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Point-to-point touring in France

Charles Kendall2021-03-11 21:52:12

Looking for advice from the TC touring experts. We are bas3d in Alsace, France and want to ride one of the long river cycle routes in September this year with our full-size non-folding tandem (PedalPower Classic Steel). Since SNCF don’t allow tandems we have the problem of how to get to the start and how to get home after reaching our destination without pedalling all the way back. The two routes we have studied are the Loire Valley/Eurovelo route 6 (Nevers to Saint-Brevin-Les-Pins) and the ViaRhona. With the Loire Valley we have a plan to drive to the start (Nevers) park nearby at a friends house, unload tandem and panniers and pedal all the way to the Atlantic. At the end we book a B&B for 2 nights. After the first night I take bus/train/bus back to where the car is parked and drive it back to the B&B to pick up the tandem and Stoker and then drive home (900km) after a night’s rest.  With the ViaRhona the plan is similar but in reverse, drive to the Mediterranean coast (Le Grau du Roi), park the car with friends and pedal all the way to the finish somewhere a bit short of Geneva. Leave Stoker and tandem and get a train to pick up the car. 

If parking the car with friends does not work out, in both cases the Plan B is the nearest airport long term car park. 

On paper and according to bus and train timetables it can all work. Does anybody have any better ideas?

R.N. Goodman2021-03-12 10:57:57

We have tried various solutions for this.

Hiring a (large) car or small van for the day can work if you start and finish in large centres where you can pick up and drop off at different locations.

In out of the way places we once used a specialist bike transport company.  This was from end of a tour in Scotland from Ullapool back to Oban.  

Both methods have a cost but that must be offset against an extra night's accommodation, train fares, petrol and then weigh up the convenience.

We have used SNCF for our (non-folding) tandem - but regional trains only. I tend to stay with the tandem so I can move it if someone needs to get by or bring in another bike - so probably not great for journeys over an hour or so.

Using a car to get to the start of a tour is convenient.  I usually try and find a hotel or B&B with a large car park.  Then phone them up and ask if they would mind me leaving my car with them for a week or so.  If they are very short of parking then I can understand that it would be an imposition but find the right place and they often don't mind (although I do usually book a second night with the same place when returning to collect the car, and it helps if your car is not too attractive!).  I've used golf clubs on occasions as they may have accommodation and large grounds to park in.  Or use google earth - the aerial view gives a good idea of whether a hotel has space around it.

We loved the ViaRhona (except the industry south of Lyon).  But coming from Alsace I would have thought North to South direction would be better (and it has to be predominantly downhill !). 

Good Luck!

Deon Bothma2021-03-12 11:19:43

It sounds eminently feasible.

Pandemic allowing, we do a trip in Europe on a point-to-point basis every year.

- Last year we tried The Way of the Roses on this basis.  Left car at start.  Stoker sprained her ankle badly in the wonderful British rain and mud, so we had to complete the trip with tandem on car roof.

- 2019 cycled from Rothenberg to Dresden via Prague.  Drove up and left the cars in Station Car Park Dresden.

- 2018 cycled a four week loop in Western France.  B&B at start were kind enough to allow parking.  Ended up at the beginning.

We have been on the Rhone and the Loire.  A joy.  We did blogs on crazyguyonabike if you are interested in detail.


Charles Kendall2021-03-12 11:31:04

Many thanks for both the responses, most helpful. Prior to moving to Alsace we lived 29 years in Bavaria where we cycled most of the rivers knowing we can hop on any regional train to get home. It's so frustrating that SNCF are so restrictive. We will give it a try sneaking our tandem on to a regional train and see how far a smile takes us. 

David Tilling2021-03-12 13:36:29

If you leave your car at the start of a route and cycle to the end it may then be easier to leave the tandem somewhere safe at the end of the route and return by train without it, get the car and return to the end to collect the tandem.

Pippa and John Hand2021-03-12 15:52:16

We have successfully used hire vans to relocate ourselves on long-term tours, this particularly is of use should the hire van company have Europe-wide pick-up and drop-off points.  We have sometimes encountered difficulties in flying with a tandem, particularly to developing world countries where baggage handling may be an issue.  For example, in India they had no way of being able to unload our tandem from the aircraft.

As we enjoy independent travel we often choose to cycle straight from home returning there some months or years after.

For us there will now be time restrictions on touring in Europe so we wish we were out there with you!

Sheila Ward2021-03-13 09:31:38

It won't suit your current plan, but the European Bike Express is wonderful for point to point touring in France. I hope they survive the Covid shutdowns.

Charles Kendall2021-03-13 12:06:59

Thanks to all for the further responses. Yes, we had Bike Express booked for 2020 to repatriate us part of the way home but of course that had to be cancelled. 

Pippa and John Hand2021-03-14 08:43:56

We have also enjoyed the services of Simon Hawksley of Yorkshire Bikeliner.  Simon has been very accommodating regarding pickup points, you may have seen him at York Rally or Mildenhall etc.  We have also successfully used the European Bike Express as they have a regular pickup point at Trowell Services, near us.