By Maggie LaCoste
A good shopper is an informed shopper, so it’s important to know what to look for in a rental bike in France. As mentioned in my previous post, I prefer hybrid or all-terrain bikes, and find that they are more than worth the premium cost. Most of the rental agencies in France offer two levels of bikes: a basic city bike, good for a relaxing ride around the town walls, and a high quality hybrid/all-terrain bike. Some larger agencies offer road bikes, which are skinny tire, high performance bikes built for speed, not leisure riding along back country roads, canal towpaths and along rivers. Many larger rental agencies are even starting to rent tandems and electric bikes. Here is a picture that I took at the Anger train station with an electric bike rental agency as you leave the station.
The location of a good bike rental agency makes a major impact on my selection of bike routes and normally determines where I start my trip. For example, if I am biking the Vineyard Trail in Burgundy, I would take the train from Paris to Beaune, walk about 5 minutes down the street and rent bikes from Detours in France. Likewise if I am going to the Loire, I would take a TGV from the Paris airport to Tours or Anger, or any other major city along the river and rent a bike from Detours de Loire. When I travel to Sarlat in the Dordogne Valley, CycleO is my choice for rentals. Sometimes the local tourism office even rents bikes as is the case in the beautiful wine village of St. Emilion.
The internet is the perfect tool for locating bike rental agencies for your bike trip. Regional and local tourism offices are also very valuable, especially those located near major bicycling routes. A number of agencies are already listed in my resources section, and I will be adding more in the upcoming months. Once you have located a couple of options, what do you need to look for in a bike rental agency? Unless you read French quite well, it’s important that someone at the agency speaks English. Since you will make your plans primarily via the internet, it’s important that they respond to your e-mails with specific details regarding your rental request. Some agencies require advance deposits, especially if you are traveling during the summer months. Don’t be surprised if you develop a friendship with your contact before you even meet them. Bicyclists are a friendly bunch, and the French love it when Americans come to explore their country via bike.
Here is my checklist of what to look for when inquiring about a bike rental in France:
- You want an agency that rents hybrid or all-terrain bikes
- Ask what type of bikes they use (prominent brands in France are Trek, Gitane, La Pierre, Giant, Scott, Specialized)
- What is the discount for multiple day rental? Rentals of a week or more?
Do their rental bikes have:
- Shimano or comparable components
- 24-27 gears
- Rear carrier for panniers
- Tire repair kit and pump
- Heavy duty lock
- Water bottle holder
The following questions may be appropriate if you want your luggage transported or if you want bikes delivered to your hotel, or picked up at the end of the trip:
- Do they offer bag transfer services, and if so, how much does it cost?
- Do they have delivery services, and if so, how much does it cost?
- Do they have drop-off return services, and if so, how much does it cost?
I also inquire about a handle bar bag and map holder and if this is not available, I would bring your own as it is perfect for storing wine and supplies for lunch. Some rental agencies have special gel seats available so this is something you can ask about also. If you are going to be picking up and dropping off your bikes at the same location, you can ask if they will let you store extra clothes there. If you do not bring your own panniers(luggage for bikes), many of the rental agencies have these available for rent, so ask. If you are going to be biking in France for several weeks or longer, ask if the agency has any used bikes for sale. Very often they do, and this could be a great option to consider. I haven’t mentioned helmets because I would recommend that you bring your own.
You will find that many of the companies that offer bike rental services also offer many other services such as itinerary planning, hotel and special attraction reservations, and many offer very affordable self-guided bike tours with baggage transfer every day. Sometimes these can be a great value. In the first couple of e-mails, you’ll quickly determine how helpful the agency is, and if it is a group that you want to work with. I think you will find that most agencies are extremely helpful and informative and interested in helping to make your bicycling vacation in France one to remember.