Planning A Cycling Trip To France–Should You Go It Alone?

You’re thinking about planning an independent bike trip to France, but you’re a bit nervous about whether or not you have what it takes to go it alone.  How do you know if you are ready?  I’m asked this question hundreds of times a year.  In a way, it’s a loaded question, one that can’t be simply answered yes or no.  Contrary to what you might think, the answer has very little to do with how experienced of a cyclist you are….it has much more to do with your comfort level with adventure, independence and sometimes flying by the seat of your pants!

The great news is that there’s a bicycling in France option for every skill level, budget and time frame.  The challenge is to understand your comfort zone and flexibility and then choose an option that’s best suited to you.  Making the right choice will help insure that your bicycling experience is a memorable one!

Here’s a list of questions that I forward to readers considering a go-it-alone bicycling trip in France (or anywhere overseas).  It’s not a test and there are no right or wrong answers. Hopefully the questions will get you thinking about skills/characteristics that can be helpful if you’re bicycling in the middle of France and you haven’t seen another person all day.  By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you can plan a bike adventure that is suited to your taste and adventure tolerance.

Are you ready for an on-your-own bicycling trip in France?

  • Do you love adventure… you like taking deviations?  Are you the person who always likes to take the fork in the road?
  • Do you have a good sense of direction….can you read a road map, a topographical map?
Staying on track means frequent map check stops

Staying on track means frequent map check stops

  • Are you independent?  Are you OK with the idea of being in the middle of nowhere on your own, possibly even without any cell phone reception?
  • Can you live in the same couple of outfits (1 or 2 bicycling, 1 or 2 casual) for a week?
  • Do you go with the flow… you deal well with adversity, like bad weather, flat tire, getting lost?
  • Can you handle being momentarily lost and having to figure out how to get back on track?
  • Are you willing to trust your travel partner’s navigation skills?
  • Can you recognize storm clouds and other signs of impending bad weather?
  • Do you have basic mechanical skills….do you know how to change a flat or can you do so with a phone app?
Sunday morning tire problems along the Burgundy Canal

Sunday morning tire problems along the Burgundy Canal

  • Do you have the fortitude to stick with a tough day on the bike, even though you may be tired?
  • Can you speak or learn 100 basic words of French…..or do you have a translator on your phone or i-pad?
  • Do you believe that your GPS can never be wrong?
  • Are you willing to carry your own luggage (estimated 25 pounds) in panniers on your bike?
  • Do you like the idea of experiencing the backroads of France on roads seldom traveled by normal tourists?
Am I lost or is this just another incredible bicycling road?

Am I lost or is this just another incredible bicycling road?

  • Do you like the idea of being a sort of “goodwill ambassador” on a bike?

Hopefully as you go through this list you will start thinking about some of the situations and circumstances you may have to deal with when you are bicycling on-your-own overseas.  Armed with that knowledge, you can plan a bicycling trip that takes your preferences into consideration.  If you’ve answered no to most of the above questions, then perhaps adding a day trip or several half-day trips to an existing vacation may be a good first step for you.  If you have no interest in the adventure part of bicycling and if money is no object, perhaps a guided trip with support vans may be for you.  For the rest of you, if this type of adventure sounds good to you, start looking for an itinerary that interests you.

Choosing an itinerary that's signposted makes it easier to navigate

Choosing an itinerary that’s signposted makes it easier to navigate

When I think back about my first overseas bicycling trip 20 years ago, there was a certain amount of naivety that got me through that trip.  We were lucky that first trip along the Danube River:  we had minimal bad weather, great bikes and no flat tires.  Fortunately for us, the adversity waited until we got much more experienced!

I love traveling in Europe by bike because it’s a great adventure and because I love seeing a side of the country that few ordinary tourists experience.  Any adversity we encounter is just a hazard of the experience.  I love the experience so much that I’ve learned that even the adversity encountered on a trip becomes a fond memory over time.  I can’t imagine my life without all of the incredible experiences that I have had exploring France, Germany and Austria by bike.  They have definitely impacted my life!

I hope that this post has helped you understand if you are ready for an independent bicycling trip in France, or anywhere else.  Stay tuned for my next post on choosing an itinerary!

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 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. Any suggestions for companies which just transport your cycling kit between overnight stops, from biarritz to perpignon, taking in the climbs of The Tour?
    We would like several rest days, but can only find firms who provide all the services without any stops.
    Many thanks.

    1. Hi Don,

      That’s a tough request. There isn’t enough business for anyone to make money doing that in Southwestern France. There may be a possibility of a taxi company that might offer this service. I will send a note out to a couple of friends in the area and see if I get any possibilities in which case I will let you know!

      Thanks for reading Experience France By Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste