bikes in Blois the first time, and in Saumur the second time (I took my Brompton). On both occasions I was *very* unimpressed by how little care and attention was given by the bike-rental companies. My friends were offered bikes with gears that did not work, mis-routed cables that prevented the handlebars turning freely, ill-adjusted seat-pillars and saddles, etc. etc. So it is *really* important to go with a reputable company, and know how to check the bike you are offered.

    1. Thanks so much for the nice response and suggestions! You are absolutely right about needing to take care when choosing a rental company, and then again when picking up your rental. I had wanted to include that information in this post, but it actually got too long, so that will be the topic of my next blog post! Also, thanks for the suggestion of British Air as a “low cost” carrier for bicycles. Obviously BA is much more prominent from the UK than from the US, but for those who are in a British Air market, that information is very helpful. From US markets, here are the rules: if the bicycle is your only checked bag, it is free, if it is an additional bag, it is $60 each way, and if it weighs more than 51 lbs, there is an overweight charge of $60 in addition to the extra baggage charge, making the total fee $120. If you are considering this as an option, be sure that you follow the BA guidelines/requirements for packing your bike.

      Thanks again for the suggestion, and I hope that you will continue to read my blog and comment on upcoming articles!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France by Bike
      http://www.experiencefrancebybike.com

      1. Hi Maggie, what a great blog – the article on cycle hire was particularly interesting. I am in the process of setting up a web business that links accommodation to cycle hire and routes throughout europe, the site will be live in Feb 2013, we have a demo/pilot site online just for uk http://www.holidaysbycycle.com but the new site will cover Europe, in particular France. We are looking for regular contributors for articles on good routes?

        Please get in touch we any ideas, i will keep an interested eye on your great blog!

        Thanks

        Tom Edwards
        http://www.holidaysbycycle.com

  3. Merci for including us!

    One of our most popular hire periods is our 10 day ‘Family Package’. We also have had many customers who have cycled for anything from 2 to 6 weeks and have all been very happy with the bikes and would recommend us for such a trip. This year we hired out bikes from 1 day to 6 weeks!

    Please take a look at the testimonials page on our website http://www.bikehiredirect.com/testimonials.html

    It was also great that you mention our ‘10% Early Booking Discount’… if you readers want to guarantee their bikes for next summer it is essential to book early. During the summer all 300 of our bikes are reserved every day!

    Dont forget we are able to deliver bikes for FREE across the Charente and Charente Maritime 365 days of the year!

    Thanks again for the article – your website is one of the best resources for cycling in France. Every month we get hundreds of enquiries for bike hire in areas we do not currently cover and will continue to direct them to your website!

    1. Dear Natasha,

      What a great idea to send along your testimonials page! This will really help readers understand the type of service that you provide to cyclists in the area. It’s amazing how popular recreational cycling is becoming, and with rental companies like Bike Hire Direct and others mentioned in this article, I am sure that this trend will continue. Keep us up to date on updates to your website!

      Maggie LaCoste