Cycling in France is 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.
If you are driving around at weekends in France, it is advisable to look out for cyclists – either 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.
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. 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
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.
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.
More information is available from Les Véloroutes et Voies Vertes de France.
ago, my father-in-law (not, in the end, to be) would regularly take himself off
for a ride, never covering less than 100km. It was when he decided to get me to
accompany him on a ride from Lyon to Bresse to see some chickens, the famed
Poulet de Bresse, that I realised how mad he must be...lovely man though he
was. When we left our bikes propped against a wall, I was concerned they might
be stolen: 'Non,' he said. En France, un homme pourrait voler la femme de
quelqu'un, mais jamais un vélo.' ('In France, a man might steal someone's wife, but never a bicycle.') Fair
enough, I thought.