If you’ve ever wondered about how to join a cycling club in France, then Britta Sorensen has this guide to getting you in on the action.
Joining a cycling club in France can seem a daunting task. I mean, where do you start? How do you find a club? Which one do you choose? And why? Road bike? MTB? Female? Are you looking for a family friendly club or one for your kids to join? Are you looking for a club that's social and runs events, or do you just want someone to ride with at weekends? Are you looking to enter competitions?
Answering these questions can help you find the right club for you.
Where do I start?
Finding a club
If you have ANY friends (or friends of friends) who cycle in france then that's the best place to start. If they are members of a cycling club already, then they will be a great source of initial information and may be full of useful knowledge.
However, if this isn’t the case, then you can start by looking on the amateur cycling website at the ‘Listes de Clubs Cyclistes’ in your region, e.g. Midi-Pyrénées has eight departments to look at and within each department there are many clubs for you browse. You will also be able to view how many races they organise each year, gauge the member demographics and get a contact name and email number for any clubs that interest you.
Other options open to you are to go direct to all the specific sports associations or federations – UFOLEP, FFC, FSGT and FFCT:
a) UFOLEP - Union française des œuvres laïques d'éducation physique
The UFOLEP website is set up to support sports and cyclotourisme. The primary aim of UFOLEP is to be inclusive and it embraces a commendable ‘Sports for All’ approach. Ufolep has an advantage if cycling isn't your only sport. You can have your GP sign your health certificate (which you need to join a club – see further below) for all the sports you (might) do. This way, your 'cycling licence' allows you to compete in trail running, course d’orientation, country skiing events, etc. If you want to enter competitions, cross the “en compétition” boxes. In general UFOLEP cycling clubs are really relaxed, although they do organise competitions. For road cycling there are several categories. There is normally only one female category but there are three male categories. Winning a competition gives you points and once a cyclist has 30 points he/she is promoted to the next level.
In any case, once you’re in the http://www.ufolep.org site you have two ways to search for a cycle club and they will more or less get the same result.
b) FFC – Fédération Française de Cyclisme
FFC clubs are generally competition-orientated. Here you’ll see a map of France with the words ‘Les Clubs – Trouver un Club’. Click this and you’ll see another map open up with all the regions and a drop down arrow box for the cycling discipline you’re specifically interested in OR alternatively you can just go for all of them.
Similarly, if you know the department number you’re looking to search, you can enter that instead, with the 'Toutes les disciplines' giving you a huge list of available clubs.
From here you can open up club details, contact names and local websites.
c) FSGT – La vie associative au Coeur du sport
This website caters for many sports and makes sport a way of life. If you click on this site and look down to the right there will be a small icon for you to click on called ‘ClubsPrès de Chez Vous’. Once done, you’ll see three menu drop boxes for Region, Department and Activity, with a ‘Rechercher’ button to click once you have filled in your drop down boxes. Again, if you know your region and department all you need to do is click on ‘cyclism’, cyclosport’, ‘cyclotourisme’ for all the club names to appear.
d) FFCT - La fédération française de cyclotourisme
You can click on this site and see on the right side ‘Chercher un Club’ with a drop down menu for the department. Once selected, a new map of the area will appear with green icons for the clubs in that area. If you hover your mouse over each one you’ll see the club details appear with the option to ‘voir le club’ to take you to the contact details for the club.
One thing is for sure: your geographical knowledge of France will improve immeasurably conducting these searches!
The association with a club is important if you are planning to race and take competitions seriously. If you plan to enter a UCI Grand Fondo qualifier you will need a FFC race licence, but for some other competitions a UFOLEP or FSGP will be fine. The advantage of having these licences is that you can enter a race using them – you just quote your club name and the organisers will know that you have already gone through the medical certificate process to become a member.
Finally, doing some further research using the club website and asking the designated contact person the relevant questions can further narrow down your choices.
So you’ve narrowed it down to a club – what happens next?
What to expect from the club
There are some details that you may want to ask them before you join:
- What is the demographic makeup of the club? Is it a 'young' club or mostly populated by retired men? How many females are there? Do they cater for youngsters?
- How often do they go out for rides? Do they cater for both road and MTB (VTT) riders?
- To what extent do you get involved, such as volunteering at their local club events? Are they actively running their own events, as well as providing opportunities to enter various competitions? How social are they?
- What is the club kit like and are you expected to compete in it and wear it for all club rides? (If it's ugly, this may be a dealbreaker...)
- Insurance information – what are you covered for by the club and federation 'assurance'? Also check your personal insurance as well as your household insurance.
- Are you expected to attend club meetings about the running of the club or organising events?
- If your French isn't great, are there any English-speakers who could help you with the logistics and help you settle in?
- Do they have a code of conduct?
- Do they use social media to update members about club rides and competitions, or social events? How else do they communiate with members?
So, let’s assume that you’ve conversed with the main contact and perhaps even been invited to try out a few rides to see if they meet your expectations – it is really reassuring if they offer this.
Different clubs will have different styles of running and also individual codes of conduct and behaviour for their members. This is standard practice and operationally should be a good thing as it will mean they are inclusive and respectful to all members.
Once decided, you will be asked to complete some or all of the documents below to become a member:
a) A ‘Fiche-de-Renseignment/Inscription’ form to become a member. This will require all your personal details, any relevant medical information, emergency contact, etc. It may also ask for your permission to let the club take charge in the event of an accident, plus consent to have your photos included on their Facebook site or in other publicity materials.
b) At the same time you will be asked to complete the licence application form for either the UFOLEP, FFC or another affiliated federation to cover your insurance. Some clubs allow membership of two federations, such as both UFOLEP and FFC. They will ask you to complete the personal details part and will complete the rest on your behalf (it may relate to the club). You may also need to choose your desired discipline(s) at this stage.
c) You may need to sign the club's ‘internal regulations’ or ‘code of conduct’ – this states the aims of the club, how they expect members to behave, what the club sets out to achieve and how it intends to operate. This is important to understand as it may relate to behaviour out on club rides as well on social events, or the use of social media; it will also state your insurance cover. As with anything you put your signature to, read carefully before signing to be fully aware of the club regulations.
d) You will need a medical certificate (dated within a stipulated timeframe) stating that you can cycle in and out of competition. See here for more on medical certificates.
The entire cost varies between clubs but usually costs around €50 and is an annual fee.
For entering the Federation competitions, you may need to add a competition card for each desired discipline: road, mountain biking, cyclocross. Each 'box' costs a small surcharge; you are free to choose only one or several, and it will be adapted to your choice when you complete all the documents with the club member.
For example, to participate in road competitions you must first complete a UFOLEP licence. To race in the National UFOLEP road races you must firstly compete in the departmental UFOLEP races, followed by the regional to be able to reach the National UFOLEP annual event. The club will advise all members of this if you're interested.
However, competition could be just one for the motivations for you to join: getting involved in social events and taking the family along to events could be another reason. Some clubs are excellent for families and have an ‘ecole’ (school) for teaching youngsters bike skills and road safety awareness in a fun and engaging way.
Other advantages of joining a club will be to learn the necessary skills to ride in a group/peloton and the etiquette for following this if you have never done this before.
So, whatever your motivations for wanting to join, now you have a few starter pointers, what are you waiting for?
About our contributor
Originally from Lincolnshire in the UK, Britta Sorensen has lived in the Tarn-et-Garonne in south-west France since 2014. The UCI Grand Fondo Championships were held in Albi in 2017 – practically on her doorstep. She competed in the qualifier race and was there on the World Champs race day to help out on one of the ‘ravito’ stations near her house. When she’s not out on her road or mountain bike, you’ll find her arranging endurance training camps in Tarn-et-Garonne.