Cycling in France is a wonderful experience for amateur cyclists or families who enjoy exploring on two wheels. It’s more or less a national sport, you might think. Travel through rural or mountainous France on a warm summer’s day and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that and you wouldn’t be far wrong; moreover, you have only to watch the Tour de France on television to realise that.
Where to go cycling in France
By far the largest opportunity for relaxed cycling in France is provided by the vast network of secondary roads and country lanes. France has some 951,200km (594,500 miles) of roads and almost all of them are open to cyclists. Cycling is a wonderful way to discover rural France.
The vast majority of the network is composed of very minor byways, where traffic is light, and heavy vehicles few and far between. Cycling conditions on these roads are generally safe to very safe, meaning that cycling holidays can be planned throughout the country.
However, even safer than the road network is the constantly developing network of cycleways which, if it does not yet fully criss-cross France, does offer thousands of kilometres of dedicated tracks, where the most serious hazards are likely to come from pedestrians or wildlife.
‘Accueil Vélo’ is a French label that guarantees a good service and welcome for cyclists. Accommodation, restaurants, operators and tourist offices with this label provide specific services for cyclists, such as garages for bikes, tools, bike washing areas, luggage transport, specific menus and advice.
Wherever you see a ‘Accueil Vélo’ sign in France you can be assured of a warm welcome.
Bike rules for cycling in France
Cycling in France is a wonderful experience. But it can be costly if you’re not careful. And you must take care of your bicycle. If you don’t follow the rules of the road and make sure your bike is in good condition you could be fined up to €375 ($425).
If you’re cycling with the family make sure children under 12 have a helmet on – whether they’re on their own bike or a passenger on yours. You could be liable for minimum fine of around €90 ($102) or much more.
One thing you really must do is keep your bicycle in good condition. Yes, if you’re in a French village in the middle of nowhere you’re unlikely to be hassled by a gendarme but in the main cities the picture will be different.
The bike must be fit foe use so; make sure the tyres are properly inflated and have plenty of tread, ensure all parts are securely bolted and the saddle is secure. That should all be common sense anyway and is hopefully your standard practice.
Special rules for cycling in France
What you may not be aware of is that your bike must have working lights at front and rear can be a reflective red sticker if only cycling in the daylight), reflective stickers and reflectors on the pedals. The bike must also be equipped with either a bell or a horn. Furthermore, if riding at night or in low visibility you must wear a reflective tabard or jacket.
Failure to comply with these standards can incur a small fine so do check your bicycle thoroughly before setting out for a ride.
Finally, do ensure you carry two strong locks to ensure the security of your bike while you’re off exploring on foot or enjoying a meal.
Cycle routes in France
Dotted around cities and rural areas you will see signs for cycle routes. These are:
Cycle-way: marked bicycle route either on dedicated way or on minor byways.
Veloroute: or ‘Voie verte’: dedicated cycle route with smooth, tarred surface.
Hard surface: graded compacted hard surface: smooth cycling.
Unsurfaced: usually a rural track or towpath with old gravel surface.
Cycling tours in France
Join one of the many cycling tours, get on a bike, sort out the map and head off along narrow country lanes, and you’ll discover much about France that you would other miss, not least a range of small village eateries that are perfect for a ‘Plat du Jour’ halt…just don’t drink too much wine.
There is an increasing number of companies offering cycling holidays in France, each will organise everything from routes to kit to accommodation.
Moreover, there is much to be said for exploring rural France at cycling pace – and I don’t mean Tour de France pace. You can’t diminish the value of being able to stop at a moment’s notice, maybe take a picture, decide to take a break and have lunch at that charming auberge you just discovered, or just chill out on the riverbank with your feet in the water.
Drivers – be aware of cyclists
If you are driving around at weekends in France, it is advisable to look out for cyclists. You will always encounter groups of speeding cyclists on expensive bicycles preparing for, or taking part, in local races; or just individual cyclists or families out for an afternoon ride.
That is the norm almost all year round. In the summer months, you may well encounter cyclists tackling the mountainous sections used in the Tour de France, with varying degrees of success.