Cycle Touring in Europe

(mostly France!)

Mike and Carol Bedard



What to Pack

Bikes & Trains

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About Cycle Touring

In the early 1980's we bought new bikes and began to do a little touring, day trips at first in the Niagara region and then Cape Cod, and then a week-long loop in New York's Finger Lakes district, our first try carrying our stuff in our panniers. Nothing too strenuous but daily distances in the 50 to 70 km range - not all that difficult spread over 5 to 7 hours with frequent refreshment/touring/shopping stops. But in 1983 a local radio personality died suddenly at the age of 51. When I heard this on the news while driving home from work I thought "He's dead at 51. I'm 43 years old and I've never been anywhere. What am I waiting for?" So when I arrived home I announced to my wife Carol "We're going cycling in France next summer."  It didn't take much to coax her into agreeing. So in the summer of 1984 we joined a bike tour led by cycleventures (a Canadian touring company) and headed off to France for a tour in the Loire valley and the Alsace. That was our only commercial tour but it introduced us to the logistics of bikes and planes, bikes and trains, bikes and hotels, etc. It's not rocket science so since then we've gone back to Europe 23 more times with our bikes (and counting!), 18 of them to France again, for "self-directed" tours. The leisurely pace of the cycle tour (I call it "seeing the country one cow at a time"), the exotic (to us) culture we immerse ourselves in, the regular daily dose of not too vigorous but nonetheless considerable exercise (which allows me to eat & drink anything I want to and still lose weight), the sights we see at 20 km/h that are missed at 90 km/h, the people we can talk to, etc., make it a much better way to visit a region than we could ever achieve in an automobile or on a bus tour. The links at the top of the page will give you some tips on the equipment you might need for unsupported touring (i.e., no "sag wagon" to carry your stuff for you), what you might want to pack for a multi-day tour and how to find bike-friendly trains to transport you to your chosen touring area. As well, the "Tours" link will take you to a list of tour reports of our recent European cycling adventures to give you an idea of what to expect and where you might want to tour. (Why France? Scroll down!)

About France

Why France? Well, when we started I had very basic, barely functional French from my high school French classes. (On our first trip one Frenchman told my cycling companion  "Your friend sounds like a university textbook".  But I've improved considerably since then. A woman in a hotel in southern France once said to me "Vous êtes canadien? Mais vous n'avez aucun d'accent!" (You're Canadian? But you have no accent!)  So the language barrier was not a completely impossible limitation. But even if you have no French you can still enjoy a cycling holiday there. Most hotels and restaurants have staff who speak at least some English (and are anxious to practice it) and if you bring along a small Berlitz-style French phrase book, you'll do fine. Managing the language hurdle adds to rather than detracts from the experience. (My wife has spent nearly one-twelfth of her life in France over the past 30 years but still speaks almost no French and yet is able to function in an alimentation (grocery store) or boulangerie (bakery) by pointing and using hand signals, etc.)  But apart from that, you'll find that cycle touring in France is ideal because of an almost perfect marriage of conditions. The French secondary road system covers the country with a network of paved roads in good repair and with low to moderate auto traffic. There is a rich cycling tradition in France and so French motorists are patient and considerate of cyclists (sadly, unlike some in North America). The villages or towns are usually less than 10 km apart and there are small, clean hotels in nearly every other one. And the sun shines all summer long if you're south of the Loire river - normalement. (In 19 month-long tours in France from May to September we've experienced rain only half a dozen or so times and even more rarely for more than an hour - with the notable exception of our 2005 tour.) In almost every village you will see a collection of parasols marking the presence of a café where you can sit in the shade and order un grand ou petit crème (a double or single espresso with steamed milk) or une pression (a small draft beer - or if it's really hot, une sérieuse, a "serious", or "gentleman's portion") or un vin blanc ou vin rouge (a glass of white or red wine) or un Coca (a Coke) or a cold Orangina. While French wines and cuisine may no longer be considered to be alone as the best in the world they are still as good as any others who make that claim. And, finally, the cycling is so varied, from flat (as along the Canal du Midi or in the Charente-Maritime) to hilly (as in Gascony or the Beaujolais or the Limousin) to mountainous (as in the Massif Central or the Alpes-Maritimes) to alpine (as in the Alps, of course, or in the Pyrénées), that you can always find a region that will suit your capabilities and interests. And we have never experienced the alleged "arrogance" of the French toward North Americans or Brits. In fact, quite the contrary. As you are struggling up the hill on your bike you're most likely to be hailed with "Allez!" or "Bon courage!" So, considering the weather, the wine, the food and the variety of cycling experiences available on good roads, France is a cycle tourist's paradise! Did I mention the wine and the food?

About Us

On the right is my wife, Carol, still as gorgeous as she was when I first met her now more than fifty years ago! She's a strong cyclist (despite the braces you can see on both knees in this photo.) The cane strapped to her front rack was there because she had about a half kilogram of stainless steel screws and bolts holding her leg together because she had slipped on some January ice and broken her hip 6 months before this photo was taken a few years ago near Cognac, France, in the middle of an 1100 km tour! (She asked the doctor if she could go on a bike trip. He said "Sure. Just don't fall!")  And five years later she slipped on some January ice (different ice) and broke her pelvis but in July of that year she did a 1500 km tour from Nantes through the Limousin and the Haut-Languedoc all the way to Perpignan and the Spanish border.  She is tough!!  And this is me, on the left, enjoying a rare lunchtime glass of wine beside the Agout river in the Haut-Languedoc. (The wine tends to "coupe la jambe" - "cut your legs" - so I usually wait until the end of our cycling day.) We live in Ottawa, Canada, and are now retired and enjoying it immensely.