Reader Q&A: Cycling from Calais to the Med

Published by Lyn on 30 March 2015

Mark emailed from Australia with a plethora of questions ahead of his Calais to Provence trip. Here's what I came up with.

Chris Froome English Channel

Not everyone passes under the English Channel and arrives in Calais like Chris Froome. Mark will presumably be going the conventional way, by ferry or train. Photo: Jaguar MENA

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G’day Lyn, my name is Mark.

My son and I are planning a trip to France in September this year to ride push bikes from the Channel to the Med. Starting at Calais our planned route is to head south via Paris then a westerly direction to avoid the rather hilly Central Massif, finishing up around Marseille(ish). A long way I grant you, however we have allowed 28 days and we believe we can do it.

We plan to camp along the way, and with the exception of Paris, avoid big cities, even large towns, preferring instead to stick to the more country lanes and villages etc.

As for bicycles, we’re thinking it would be best to purchase the bikes say in Calais and sell, or pack up ship home to Australia once we reach the Med.

So, now you know what we want to do, I would ask for any, and I do mean any, advice you may give, in particular regarding the following.

1) Type of bikes. My son is 20 years old, we are both 177 cm tall. I’m thinking of cross bar hybrid type machines. Don’t want Tour de France racing machines, nor do I want mountain bikes. Quality must be reasonable without costing thousands.

2) Panniers for the bikes

3) Do you know any bicycle shops in Calais?

4) Can we arrange purchase of the cycles via you?

5) Recommendations/idea for camping, and other cheap accommodation?

6) Recommended routes.

7) Any idea what wi-fi / mobile phone coverage is like in France

I look forward to hearing from you Lyn.

Many thanks,

I wrote back:

Hi Mark,

See below. I've tried to be useful where possible!

1) Type of bikes. My son is 20 years old, we are both 177 cm tall.  I’m thinking of cross bar hybrid type machines. Don’t want Tour de France racing machines, nor do I want mountain bikes. Quality must be reasonable without costing thousands.

Definitely go for hybrids/touring bikes. If you're on village roads and canal towpaths you will want sturdy machines with decent tyre width. Agree MTB will be unnecessary.

2) Panniers for the bikes

Not sure what advice you need here, other than that you'll need them! September will still be nice and warm but cater for the rain and make sure they are waterproof, or that everything is insulated inside plastic bags inside if not.

3) Do you know any bicycle shops in Calais? 

I don't know any bike shops in Calais personally (ie none that I've used) but a Google search shows up this option.

Most people arriving into Calais do so with their own bike on the ferry.

I'd consider costs of buying here/hassle of selling at the other end v bringing your own; especially for such as long trip it may be good to have the machines set up and know that you can pack everything efficiently onto the racks/panniers before you leave. See here for my info on flying with bikes and this on shipping bikes to France. I'd ask your airline for prices first. ?

The other thing I would say about buying via a bike shop in France is that it may work out more expensive than buying everything online or at home. France in general is more expensive than the UK for most bikey things (though I've been gone from Australia too long to be able to compare prices with 'home'). Also consider if you plan to bring your own tents etc or will you buy one here as well?

If you are looking for a one-stop shop, I'd head to a Decathlon store – there's one in Calais.?

If you are coming via Calais, does that mean you are flying into London? If so, it may be worth comparing prices with some of the UK-based cycle retailers as these tend to be much more competitive than their French equivalents. See here for some recommended links. ?I included advice here for options re seling bikes at the end of a trip.

4) Can we arrange the purchase of cycles through you?

Sorry, no. I'm not really set up to offer this service. (Plus I'm about 7 hours from Calais by car!)

5) Recommendations/idea for camping, and other cheap accommodation ?

See here for my accommodation in France advice.? I have cycle camping info here.? 
The Alan Rogers and Michelin camping guides are really useful. And other bits and bobs here.

See here for information on finding free accommodation in France (Warm Showers is a good one to join).

I'm still building my bike-friendly lists and I only have a few campsites at the moment (see here) but the ones I do have I'd heartily recommend. There are also lots of friendly B&Bs and small hotels if you need a few nights of comfort – use the dropdown menu on the previous link to search.

In exchange for all this lovely advice, if you were able book any accommodation via the links from my Where to Stay section, that would be appreciated. I've spent hours individually checking them all for bike storage/friendliness etc. Some of the links result in a small commission for me (which helps mt to keep the site going), while other links take you directly to bike-friendly owners. There's a map here you can also browse.

6) Recommended routes

This is limited by your imagination! You obviously want to avoid big hills (eg Massif Central), which means you may be best looking at the EuroVelo network of routes and tying these in with local French ones. They are generally designed to be pretty flat and generally traffice free (or on backroads).

I'd suggest taking the EuroVelo 4 around west from Calais, to the D-Day Beaches-Mont-St-Michel route (green on the link below). You could go in to Mont-St-Michel for the tourist points and then back on the Mont-St-Michel-Paris bike route, Veloscenie – yellowy/brown line on the link below for La Velo Francette.?

If you weren't all that bothered about Paris (or if you could do it by train on the way back to your flight), then you could actually head south from Domfront on the new La Velo Francette (orange on the link above) to La Rochelle, which links to the lovely Ile-de-Re island.

From La Rochelle you could follow the Atlantic Coast south and get off around Royan for the route through to the Med. This used to be a DIY piecemeal route but a new 'official' Canal des Deux Mers bike route links the Atlantic Coast to the Med. From Bordeaux you'd take the magical Roger Lapebie Bike Path (consider staying at L'Autre Vie – run by an Aussie couple. Perfect place to relax and take a break from camping). You can link from the Roger Lapebie to the Canal de Garonne? and then the Canal du Midi.  

With the use of some local maps you could then roughly follow the coast to Marseille, stopping at Nimes and Aix-en-Provence en route (see my Languedoc pages in my Where to Cycle section for more on this area.

7) Any idea what wi-fi / mobile phone coverage is like in France?

Check with your own provider about costs etc. Reception is generally pretty good everywhere. 3G is also increasingly widespread. You won't find many internet cafes outside the main cities but most hotels and B&Bs have free wifi access; campsites also have wifi though not always free. You're not going too far off the beaten track or into mountains so you should be OK. You could consider something like this if your own provider's roaming charges are too expensive.

Hope that all helps! Let me know how you get on!!

PS If it's OK I'll  post this to the blog in case it can help other people who are planning similar trips.

I spend a lot of time and energy giving (free) advice on Freewheeling France – if you like what you see, please share it among your cycling friends. I'm on Facebook and Twitter.

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