Cycling holidays in France are popular and with good reason but how about a tandem ride around the French countryside? Evan and Sue Chapple tandem fans from Australia reveal how they discovered this unusual way to tour and what it’s like…
France epitomises the ultimate destination for cycle touring with its beautiful villages, warm summer weather and cultural heritage. You’d be hard pressed to find a more delightful place to cycle tour. Quiet back roads wind through farmland and vineyards providing a feast for the soul. The distance between villages is close enough to allow for an easy cycle and generally there are basic services in each village such as a boulangerie, small supermarket, bar and often a municipal campground. You can cycle for a few days or a few weeks, the choice is yours and with a little planning and some general fitness, you can be on your way to one of the most satisfying ways to travel in France.
We started cycle touring on the tandem in 2006; the beautiful Loire Valley was our first destination. With generally flat terrain, beautiful Châteaux, the winding Loire River, the Loire Valley offered everything we could want. We planned our trip, buying books and maps and borrowing every piece of touring equipment we could to reduce our costs. We already had our own tandem bike, though we had had little experience of using it in the six months since we’d bought it.
The fact that we had absolutely no idea what was in store for us was most likely a good thing. We were under-prepared, unfit, inexperienced cyclists, and had very poor French language skills. Despite this, and although it was the most challenging things we have ever done, it also was the most amazing and rewarding experience. Our first tour took in 1,200 kilometres and four weeks of absolute delight, seeing and experiencing many things you could only do by bicycle. It was a fulfilling holiday where we learned as much about ourselves as we did about cycle touring. We’ve been back many times since.
Tandem Tour de France
We are often asked “why tandem cycling in France?”. Most people expect us to respond that it’s easier. But it’s not true! It’s actually more difficult on the tandem but it’s so much fun. We always arrive at a destination together, can chat along the way, and help each other push through the tough times. The task of earning every kilometre we pedal, every sight we see, every beautiful experience we have, and the knowledge that our achievement has come from us both working together is fantastic. The freedom of being on the bike is like nothing else and the tandem is who we are.
There are many things to consider when cycle touring including the type of bike, panniers, tent, cooking equipment and clothing. As with all cycling, the weight of what you are carrying and how to reduce is a constant debate. Everything you put on your bike you have to be able to move either by peddling or pushing. We always take our own tandem which does add complexity to the trip but the familiarity of the bike outweighs any disadvantage. There are many bike hire companies in France for those who don’t have a bike or don’t want to take their own.
Accommodation is another important consideration. Camping provides a freedom that we can’t get in other types of lodgings. However, camping isn’t for everyone and there are many other options, including gites, chambre d’hotes, farm stays and hotels, the options are endless in France and suit every type of budget.
Here’s a few top tips we’ve learned by experience:
Always expect the unexpected.
It is inevitable, you will get lost. However, you may find places you may never have otherwise seen.
Learn the language – at least the basics.
Be prepared for things not to go to plan and have some flexibility to be able to change things when needed.
We’ve cycled thousands of kilometers in France. We’ve met amazing people and made lifelong friendships with people from all over the world. We”ve had an extraordinarily rich array of experiences and intend to continue our exploration of France on two wheels for many years to come.
Practical Info: If you want to take your bike/tandem on a plane to France Sue and Evan advise: As we travel from Australia, there are taxes to pay in France when you collect your bike and this can add to your costs. Most airlines offer 30kg of baggage on a standard economy ticket and this is generally enough for your bike and touring gear. The length of the tandem means that not all airlines will carry it as part of standard baggage and therefore it will travel as freight on a separate flight. This can be problematic if, like us, you want to cycle from the airport.
Sue and Evan Chapple are passionate cyclists share their experiences with others via their blog: www.tandemcyclingfrance.blogspot.com.au