My tips for cycling in France

Discussion in 'Touring and Adventure Cycling' started by Jimmy Doug, 4 Jul 2011.

  1. robing

    robing Senior Member

    I'm back now from my Bayonne to Blighty trip across France to Dieppe. (I managed to make myself ill in the process, I think because I was really pushing it and doing a lot of miles and not enough rest). Anyway, here are my thoughts on France:

    Pros -
    I love the French people. I like the whole politeness thing, we could learn a thing or two from that. I found them to be mainly friendly and hospitable, it helps having basic conversational French. I was able to get by and have reasonable conversations, but didn't always fully understand the replies when they spoke quickly!

    Cycle paths - mostly very good. Did quite a lot of the Velodyssey and other cycle ways in southwest France and generally good quality, easy navigation, separate from the roads.

    Boulangeries - wonderful array of pastries and often do coffees too.

    Camping - so many campsites, the municipals generally good and some cheap ones on the Velodyssey. Wild camped in the forests, was great! I did have a battery pack nicked from a campsite toliets which put a bit of a dampener on things. I realise this could have happened anywhere.

    Bayonne to Royan - I really enjoyed this section, lots of cycle paths, smaller roads, endless pine forests and the Dune du Pilat. Plus really liked Arcachon.

    Normandy - nice rolling countryside a bit like the Cotswolds.

    Budget hotels
    Though more pricey than countries like Spain, I found the F1s and Premiere Classe etc to be pretty good. You know what you are going to get and they don't question taking the bike in the room. Can work out quite cheap if there are 2-3 of you. Virtually every F1 stunk of cigarette smoke though. I didn't really mind the lack of en suite in F1s, there is a washbasin, not too bad if you are a bloke lol.

    Cons -
    the roads! I didn't really like cycling on French roads that much. Navigation was pretty tricky when I got away from the coast at Rochefort and headed inland via Thouars, Saumur, Le Mans, Normandy. France must have more miles of roads than any other European country I reckon, certainly more than Spain. You can take minor roads, but often this means checking your map/gps/phone etc every 5 minutes when you get to a crossroad. A lot of the main roads, even 'minor' D ones can be quite busy and narrow. There's often not a shoulder to cycle on, and when there is one, the surface may not be very good. I had 2 or three really close passes from lorries.

    Shops - there can be a lack of roadside shops in France. Petrol stations generally don't serve any refreshments (although more in the north seemed to), smaller supermarkets often close in the early-mid afternoon. Big supermarkets/hypermarkets are ok but a bit of a pain to wander around when you only want a quick stop. I found the roadside bars/tabaks a bit miserable. You can buy a fairly overpriced Coke, maybe a chocolate bar but not a lot else. There were a few times when I was really gagging for some refreshments and nowhere was open! Some towns were like ghost towns to cycle through.

    Rochefort to Le Mans was all pretty dull cycling, all fairly featureless. I guess the east of the country is probably a lot more scenic and mountainous.

    That's about it! The weather was fantastic. I didn't really come across any priorite a droite either,
     
    Goggs and User259 like this.
  2. briantrumpet

    briantrumpet Guru

    Location:
    Devon & Die
    Re D roads - they do really come in all shapes and sizes - in my part, there are some, just a handful, which are fairly major transit routes, with lots of cars and lorries 'n' all, and then there are others where I can go 20 miles and not be passed by more than a couple of cars - the latter type is the more common. D roads ('Départementale') that go in a straight line between medium sized towns are likely to be busyish, but there are usually alternatives not far away (except in the case of really mountainous areas) - and you can get dream roads like this, which, I'd say, are in the majority:

    img_20160904_123620323_hdrblog.jpg

    Re PAD - yes, a disappearing phenomenon, and if you do come across one (marked by an X sign), you just treat it like any junction: with caution.
     
    robing likes this.
  3. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    Thanks for the write up - very interesting.
    Concerning the priorité à droite. As I've said elsewhere, I absolutely guarantee that you sailed past several - but didn't notice a single one. That's my problem with them! They really are everywhere, but rarely are they clearly marked. If you don't believe me, give me your route and I'll find them for you on Google Street View (semi-serious here!)
    I totally agree with you about the rest. The French are very polite and have a good sense of humour, but it helps if you make even a tiny effort to speak French. The roads can be very fast and busy - but I find them on the whole far less stressful than the UK ones. Garages? Yeah - not the best place to look for food generally speaking. You need to stop off in the supermarkets or boulangeries. Don't go to the big superstores on the edge of town unless you can lock all your bags and your bike. They can be HUGE - and by the time you've even found the section of the supermarket you're looking for, someone may have pinched your stuff. Far, far better to stop in a small corner supermarket, even if it does cost that little bit more.
     
    robing likes this.
  4. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    They are not disappearing. It does depend to some extent where you are. Here, there are more and more of them. Several towns around here have recently added them, whereas before they were not priorité à droite.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    I love your photo by the way Brian. I absolutely agree. You find D roads like that everywhere in France outside the big towns - not necessarily with the Alps in the background though! It's one of the great pleasures of cycling in this wonderful country.
     
  6. briantrumpet

    briantrumpet Guru

    Location:
    Devon & Die
    Shows how regional these decisions are - they are definitely disappearing in the Drôme, though it's quite funny to see white lines painted in the middle of the big spaces where some of them they used to be.
     
  7. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    Yes, indeed. In such a centralised country too. I lived in Rhône Alpes before coming here, and apart from the mountains, one of the things I loved about the region was that priorité à droite hardly existed. It was occasional in Nantes, everywhere in Le Havre, and it's sporadic here (I've moved around a bit!). It's part of the problem of the thing. There's no consistence whatsoever. Even in the same village there can be a normal-priority round, straight away followed by a priorité à droite road. In Paris, there are still the occasional roundabouts that are priorité à droite. How confusing is that? Isn't it time the French just abolished the damn things? They exist elsewhere in Europe too - but they're clearly marked. Not always the case here.
     
    User259 likes this.
  8. briantrumpet

    briantrumpet Guru

    Location:
    Devon & Die
    Yes. There are all sorts of quirky things I love about France (or the bit I know, anyway), but this isn't one of them.

    Let's put it to the EU! Oh, hang on...
     
    Jimmy Doug likes this.
  9. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    [QUOTE 4469583, member: 259"]They aren't marked at all in Belgium and NL. If you don't see a sign saying otherwise, always assume it's priority to the right.[/QUOTE]

    I know France isn't the only country in Europe to have priorité à droite. Hell, I remember coming across it in the States. What I object to is the very principle you mention - that if you don't see a sign otherwise then you have to stop to traffic on the right. This is what I think is dangerous. How many times have I driven or cycled past a junction that I didn't see until the last minute? Whether you're driving or cycling, if you have to give way, it should be clearly marked (around here, the new priorité à droite are marked - it's the older ones that aren't). I'll quote myself from the very first post in this thread:

    I then went on to post a picture of a street near here to illustrate the point. It's one of many like this - indeed it's not the worst. But now, thanks to the magic of Google, you can see for yourself.

    https://www.google.fr/maps/@49.5198...4!1seqj27XSQWIaWg1kRy2__Vg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Actually, the road is much more visible on Google Street View than it is in real life - probably because the camera is high on the roof of the car and that you're not moving fast. The photo I posted on the first page is much closer to what you actually see. If you go further up the road in the opposite direction, you see a newer junction which is properly marked, and also there is now a cross sign like the one above - but it's very easy to miss and it doesn't give you any clue as to where the junction is. In a car, and even on a bike, this junction is all but invisible until you cross it. That's my gripe: not so much the rule in itself, but the fact that it's all too easy to sail past a give way junction without noticing it and finding yourself in hospital (or worse) for the lack of a simple white line across the road.
     
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  10. DMan001

    DMan001 Member

    Location:
    London
    Great post, thanks!
     
  11. briantrumpet

    briantrumpet Guru

    Location:
    Devon & Die
    I does seem bonkers, I agree. And its bonkersness is amplified by its differing application in different part of France - as mentioned earlier, they are pretty rare in Rhône Alps, and I can't think of one junction within 50 miles of me that I'd note as being unclear or unnecessarily risky.
     
  12. Alex H

    Alex H Guru

    Location:
    Alnwick
    I can only echo what's been said. Someone on here said that "there were very few examples in France anymore". On my next 2 rides I counted them - over 30 in a total of 70km.

    I've narrowly escaped twice, fortunately in a car, both in town centres (one being Calais) where there have been no signs.
     
    Jimmy Doug likes this.
  13. OP
    OP
    Jimmy Doug

    Jimmy Doug If you know what's good for you ...

    It's true that you're more likely to come a cropper in the car than on the bike, just because of the speed that you're travelling at. However, I have had a couple of close shaves over the past few years on a bike, so accidents can happen. Fortunately, most motorists coming out of these junctions are careful because they know how dangerous they are. Only the very most arrogant drivers will just pull out in front of you without looking.
     
  14. Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    When I was in France last week, happily cycling through the Pyrenees and Alps, I certainly didn't have any problem with the motorists. Yes, some do drive fast and even a bit recklessly at times, but in general they're far, far more considerate to cyclists than motorists in Australia will ever be. I enjoyed every minute of my cycling in France. :smile:
     
  15. 3narf

    3narf For whom the bell dings

    Location:
    Stroud
    I did a bit of cycling in France; mainly out from CDG where I was staying, round places like Chantilly etc
     
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