We like to think the weather in France is ALWAYS amazing, but, well, it sometimes rains. Or gets dark. Or is foggy. Here are five quick safety tips for cycle touring in France.
1. Know the road
It's always tricky when you're planning routes in a different country or on unfamilar roads, but try and do as much research ahead of time so you can take any necessary precautions. We cover lots of bike routes in France, but you can also ask ahead at your B&B or hotel to check if there are any route delays or diversions because of flooding etc (we always recommend staying at a bike-friendly place for this reason, among others). Changing routes may mean a longer ride but it may be safer and more enjoyable. I generally avoid busy roads anyway, but they are even less pleasant in poor visibility or when there's lots of surface water spraying up every time a car passes. Also check the local highway code (see here for the French one in English) so you know the local laws and regulations as they relate to cycling. Allow extra time, too, for arriving at your destination if the weather is bad.
2. Keep an eye out
Roads in France are generally good for cycling but it does differ from area to area and route to route. Even sections of the same route will vary in surface quality. There are all sorts of hazards on the road – spotting them can be tricky but it can also save you taking a tumble. Pay close attention to your surroundings by monitoring the road surface for potholes, puddles and debris, be watchful of other vehicles and cautiously assume that blinkers don’t mean a vehicle will actually turn when it should. (In France, also assume a lack of blinkers could mean the car is turning!)
Don't forget sunglasses for cycling in France – great any time of year to keep rain (and bugs) out of your eyes, but particularly helpful in summer when it's so bright.
3. Maintain your bike
It's an obvious one, but excess water, dirt and debris can quickly accumulate on your bike, so you’ll need to clean and maintain it throughout the year – and especially after cycling in bad weather. Always inspect the tyres, chain and frame for any signs of wear, clean or lubricate the components thoroughly as appropriate and carry a puncture repair kit with you (hire bikes in France will usually always come with one). If your bicycle needs replacing, consider investing in quality kit like any variation of Specialized road bikes or other reliable brands that can comfortably and safely handle the roads in any weather.
4. Be seen
I'm not a huge fan of high-visibility clothes, but I always keep a high-vis vest in my pannier in case I'm riding at dusk (or if I arrive late after dark) and for poor visibility (particularly on busier roads). A bright rain jacket or jacket with reflectors is also a good idea for bad weather. Consider also bike-mounted lights (or clip on lights) if there's any chance of being stuck out late. Reflectors are by law a requirement in France but many road bike/sports riders prefer the better aerodynamics (and, frankly, a nicer looking bike) and leave them off. I've never heard of anyone being stopped by police for not having reflectors. Hybrid/touring hire bikes always have them, however.
5. Dress for the conditions
Being comfortable on your bike enables you to focus on the road ahead. Use breathable base layers, wind and waterproof outer layers – and take a dry set in your panniers for when it rains. Whether you're clip-in or not, make sure your footwear is also comfortable. And always, always(!) have a dry pair of socks and some light-weight shoes to change into when you take your soggy ones off. There's nothing worse than eating a lovely French meal with your toes frozen solid together at the end of a wet ride.