How To Plan Your Next French Bike Trip

coldIt’s minus-8 degrees here in Columbus. That’s right … minus-8. As in: Jack Frost isn’t nipping at my nose … he’s biting the damn thing off and using it for kindling. And so, this makes it the perfect time to plan a 2019 biking France adventure. Think warm thoughts Steve … think warm thoughts.

Right now, I’m sorting through three options: the French Riviera, the Dordogne and the Strasbourg/Alsace wine region. There’s a chance I can do two of the three. Maybe. If Susan lets me!

How do I decide where to go? How can you decide?

I’m glad you asked. Here are the factors to consider…

Getting There

Planes: From Columbus, I have to get a connecting flight from NY, Philly or DC on to Paris which makes for a long day and night. Maybe one day we’ll get a direct flight to Paris, which would make things a lot easier.

You can fly to Paris and immediately get on a connecting flight (or even a train) to Bordeaux or Marseilles, but … it’s hard (at least for me) to fly overnight and then spend an hour or two at the airport and get on another flight. So, I usually spend two nights in Paris, getting over my jet lag, and then take the train to the starting point/city of the bike loop. On my first three bike trips (1990, 1992 and 1993), I flew to Paris (de Gaulle Airport), with my bike, put it together … and started riding.

There seems to be one and only one daily flight from JFK in NYC to Nice, so maybe, just maybe, I can take that and fly directly to Nice, cutting out the two days in Paris, bike the Riviera, then take the train to Paris, meet Susan and then do a second bike destination.

Trains (from Paris): Strasbourg is a quick and direct 2-hour ride from Paris on the TGV (super-fast train).

The Dordogne is a little tougher. Sarlat is the logical place to start, but it’s a 5- or 6-hour train ride from Paris that requires two connections. There are direct trains to Brive-la-Gaillarde or Souillac; it’s 4 ½ to 5 hours.

Nice? Not bad considering the distance. About 6 hours on the TGV.

The Loire (Blois, Amboise or maybe Tours) is easy, less than two hours; Normandy (Caen or Bayeux) is about the same; and the TGV to Bordeaux takes only 2 hours.

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These are the bikes we rented in Normandy. We did day trips from Bayeux and didn’t need to carry all of our stuff

Renting Bikes

You’d think it would be easy to rent a really nice bike in the best biking country of the world, right? Well, in some places, like Bedoin in Provence and in the city of Bordeaux it is. In other places … not so much.

I much prefer a road bike, but one with a rack on the back for my panniers. This is the sticking point: It’s difficult to put a rack on a carbon frame … they don’t have the built-in mounting lugs. I’m fine with an aluminum frame. On my Bordeaux trip, I rented an all-carbon Cube road bike from O2Cycles on which they rigged a rack. It was great. I could l carry my stuff from town to town, and then do day trips on a fast, light road bike.

So, finding the right rental bike will help determine where I ride. I’ve been searching for places in the Dordogne. There are lots of places to rent bikes, but they’re all eBikes, hybrids and “touring” bikes. I thought I found a place, emailed them, and heard back: “We have many bikes available for those dates and we can certainly deliver to you or you can collect the bikes from us in Castelnaud. The road bikes however don’t have the mounting lugs for rear racks. I have a Cube Touring bike that might fit the bill though. (pictured below) Alternatively, you could take a road bike with a BoB Yak trailer that carries up to 45kg.”

Darn. No on the touring bike. The Cube with a trailer is an option, but a last resort. I’ll keep looking.

I found a place in Nice that rents nice road bikes. I emailed to ask about a rack, and am waiting to hear back. My fingers are crossed.

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This is the Cube I rented in Bordeaux … that came with a rack for my panniers

The Route

Here’s what I look for when mapping out and selecting a route…

*Is it loopable? Can I map out a great loop? When I’m loaded up with my panniers, heading to the next town, I like to keep the ride between 35 to 50 miles, and then do a day trip or two from each base city.

I’ve been studying the map of the French Riviera … and have found a great loop: from Nice up into the mountains to Grasse and Bargemon, then down to Ste-Maxime on the coast, and back along the coast to Nice. The next step is to check out MapMyRide; I plug in cities along the route and see what’s there and what looks good … and little-by-little, route-by-route begin mapping out my trip.

*Base cities. I look for smaller towns with a couple of hotels, several restaurant options, some interesting sights and architecture, a grocery store, a museum or two, and a tourist office.

The Alsace region is chock full of great old towns perched atop hills: Obernai, Riquewihr, Kayersberg and Thann. So many places to stay. Same with the Riviera and Dordogne. Darn, this isn’t getting any easier.

*Geography. Variety is the key on a bike trip, and I enjoy lots of hills and mountains, gorges and rivers, farms and fields, vineyards and wine, orchards and castles. Hey wait, I think I just described Provence.

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This is the bike I rented in Bedoin, where we did day trips and didn’t need a rack/panniers

*A Challenge: I do love a good climb, which is why Provence and Mont Ventoux are perhaps my favorite destination. So far. The French Riviera is loaded with climbs, including a couple of famous ones: the Col de la Madone and Col de Vence. I’ve cycled a little bit of the this region, but not these cols. Plus, the amazing Gorges Verdon (the Grand Canyon of France) is close by and is an amazing ride. I’ve done it in a car, but never by bike. Yet. So yes, I’m definitely leaning toward the Riviera. And there are also some mountains in the Alsace. And I think Susan would really like the Alsace, there’s lot of vineyards. Plus we did the Dordogne already, although it was all the way back in 1997.

*The Decision: OK, I think I’m set, definitely the French Riviera and then either the Alsace or Dordogne, depending on the quality of bike rentals, and what Susan wants.

The Blog and the eBooks Decision

Because I do this blog and eBooks on biking France, I look for places I think others will be interested in exploring on bike. I’ve done books on Provence, the Loire, Normandy and Bordeaux so far. I feel that in order to complete my French biking quest, I still need to do books on: the French Riviera, the Alsace, the Dordogne, Brittany, the great gorges (Verdun, Tarn, Lot and Ardeche). And the Champagne region. And then the Alps and Pyrenees. Dam, I still have a lot of planning to do. Oh wait, and then there’s the dream ride: Bordeaux to Nice in 60 days.

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