I’m a total Franco-cyclo-phile because France is the best country for cycling … in my opinion.
And, I credit/blame the Paris Air Show and the Tour de France for my 15 bike trips and 15,000 miles of cycling through this amazing country. Although not necessarily in that order.
Let me explain …
Back in the 1980s, I was an aviation writer and covered the Paris Air Show – the world’s largest air show – four times. Eventually, I began to feel quite comfortable in Paris, and in France. and did my first-ever bike trip in the Loire, in 1985, after the air show, was immediately hooked on Cyclotourisme, and did a Paris-to-Nice ride in 1990. And was inexorably and forever hooked.
If the world’s largest air show had been held in Rome, Madrid or Moscow, this post might be about how Italy, Spain or Russia is the best country in the world for cycling. Well, probably not Russia.
And then there’s the Tour de France: A three-week ad for the glories of cycling in France. I lost count of how many times this year Bob Roll said something along the lines of “the best way to see all this amazing stuff on your TV screen is on your bike.” It’s hard to argue with the Bobke. Every year, while watching the TDF, I add a few places to my French bucket list of cycling must sees. This year it was Mont Aigoual, Puy Mary and the Fort de Saint-Eynard (photo above from my TV). The TDF is worth a couple billion Euros in free advertising for cycling in France. It’s why thousands come every year to Bedoin to climb the mighty Mont Ventoux.
Plus, I actually covered a few days of the Tour back in 1988, cementing my Franco-cyclo-philism. Two years later I rode from Paris to Nice. This is not a coincidence.
If the Giro d’Italia was more popular than the Tour de France and what’s his name had doped up to win this race seven time, I might be an Italo-cyclo-phile and the name of this blog would be Biking Italy. I’ve been to Italy several times, and love it, but haven’t cycled there. Yet. It’s on my list, starting with Tuscany. So is Spain. Starting with Girona.
There are, of course, several more reasons why France is the best country in the world for cycling (IMHO). Here they are …
Geography: I’ve yet to find a boring section of France. The country is chock full of gorgeous geography: mountains, gorges, rivers, lakes, caves deep below the surface (some with ancient caveman drawings), fields of lavender and sunflowers. And lots of coasts and cliffs.
And everything is easily accessible on a bike. The French seem to love to construct roads that rise to the top of amazing mountains and flow along the edges of gorges, rivers and canals.
History: Everywhere you cycle there are little hilltop towns made of stone with churches and castles that date back hundreds of years.
Towns: Speaking of towns, you’re rarely more than 10 miles from a nice-sized city with a couple of hotels and restaurants and a few interesting things to see. Take the Loire for example: You can do a 50-mile loop from Blois and ride through Amboise, Chenonceaux, Montrichard, Cheverny and Chambord, all great places to stay.
Roads: There’s an incredibly extensive network of well-paved roads, and they’re easy to navigate thanks to the fantastic and information-rich Michelin maps – and the signs along the road that point you toward the next town. There are three basic types of roads on the Michelin map: red, yellow and white. The reds are the busiest, the yellows less so, the whites barely any traffic at all. I love to map out routes that are primarily on the white roads. I love mapping out and planning my rides. Especially day trips.
French drivers love cyclists, and give us plenty of room, so I feel pretty darn safe. And, there’s usually a bike-lane on the bigger roads into (or out) of the larger cities. And, there’s always a bike lane on the big bridges.
Food: French cuisine is world famous, and for good reason. And then there’s all the pizza! There are pizza restaurants everywhere and the pie quality is superb. I don’t know why, but I crave a pizza after a long ride … and wind up eating one three or four times a week. “Oh great, pizza again,” Susan has been heard to mumble after I steer us toward a pizza place. “Hey you can get a salad or pasta.”
And cous cous. I love cous cous, with merguez and chicken. And don’t forget the bakeries/patisseries. Every town has at least one and the bread and pastries range from really good to so darn amazing you salivate when you walk by the window. I can still remember this chocolate/caramel tart I had in Gordes that made me cry it was so delicious. And flan. Flan is a great snack/energy bar while riding.
And, there’s no better way to start the day than with a couple of croissants slathered in jam.
Wine: French wine is excellent (as if you didn’t already know this) and you can get a really nice bottle for 5 or 7 Euros. Or less. A nice Bordeaux is an obvious choice, but I’ve fallen in love with the red wines of the Loire over the years (especially the Saumur champing, although I have no idea what the word champing means) and seek them out at the supermarche. And the reds from Seguret, Rasteau and Sablet in Provence are superb with hints of dirt, mustard seed and bike-grease chain.
The Romans: There are remains and ruins in several locations. Like the amazing Pont du Gard. Or the colosseum in Nimes, where we once saw the circus. There are probably more Roman ruins in Italy than in France, but I’ll let the person writing the “Italy is the Best Country in the World for Cycling” make this point.
OK, there you have it … my Bobke-like free advertising for cycling in France. Do you agree? Disagree? Or just want to do some cycling in France and decide for yourself?
Here are some comments from cyclist from all over:
Eric van der Meer: Sweden, Denmark, Finnland and Norway! So many lakes nearly no cars etc
Roland Okello: France is for sure perfect for cycling. Ever tried Sicily? Comes for sure close, if not surpassing it.I personally like more empty space, Syria before Obama’s “visit”, Zambia, … would be my favourites over France.
Alan Young: I would say Belgium with France a very close second
Vince Edwards: I actually prefer cycling in Belgium. Nothing to do with the beer! Honest.
Stuart Mitchell: I agree, France is the best. Especially if you like food. Belgium is imho the spiritual home of road racing and a nice country too but it can’t compare, though France has the advantages of size, geography and lack of traffic density.
Mark Connelly: In Europe, based on my experience, France, Switzerland, Netherlands. In Asia, Japan.
Aga Bz: Never cycled in Europe but love the biking trails in South Korea
Javier Knorr Borras: As far as I know, the best cycling infrastructure is in the Netherlands. And I have traveled by bike through France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium and Spain.
Jon Kett: Gotta be France although a pal of mine said that northern Italy was stunning
Bill Watts: I agree with everything you say here. Although I also love cycling in Denmark, which has excellent infrastructure, well placed towns, and easy camping arrangements (including a system of free shelters throughout the country).
Here’s the link to my Biking France books (Provence, Bordeaux, Normandy, the Loire and the Dordogne). I recently took all five off Amazon, iBooks and all the other eBook platforms because they took about 60 percent of the revenue. Now, thanks to even more tech advances, I can make them available as PDFs.