If you’re thinking about spending your next vacation as a way of getting to see a new country and improving your health and fitness at the same time, then cycling through France could be the best choice for you. The back roads are quiet, the weather is usually pleasant, without being too hot in summer, and let’s not forget the French brioche, camembert, red wine and baguettes. Whether you decide to visit vineyards or battlefields, châteaux or cathedrals, the country that is home to the famous Tour de France is the perfect cycling destination. But what do you need to take with you? Grab your bikes and check out these 9 essential items you won’t want to be without:
1. Waterproof, windproof, breathable clothes
While the weather is generally pleasant in France, it’s not always predictable and rain and cycling are an unpleasant combination. Storms can come out of nowhere, especially in the Aquitaine region. Make sure that you bring waterproof clothing that won’t get too heavy while you’re cycling and that lets your skin breathe to avoid chaffing.
2. Comfortable cycling shoes
Whatever time of year you decide to go, you’ll need comfortable footwear. If you know that you’ll be doing a lot of walking as well, for example in the Alps and Pyrenees, it would be a good idea to take lightweight hiking boots. If you’re planning on a summer trip in the South of France, then regular comfortable cycling shoes should do the trick. Also be sure to take an extra pair.
3. A Helmet
While it’s not law to wear a cycling helmet in France, it’s silly to think that just because you’re on vacation, accidents don’t happen; in fact it’s exactly because you’re in a foreign place with roads you don’t know that accidents are more. For tourists who don’t want to get knocked off their bikes in the busy streets of Paris and cut your vacation short – take a helmet.
4. Health Insurance and Important Documents
While cycling is beneficial to your health and improves your cardiovascular fitness, don’t forget that accidents can happen and health insurance while abroad is absolutely vital. Also, make sure your passport is up-to-date, with at least six months before expiry and check the requirements if you’re planning a long stay. While Americans don’t need a visa to enter France, you might be asked for additional requirements if you’re planning to stay longer than a few months.
5. Bright Colors
While France is an exceptionally cyclist tolerant country, it’s not always very well-lit, especially in rural areas. Bright colors will increase your visibility and could help save your life. If you’re not interested in dressing bright, then think about hanging a flag or bright sign from your rear pannier instead.
Sorry to say this, but thieves are a universal problem. While France is not particularly known for high levels of crime, it’s still advisable to secure your bike when it’s out of sight, especially in cities. Don’t let thieves ruin your holiday, U-locks are generally available wherever there are bikes for sale.
7. Map and compass
Gotten used to relying on Google and your cell phone for getting around? While you can set up international roaming before you leave, it’s expensive to use internet from your mobile while abroad, not to mention that in rural areas you may not get a signal. Take a map with you. It may be old-fashioned but it’s the best way to ensure you’re never lost and also that you have something to point to if your French is less than perfect. A compass is also the simplest tool around, needing no power and working indoors or under tree cover, unlike GPS.
You never know when there will be a blackout. If you’re camping this will be essential as well. They’re lightweight and lifesavers, so make sure to pack a flashlight in your case.
It’s a myth that the whole world speaks English. They don’t. Remember that you’re in a foreign country and make an effort to learn a few phrases, especially key ones, like asking for directions.
No matter what you end up taking, remember that France is well prepared for cycle tourism, so even if you forget something really important, you should be able to pick it up in larger towns and cities. Bon voyage!