Cycling In France

Cycling In France

It is hardly surprising in the land that gave us 'The Tour de France' that cycling is so popular and ranks alongside football as a national sport. On any fine day you will see lycra clad cyclists on the roads and France caters so well for cyclists and there is generally a greater appreciation of cyclists by motorists. This does not mean that you do not need to exercise the normal care and attention that is necessary when on two wheels.

Not only are French motorists generally more sympathetic to cyclists so are local authorities who are much better than the UK in providing urban cycle paths. Additionally in many places,  designated cycle routes have been established, either following quiet roads or offtrack routes or a combination of the two. A prime example is the 'Loire a Velo' and its cousin 'Chateaux a Velo' which offers a very extensive cycle network.

Additionally France has an extensive canal and river network and in many cases cycle paths follow these and add in the superb network of 'voie vertes', literally 'greenways' which offer additional safe off road cycling and you can see why we wax lyrical about cycling in France.

We would add that we are not lycra clad cyclists, not in any way that I am denigrating these guys, but the reality with our motorhome is that we do not go anywhere without our bikes, not only for practical purposes, i.e the visit to the local boulangerie but also as a source of pleasure.

Part of our lifestyle is to use our motorhome as a base for our walking or cycling but with regard to the latter we do tend to fall into the cycling for softies category so you will not see in this website an article on us tackling the Alpe D' Huez. Walking is perhaps a slightly different matter but cycling often involves a leisurely lunch.

What Bikes

As far as bikes are concerned, ours are ATB's (all terrain bikes) though in most cases a hybrid type bike would be sufficient and in many cases a 'town' bike would be ok but our routes are generally not geared to road cyclists, that is the ones with the skinny tyres, they are a different breed. What you do not want to buy is the full suspension mountain bikes, these are ok if you are going to tackle off road uphill rough tracks. If you just use them in town, you will spend all your energy just bouncing along the road. I put them on par with all the town folk who buy 4 wheel drives to do the school run.

A bike with a suspension saddle and front forks is the most that you will need and one made of alloy reduces the weight but do not spend a fortune it will only get nicked. Expensive bikes on the back of motorhomes are too tempting.

What is essential is a good gel saddle and also make sure you know how to mend a puncture or have a spare inner tube and a basic tool kit.

I recall being 15 miles out on the Canal du Midi when I had a major problem with my back gear hanger, luckily with the tools I had I was able to effect a temporary fix.

With regard to gears, most are now of the derailleur type with a front 3 chain rings and a 7 back cassette giving you 21 gears but some only have 2 front and 5 rear giving 10 and  other combinations do exist. Do not worry unless you are going to do serious offroad stuff, you will never use the lower gears. When you do, you expend so much energy you sometimes wonder why you bothered.

Finally get a good lock and if you are in a high risk area make sure that the front wheel is included. It is too easy to remove the front wheel and for the same reason do not lock your bike by the front wheel only. In these areas I will use a cable and a D lock.


Electric Bikes

One of the fastest growth areas in the European cycling market  for sales is undoubtedly e bikes, with some countries, such as France, showing a formidable growth and it seems every other bike is an e bike. We are not talking about road bikes here, those that you see on the Tour De France but tourers and incidentally e bikes have entered the mountain bike market.

So what is an electric bike?

The first thing you have to know is that you still have to pedal. What the motor does is provide you with assistance and they are limited to 25kmh, roughly 15.5mph. This doesn’t mean that you can not ride faster than this, it just means to go faster you will have to rely on your own power. Also the motor has to be limited to a maximum of 250 watts and it cannot be operated by a throttle, as you would find on a motorbike. Anything that does not meet these requirements is illegal.

Hub Motors v Crank Motors

What I do not intend to do is to go into too much technical detail on the pros and cons of each type.

Hub Motors

These, hardly surprising are fitted on either the rear or front wheel hub and they tend to be cheaper than crank fitted motors. Generally avoid front wheel hub motors, they can spin in the wet & can be unstable if you hit an object. The problem with front hub motors  is that there is less weight over the motor.

Rear wheel hub motors are the way to go, they are more stable and have a more of a ‘motorbike’ feel  as you are being pushed from behind. This is very noticeable when you first start off and is one of the most noticeable differences over a conventional cycle as you accelerate away.

Hub motors tend to be cheaper, less technically involved, they are reliable and they are easily replaced if there is a problem.

Hub motors are not as good on steep hills, having said that I have a Volt Pulse, which copes admirably with the Chiltern Hills.

Crank Motors

These fit in the middle of your bike and have less weight and there is a better weight distribution.

The motor connects directly to a front gear, which is called a chainring and drives the chain directly.

One alleged disadvantage is that this drive system puts more strain on the gears  and the chainset and there are reports of needing to change the chain more often and even stories of chains snapping. If the latter happens then you will be left stranded.

If you apply power to the chain whilst changing gears. this can cause chain and gear damage. Also if you stop your bike in a high gear, then you will find it more difficult to start off again in the higher gear, as you can not change your gear.

Thankfully manufacturers have thought of both of these problems and they have developed automatic systems to counteract these issues., so ask before you buy.

As you can gather these motors are technically more sophisticated and they are more expensive to replace then hub motors. They are also more expensive, full stop.

They are, however, more efficient than hub motors and  are are much better in tackling steep hills but perhaps not quite so much fun to ride.

If you are going to go off road, I.e mountain biking. Then a crank driven motor is possibly the answer.

Other Things to Look For

Beware of cheap imports. The old adage is ‘buy cheap buy twice’

Puncture resistant tyres essential

Hydraulic disc brakes essential, you will be going faster and e bikes weigh more.

Batteries - anything less than Lithium Ion batteries forget. Also the bigger the battery the greater the range but also the greater the weight. Bear in mind though you can pedal an e bike without power they are much heavier than a normal bike so you are going to get a good workout.

A decent battery will give you up to 1000 charge cycles. There is no need to let the battery completely discharge before recharging.

Look out for names like Bosch, Shimano & Yamaha

Buy the best D lock that money can buy, e bikes are attractive to thieves.

Electric Fold Up Bikes

Unbelievably you can get these but they do appear to be somewhat mutually exclusive. The whole concept of fold up bikes should be mobility and this requires low weight, difficult to achieve with an e bike. Brompton have a go and the weight is acceptable but the battery is carried separately and the range is limited.

E Bikes and Motorhomes

They are ideally suited for motorhomes , as generally unless you are using the smaller motorhomes, then mobility is an issue.

They will allow you to explore further afield as long as you buy a bike with a good range.

They will provide assistance. Ideal if you have some mobility issues.

Remember, however, that e bikes are heavy, typically 20 kilos plus, without the battery, which would add another 3 kilos, this will be twice the weight of an average mountain bike. You can get lighter bikes but you are then talking about serious money. So this poses three  issues:

!) You need to check that any bike rack fitted can take the extra weight.

2)You need to be able to raise these bikes onto the racks or into a garage, though with the latter, you can buy ramps.

3)You need to be able to remove the battery easily.

Whatever you decide E bikes give you an increased freedom and are great fun. By controlling how much assistance you can get, you decide the workout that you need and of course the range that you wish to cover. Once you are riding the e bike you will not notice the extra weight, as long as you keep that battery charged.

I bought my first e bike, a Volt Pulse, to tackle the hills of the Chilterns and found that for commuting short distances it beats the car. They are great fun but for motorhoming, at the moment I am retaining my traditional bikes.