France Bicyle Trip

Jul 15th, 2010, 01:01 PM
  #21  
 
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If you really want kid friendly bike trips then Holland is the place with mushrooms giving your position all over the country, hence you can just send them off and meet them in the evening
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 02:18 PM
  #22  
 
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Wow. This is just a fantastic thread. I've been watching bike posts for a while now and this is the best one I've come across. While I haven't biked yet in the regions discussed I've vacationed in all of them and can't wait to go biking in them. I live near Paris so my biking is thus far confined to Paris and its environs.

AlessandraZoe, you have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and the OP couldn't have hoped for a better responder on the topic of bike tours. I've checked some of the tour companies you suggested and I must say I got a little sticker shocked. I know these companies offer a good deal in the way of services/conveniences and catering to the riders and private guides and all but....yikes.


As a cheaper alternative and to follow up on bigtyke's suggestion maybe a home base might be a good idea and do loop trip trips from there. If you find there aren't enough loops from a home base to keep you satisfied you can always take a train, bus, taxi to your preferred location and rent bikes and do your loop from there. This saves all the hassle of moving luggage. You'll still have to do some planning on where to rent bikes but then that's just part of the planning process. I think the other advantage is that while having the service is convenient it takes away from the spontaneity of your experience, and it's the unexpected experiences that sometimes make the most memorable vacation moments. AlessandraZoe even mentioned that her most memorable trip was the one where the guides quit and they had to do it themselves.

I think you could get Michelin maps and use these to plan your routes. Stick to the white and yellow roads and try to avoid the red ones. The white ones have the least amount of traffic. Roads highlighted in green are designated scenic roads. As well as biking in Paris I bike all around the Paris area including Versailles, Malmaison, Meaux, Fontainebleau, Provins etc. on roads I've never ridden before just using Michelin maps (map scale of 1/150,000 or 1/200,000). They can give some indication of terrain, for example, lots of twisty roads in an area shaded green generally means hilly/mountainous. Straight roads in unshaded white areas are usually level to rolling. But any bike rental location should be able to inform you as to what the terrain is like in its area and give you tips on where to go. Or try the local tourist office, which may have a website, possibly in English.

The regions suggested to you are all good ones. Let me add another no one has mentioned and that is Brittany, specifically the area around the Gulf of Morbihan, near the small city of Vannes. My favorite region in France. The terrain is level and gently rolling around here and the scenery is lovely. It lacks in the castles you are seeking but I think it would charm you nonetheless. And you are on the coast so there are always beach activities. There is a lovely island called Belle Ile that you can ferry to and bike around. As its name implies, it is beautiful.

I'm not trying to steer you away from AlessandaZoe's suggestion of a guide service, because it's a good suggestion, I just wanted to give you a perspective from the do it yourself point of view. Whatever your choice I think you've got some good advice to work with and you'll be able to make a well informed decision.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 04:21 PM
  #23  
 
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FrenchMystiqueTours--How kind of you to compliment my experience.

I'm not in disagreement with you at all, though, about the guide stuff. I think there's a dollar assessment on services, and everyone should determine one's own "Is this worth it?" point. From the beginning on this thread, I've been more or less pitching the idea of just studying the itineraries of all the online tours, whether one uses them or not, because those day-to-day points tend to highlight regional not-to-miss places, and therefore one has good yardsticks for routing on one's own plus ideas for general locales for accomodation points.

I'm totally in favor of "What do I have to do on my part (be it sweat or $) to meet my travel objective?" I grew up in a family where taking along pots and pans made it possible to travel far in the US; I'm still of that mindset. It's far more important to GO, no matter how one goes, rather than to consider a style of travel as beneath one.

I do point out, as you touched upon, that on the tours we've been doing, what are included are very good bikes (fitted to one's needs AND repaired/tuned as needed), all breakfasts, most dinners, some lunches, all accomodations, emergency supports, routing directions for each day WITH map, storage panniers and two water bottles on bikes, special private tours to points of interests, all luggage hauling, and all planning of routes etc, plus the promise of some social opportunities for both parents and kids.

So while there is an initial sticker shock, if you were to add up the $ to $ value of all services, meals and hotels, it's a fair price (as long as you are not doing B&R) for services rendered. I know that on our first group hiking trip in Switzerland (not biking trip), I added up doing it on our own vs the tour and came to the monetary conclusion that I actually couldn't arrange that specific trip myself for any less. The tour operators must have worked a heck of a deal with the hotels--ones that even Priceline would not have been able to pull off.

There are other "hidden" pluses with some of the operators. For example, VBT's tours offer airfare that is VERY reasonable (sometimes with a few too many connections, though), although we have never used that option with them because we were either using FF miles or our time limitations necessitated our own arrangements.

So I also agree that loop tours on one's own could work fine, as long as, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the bike rentals are good (nothing worse than climbing a 3k hill with a bike that can't switch a gear).

Palenque and biloburgler are certainly the the mark about their recs: I can think of at least three towns in the Loire where two days of "looping" in each place would be great. As you can tell, I think Loire biking is a nice happy medium for the family. It's not my favorite area of France, but I think it's very accessible on a number of levels: easy and pretty cheap transport to the region, lots of river and small road biking stretches (agree with looking at Michelin maps), access to multi level $$ accomodations, lots of points of interest.

FrenchMystique, as an aside, I also did want to say that we had some tough climbs in Brittany, but I did love it. I did not get to do the region you mentioned (ah-oh! MUST return! Note to self--tell husband we never got to do "good" part of Brittany and must go back)but I've spoken before of how much I loved Cancale and Dinan (I'm not a St. Malo fan). We started out in Rennes, hit the coast, and then moved upward towards Mont St. Michel. A heck of a lot like Ireland (oh those Celts, right?).
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 04:47 PM
  #24  
 
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AlessandraZoe, I absolutely agree that these tours do include a good deal and I imagine you've done some pretty careful studies of cost/benefit vs. doing it on your own so I know you speak from experience. Can't argue with someone who has done the legwork and has the actual nuts and bolts knowledge. It's just the do it yourselfer in me coming out. Had to put in my two cents though since I thought this was such a great thread and I really admired your knowledge of the topic, since I am a real bike enthusiast.

On that note I am 100% in agreement with you that there is no substitute for a good bike. I ride a really nice Gary Fisher mountain bike and I couldn't imagine doing half the rides I do on some old jalopy 3 speed clunker. To the OP, if you decide to do it on your own that is a huge consideration. If you are renting bikes make sure you do a quality check, unless you plan on packing your own, which certainly would add a difficult wrinkle to the situation
figuring out how to move your own bikes around.

Yes, the area around Dinan and also The Pink Granite Coast (Cote de Granit Rose), which I absolutely love, can be very hilly and you need some legs and lungs once in a while. The area I spoke of is relatively flat and gently rolling terrain and biking around the Gulf of Morbihan is just lovely. I think you should really look into this area if you haven't, Alessandra, and of course you as well FayeW. I didn't mention it but one of my favorite attractions of this region are the megalithic sites, such as Carnac. You can search my name and find the trip report I wrote about megalithic sites in this region if that interests you. But even if you are not a megalith lover (as I am) you would find this area quite lovely and would not regret having done this. Relaxing ride, pretty countryside, ancient history (provides that aura of mystery) and celtic/Breton culture. What more can I say. Sorry for digressing FayeW. I'll be heading to this region in a few weeks so you can watch for my trip report and see what you think.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 10:35 AM
  #25  
 
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FrenchMystique:

Gulf of Morhbihan is beckoning....I can hear it. Husband keeps saying, "I thought we went there."

Don't worry (and how kind of you TO worry) I didn't your comments as a personal insult and I admire people who know how wonderful travel is out of the car and on top of a bike saddle.

I just didn't want anyone who catches the thread midstream to end up thinking that there's only ONE way to travel with a cycle in a foreign country. Lots of people (me!) will tend to skip middles of these threads, and I truly do want to cheer for anyone who does whatever it takes to make a trip feasible in either time, effort or money. Rent, borrow, beg--GOING is always far more important.

And I totally relate to the "do-it-yourselfer" instinct.

Oh, bike selection...what trauma...there's just no guarantee. I'd say this factor is probably the major reason why I am hesitant NOT to go with a good tour company who has pressure to "make it right."

However, the ability to take one's own bike, has greatly increased over the past ten years. There are now special boxes for flights, and trains--even buses--have made
more and more accomodations. Yeah, it's a little more effort, but that effort could be more than worth it considering a bad bike can make or break the trip.

Two examples:

We rented bikes to circumnavigate Victoria Island (Puget Sound), and while they were not the worst ever, I was worried I was more out of shape than I thought. Once we got on good bikes on the subsequent bike tour, my worries vanished. Just bad bikes.

In Ireland, pre another bike tour, I wanted to use some old route directions from a previous trip for a few days. Again, we rented bikes. My gears could never get down to any Granny gear, which on the flat, even in headwinds, was not that big of deal; on Corkscrew Hill outside of Ballyvaughen it was NOT good. Husband's bike worked fine; kids' bikes were barely OK.

The other problem we encountered from time to time was no helmet availability. Having to delay the start of our bike rental to track down a story that sold helmets has often been a problem.

Re bike types:

I never had a Gary Fisher, but youngest actually went through two of them. One bike drowned in a local river (long story; husband forgot that someone must always bike behind a child under 10, especially near bodies of water)and she loved both. Found it interesting that on two tour trips with huge climbs, Gary Fisher bikes were the ones provided to her, too.

When we first got into biking, though,our nephew, who had just completed a US coast-to-coast cycle as part of an international charity group and who always ended up repairing everyone elses' bikes, no matter what type, advised us from that experience, "Start with bottom-of-the-line Trek hybrids--they refuse to die." The Treks we bought were heavy things, but my gears shifted happily for eons.

The nice thing was that when we went on these tours, the bikes tended to fit and shift the same but be lighter, so we'd end up flying.

Anyway, I think what would be helpful is if some US biker with some experience would write a thread called: "Transporting one's bike from US to France and to Destinations within France."

This board and some creative thinking can leap over all the other hurdles of a "do-it-yourself" trip. I know we did a taxi hire on the cheap once to transport our luggage from a hotel to another hotel for us, so a lot of details just aren't that much of a problem.

They just take time.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 11:55 AM
  #26  
 
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I'll do a little google search as I'm sure there must be some do it yourself instructions on how to get your bike over here. I remember before I moved here I found a video some guy did about breaking down you bike and boxing it. No travel tips though.

On some of the rail lines around Paris outside rush hour times bikes are allowed on trains and it's great for getting to locations you want to bike from. I've done a couple of trip reports on biking just outside Paris (Paris's Royal and Impressionist Era Suburbs, Biking on the Marne River) if you want to see what I'm up to. Lots of pictures, just search my name here and you'll find them.

The Trek bikes are like tanks, sturdy and reliable. Like certain late 60's and early 70's era cars with the slant V6 engines. I prefer something lighter though and my bike gives me that with the same level of reliability. It's a mountain bike so it's not speedy quick on the roads but I'm never in a hurry. And it's fantastic on the hills.

Next time you're in Paris if you'd like to get a little guided tour in or out of the city drop me a line and we can make a little trip. I'll plan the trip you plan the picnic (yes, the way to a man's heart is through the stomach).

As I mentioned, sometime in the next few weeks I'll be near the Gulf of Morbihan so I'll have a trip report for you to entice hubby with.

FayeW, sorry for interrupting your thread but I hope our little digression gave you something to think about.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 11:59 AM
  #27  
 
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However, the ability to take one's own bike, has greatly increased over the past ten years. There are now special boxes for flights, and trains--even buses--have made
more and more accomodations>

not sure i'd agree with that - having biked around Europe for many many years but not recently that much - it used to be bikes went free on many airlines - you provided your own box however - garnered from a bike store - now most airlines charge a whole lot

and on trains in Europe it used to be you could check your bike as luggage and sent it along on the train and pick it up a day or two later in the next city - but very very few trains offer that service (Eurostar London-Paris/Brussels is about the only one i know of) - now there are trains that you can carry your bikes on but these are mainly local trains - the faster trains simply do not allow it.

I would advise renting a bike (or buying a bike and re-selling it - some shops will make an agreement to re-buy at a % - instead of takaing your bike - especially if a casual biker with an average bike.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 12:05 PM
  #28  
 
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I've just skimmed the replies, and you have gotten a lot of good advice. Our son and wife did a B&R tour coinciding with the Tour. It was, needless to say, incredible. In college I did a European tour that included cycling in England, the Loire and teh Black Forest--and they were 3 gear bikes. It was terrific. The Loire would be really good.
I saw someone suggest you read MANY of the sites for tours. That would be the best way for getting an itinerary and great suggestions.
Gretchen is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 01:15 PM
  #29  
 
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PalenQue--Your buy/resell idea is BRILLIANT! That would solve a host of problems, I'm sure.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 01:28 PM
  #30  
 
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And FrenchMystique--How funny, just as you posted, the youngest kid marched in sweating from a neighborhood spin on her old Trek and said, "OMG--I forgot how much heavier our bikes are." Old Treks=Tanks; correct. Great car comparison.

I will take you up on the Paris stuff. I have been reading your bike posts re Paris area. Thanks!
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 03:00 PM
  #31  
 
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I had wondered about that idea of buying a bike and selling it back. I didn't know there were actually places doing that. When I moved here I shipped my bike by sea with other household stuff in a big container but that's probably not very practical for the vacationer, although it is fairly cheap for just a bike in a box. There can also be unknown variables with time of shipping and pick up options with sea transport.

Alessandra, the roads in and around Paris will be waiting for you and your bike.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 08:49 AM
  #32  
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I love Fodor's forum! The info is fantastic and has really helped me narrow my search for our first family bike trip in Europe. I actually found a company that will put together personalized tours or you can take one of their 'canned' self-guided tours and the price is not bad at all! Check out cyclomundo.com. The hotels look very nice and they offer assistance/suggestions on other activities when not biking.

Thanks everyone, off to research some of the cities in the Dordogne!
Fayew is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 09:42 AM
  #33  
 
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Would love the review of them when you get back. I actually think I had a phone conversation them when I was trying to rent bikes during a Sancerre stay (this was eons ago). It would be great to hear about your experience, Fayew--too bad we're waiting a year! Good luck.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Jul 27th, 2010, 11:46 AM
  #34  
 
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We did this with our two kids when they were about the same age as yours. Had a fantastic trip in the Loire with Anjou Bike Tours http://www.anjou-bike-center.com/menu.htm We did the self guided tour but it was all supported and our luggage transferred between our different accommodations. Every place we stayed was charming. Claude and his wife Jacqueline are the owners and we could not have been happier with the routes they sent us on and the places we stayed.
starfish1 is offline  
Aug 6th, 2010, 12:21 PM
  #35  
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I've really enjoyed all the dialogue and after making the decision to bike the Dordogne (with a self-guided tour) I've been spending a lot of time reading about the region and things to do. I'll certainly share our experiences when we return.

FrenchMystique- since this is my husband and boys first trip to France we do plan to spend a couple of days in Paris. Thinking about staying on or near the Il Saint_Louis, what do you think? We'll have to do some of the regular tourist stops (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc) but if you have any ideas on other things to do that teenage boys would love please share them! I may need to start a new post....

thanks,
Fayew
Fayew is offline  
Aug 6th, 2010, 01:51 PM
  #36  
 
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You'll enjoy the self-guided tour option - I've done two of them, the first (Provence) through Discover France (www.discoverfrance.com) and the second with Detours in France (www.detours-in-France.com)(the Dordogne). The Discover France tour was a bit more pleasant, albeit somewhat more expensive. You get what you pay for. Seriously consider going for a road bike option instead of the usual touring bikes - they cost a bit more but make the going easier. You'll find the Dordogne lovely (IMHO it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth), but it's seriously hilly in parts. I took a third cycling trip in France, too, one that I organized and planned myself, using rental bikes. It took a fair amount of time to research & plan out (family tour, six people), but it turned out very well and I saved about 30% from a self-guided tour.

Bicycle touring in France is a wonderful - my family and I had memorable times. You'll have a marvelous experience. Make sure that you give us a trip report afterwards.
RedStater is offline  
Aug 6th, 2010, 02:27 PM
  #37  
 
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Some people had a few questions concerning transporting one's bike via airlines. I've done it a couple of times, once for a solo tour across Argentina/Chile, again for Costa Rica/Nicaragua.

The airlines will typically charge you $50 each way - if they recognize it as a bike! More information is usually available on the airline's website. I've only been charged the bike tariff once (thanks, USAir!); otherwise it's been the standard $25 charge for an extra bag. I use a dedicated bike transport bag from Ground Effect, a NZ manufacturer (costs around $100 or so, delivered). It's not difficult to break down and pack the bike, and mine has never been damaged in transit (granted, it's all-steel and tank-like, a purpose-built tourer). Someone above spoke of how-to videos on YouTube on the subject - I found those helpful. You must keep the bag's packed weight under 50 lbs or they'll hit you for an overweight charge. With a little practice, it'll take you an hour to disassemble and pack the bike, and a couple more to get it up and running at the other end.

On my solo tours I've brought along racks and panniers, and transported my own (minimal) baggage. On family tours I've usually hired a local taxi or driver to haul everyone's stuff to the next accommodation.
RedStater is offline  
Aug 6th, 2010, 04:08 PM
  #38  
 
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Fayew - I will indeed get back to you with some ideas for Paris.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Aug 7th, 2010, 02:29 PM
  #39  
 
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I've done a number of air flights with bikes and use a giant plastic bag wrapped up in great stickytape. These bags are available for about £13 in UK and you cna throw them away after the flight (so no storage)
bilboburgler is offline  
Aug 8th, 2010, 07:50 AM
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Our son is a big cyclist and had a hard plastic case when he took it to France. It was large enough that a SUV would be necessary to get it to the airport. The one he has brought with him this week is a suitcase=-like old samsonite. It is about 28" square and 6" deep. It is very cool--new generation.
Gretchen is offline  

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