Six in ten French practice cycling, 45% of them on holiday, according to the Association of Cycling Tourism in France. Being it sport, leisure or discovery companion, cycling is experiencing renewed interest not only in France – all around the Globe. It attracts new followers. This, in many respects, is due to e-power assisted bikes.
“A few years back, we would drive our car to go on vacation. And we would take our bikes just to visit places on the trip. It was mostly a way to get around more easily,” recalls Cathy. Since her three children are now on their own, she has freed herself from her car for the most part. Cathy now pedals.
Last summer, Cathy and her husband rented a cottage in the Basque Country and there were two bikes available for use. “We were riding all around the area. But as we are not great athletes, we had suffered physically quite a bit,” she admits.
When they returned home from this trip, they each bought a folding electric bicycle for € 900. And, for the first time, they decided to take a 10-day ride in the Sarthe region in July, then two more weeks in the south of France in August.
For their first trip in July, with saddlebags attached to their e-bikes, At the beginning of July, their bicycles with saddlebags, Cathy and Vianney launched from the Argenteuil station (Val-d’Oise) for Paris and then Le Mans. Their e-bikes nicely folded and stored in the luggage compartment of the train. “Starting from home on a bicycle like magic!” Cathy recalls from their trip to Sarthe.
“We e-biked to visit family and friends. Traveling on a bike provides a great sense of freedom. We also have the impression of responsible citizens, as we were not using a car, spending our holidays in a fully sober and active way. This type of trip also helps recreate links with each other. Our curiosity went up and we would like to do more! Next summer, we would like to do more and hit the roads of Compostela in Spain!”
Rediscover the landscapes
Marion and her partner did not wait for their three children aged 13, 10 and 5 to leave home for them to start traveling by bike. In their saddles or in a trailer, the whole family takes off along Canal du Midi or Nirvenais, discovers Ardèche or, this summer, Vendée.
“It is a shared pleasure!” summarizes Marion, a journalist from Ile-de-France, who used a road e-bike for her road trips. We do not have firm plans in place, travel 30 to 50 km per day and we stop when we want. During nights, we sleep all five under one tent!
Yes, there are some body aches at first. But each of us finds own pleasure. Children enjoy adventure and challenge. And we, beautiful landscapes that we rediscover all around us. The Rhône region looks so different on a bicycle. “It is absolutely not the same angle if one looks at the same landscape from a car window. We do not see the same things,” she notes.
“When you travel by car, the entire trip you are in a bubble. You only count the point of arrival. When you are cycling, from the first pedal stroke, you are on a journey. At 10 or 15 kilometers per hour, you take the time to appreciate the landscape, to smell the nature … “, adds Robert Lecoche, a seasoned cyclist himself. He has cycled in Drome, Auvergne, Cevennes, Transylvania (Romania), Andalusia, Madagascar, Mayotte …
Many of Robert’s childhood memories are associated with cycling. He grew up in France in the 1950s, when cycling made it easy and inexpensive to move around. His parents took him around on the luggage rack of their bikes. No e-biking back then! Roberts’ memory keeps this strong “feeling of freedom” when he held the handlebars of his “first little white bike”. He was also promised a “good bike” when he gets his school certificate.
Taken over by cars
“My dad was going to work by bicycle. And then he followed the evolution and the progress,” he says. From his bike, he went on a moped, then, in the 1960s, to a car. It was a sign of social progress to go on vacation by car, especially in the south of France!
When he was 18, Robert also traded his bike for a moped, but at the end, he finds it more pleasant to pedal to La Croix du Nord, in the center of Lille, where he works as a bookkeeper. When he moved to Seine-et-Marne and became a father, he bought his first car at the age of 26, but kept his “old bike” to “have fun on weekends”.
In the 1990s, Robert discovered cycling associations – Better cycling and Cyclo-Camping International, which suggest good riding routes. For the past ten years, he has been traveling alone. He took several weeks to join the “globe-trotter” of his eldest son in West Africa, the West Indies or Guyana.
In 2018, at over 70 then, he spent two months in Cuba on his white “steel” bike, equipped with bags at the front and rear wheels. More than a sport, cycling is for him is a “journey”, a relationship with the world and others. “We come back different, transformed, and with a different view on the place where we live and on ourselves,” he says.
A bit of history – prior to 1936
Robert’s concept of the bike is similar to that of Paul de Vivie (1853-1930), nicknamed Vélocio, the inventor of the neologism “cycle tourism”.
This Gascon gentleman, who in 1882 founded the Saint-Etienne factory of cycles “La Gauloise”, wrote in 1903: “The bicycle is not only a tool of transportation. It becomes a means of emancipation, a weapon of deliverance. The bicycle frees the mind and body from moral worries, physical obstacles of modern existence. It removes all of the ostentation, convention, hypocrisy – where to appear is everything, being nothing. All of which arouses, develops, maintains great detriment of health.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, cycling more and more attracted the middle class, which was then looking for more physical exercise. The interest in cycling suffered after the First World War and then became popular again in the 1930s. Cycling companies sprout up all over France. And the peak was reached with the boom of outdoor activities in the late 1950s. The next decade was marked by the arrival of the automobile, which gradually pushed bicycles to secondary roles.
The more you press, the harder it is!
The rest of the story comes from Roger Hupel. In 1975, he opened a bicycle shop in Nancy. “Cycling did not have a positive image then. It was considered a sport for seniors. And those who were cycling daily were considered somewhat marginal,” he recalls.
“Biking becomes fashionable again with the arrival of mountain biking in the 1990s. The development of recreational cycling is a real come back for the customers. Biking is now experiencing a new craze in cities that start to encourage his practice. This is even more true with electric bikes, which seduce people who would otherwise not have done it,” he notes.
Then the feeling of pleasure was complemented by a taste of challenge. In 2007, the couple decided to take part in a race. “Five stages of 200 km per day”, from Balaruc to Nancy, where their three children lived.
“The advantage of cycling is that you can adapt your speed to what you are looking for. The more you press the pedals, the harder it is! But in any case, this practice keeps us in shape. It is not traumatic for the joints and it develops the attention. It is therefore ideal when you are getting older!” Roger.
Prepare well for your ride
Before knowing where to go, choose a suitable e-bike. An electric trekking bike must allow riding at an average speed of 25 km / h. Choose a model with good autonomy, good braking, comfortable suspension and electric assistance that is effective enough to help you conquer any landscape without much effort.
If you do not plan to ride on trails, choose a model on which you sit straight. This seating posture will ensure a more restful ride than a sporty seating position (requiring the support of the handlebar).
It would be also good to equip your e-bike with removable panniers with a rack (what else to take with you on an e-biking trip?). A handlebar bag could also be useful, if you plan to carry, for example, a laptop. Do not forget to have a bike lock. Finally, a GPS (or a GPS app on a smartphone) is often a valuable aid during long walks.
Like any trip, when your e-bike is ready, you then need to plan the route and the distance to be traveled. The distance is the first thing to plan carefully as it will be defined by how much energy your e-bike’s battery is able to preserve on a single charge. Generally, the battery of an electric bike provides from 70 to 80 km of autonomy. If you are riding your e-bike faster than 25 km / h, the electric assistance would generally stop. Traveling at that speed generally means that the cyclist is riding downhill or on flat terrain.
Opt for organized rides
Once you have your e-bike ready and your route planned, France belongs to those who ride! Crossings of the Verdon and the plateau of Valensole, Canal du Midi, Loire Valley, vineyards of Burgundy or small steep roads of the Nice region, everything is accessible. Many tracks are well detailed on the Internet. A site such as BE-cyclette offers several trips in the Alps. Whereas Veloenfrance and Terres
Organized electric bike rides are on the rise. E-bikes are provided by the travel agencies. They also provide a travel guide to help holidaymakers discover beautiful landscapes along their routes. These travel companies usually offer well-marked routes, sometimes equipped with cycle lanes or reserved event reserved for electric bikes, on which motor vehicles are not allowed. Prices range from 50 to 200 euros per day. In general, it could be better to use a company that will also transport your luggage from one point to another. This will allow you a light ride.
Do not take on too many kilometers at once
There is usually a choice of 3 types of itineraries: those of less than 50 km, accessible to all and which are done during the day. Those between 50 and 100 km that can take 2 days. And finally, those over 100 km that will usually take several days.
If you ride by yourself, the ideal scenario is to plan rides of 50 to 70 kilometers per day (not more than 50
Rides of more than 100 km/day with children are usually to be avoided. Kids tend to lose their capacity to concentrate on the route quicker than adults.
Once your travel itinerary is selected, do not forget to check one of the e-cycling websites to inform yourself about local conditions in the area (roadworks, for example), and to check the weather conditions. In the rain, riding an e-bike can become slippery, especially when making turns.
Finally, before putting yourself in the saddle, it is important to make sure that you will have enough electric plugs to charge all the batteries during the night if you travel in a group.
Quick prep tips to remember
7 rules of Vélocio. In his cycle tourism journal, Paul de Vivie recommended: “rare and short stops”, “light and frequent meals”, “never go to abnormal fatigue”, “dress up before getting cold, undress before getting too warm”, “remove wine, meat and tobacco from your meals”, ” never force too much” and ” never pedal for self-esteem”.
Choice of a bike. Whatever the type of bike you use (road, city, mountain or e-bike) it is important, according to the French Cycling Federation, to feel at ease, with a bike neither too heavy nor too light (12 to 13 kg for a traditional bike and 20-25 for an e-bike), which is well sized. Do not forget a small bag with a repair kit for your bike, and avoid a backpack “that can hurt your shoulders”.
Sites and associations. The portal of the French Cycling Federation offers 2,000 routes classified by level of difficulty, type of bike or distance (link to the website). The association France Vélo Tourisme offers practical information and itineraries (link to the website, in French only). The Le Velovoyageur agency designs “accessible cycling routes” on a case by case basis (link to the website).