CYCLING IN FRANCE
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.
'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
OUT AND ABOUT 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. 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.
KNOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD
Cyclists in France are warned to pay attention to the state
of their bikes and rules of the road to avoid fines of up to €375.
The biggest fines concern the wearing of helmets. Since
March 2017, the law states that it is obligatory for children under the age of
12 to wear a helmet at all times when on a bike.
This applies whether the child is riding themselves or is a
passenger on a larger bike. Adults accompanying or leading an offending child
risk a default fine of €135, varying between €90 and €375, depending on the
All cyclists - adults and children - need to ensure that
their bike is in good condition, especially if they cycle on roads or lanes
that are also used by cars; whether in town centres or in more rural zones.
This includes having working brakes on both wheels,
pumped-up tyres with sufficient tread, a supportive and safe saddle, and
tightened bolts on parts such as wheels and handlebars.
Bikes must feature reflective stickers, panels or lights;
with a red-coloured light or reflective label at the back; and orange
reflectors on the pedals. Lights and reflectors must also be visible from
behind and the sides.
Bikes must also be able to alert others to their presence,
either with a horn or bell, that is audible from at least 50m away.
Riders who do not conform to these conditions risk a fine of
at least €11 per bike, rising to €33 if not paid within 30 days.
At night-time, or when visibility is poor, bikes must have a
strong red light at the back, as well as a white or yellow lamp in front.
Riders must also wear a reflective tabard at all times at night or during low
visibility, and risk an additional fine of €22-€75 if they do not.
It is also advised to have two different kinds of locks,
including a strong “D” lock for the frame, and another to loop through the
wheels, when securing your bike in a town or village.
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
More information is available from Les Véloroutes et Voies
Vertes de France (www.af3v.org).
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.