A micro Tour de France?
June 11, 2013 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Business takes me to Paris next month, and I'd like to tack on a several-day cycling excursion to the trip. Can you recommend any tour companies? Snowflake details inside.

Google tells me that there are many commercial options available, but I'd love some personal experience or recommendations for companies.

I'm a pretty experienced cyclist, and I'll be traveling solo. I'm looking for a trip where the reservations are made, I pick up a bike and a cue sheet, and go, pretty much on my own, and find my luggage at the hotel at the end of the day. One of the things I love about cycling is the immersion in the land and the town. It looks like Cyclomundo.com has a "self tour" option for this, or at least I remembered reading Joe Nocera's article in the NYT years ago about his trip with that company.

I'm less looking for a Backroads.com - style (expensive!) trip where I'm immersed in a tour of 20 tourons handled by 2 tour operaters and a van, then a big group dinner. This is the safer option, but it seems like a barrier and it seems unnecessary for me.

But I can't exactly find objective reviews of Cyclomundo on, say, Yelp, or figure out or evaluate all the options. The Hive's experience and pointers would be appreciated!
posted by Dashy to Travel & Transportation around France (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There's a tour service called Utracks that offers self-guided cycling and trekking itineraries for travelers. Basically, your fee will provide you with equipment rental, an itinerary, lodgings and baggage transfers between each of your lodgings. I haven't used them myself, but they are a subsidiary of World Expeditions whom I have used as a guide service in past trips and I found their service to be excellent.

It does appear that the prices and packages for the self-guided cycling itineraries are calibrated for at least two travelers, and it's unclear from their site what the single supplements may be if you're just doing this on your own.

Good luck.
posted by bl1nk at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2013

A friend of mine did an organized tour with Blue Marble (he was in Provence), and said that they were OK. They offer self-guided options. I don't have any experience with them, so I won't recommend them, but you might want to take a look. Their HQ is in Paris (2nd arrondissement).

If you haven't cycled in France before, you might pick up the Lonely Planet guide to cycling there, for tips and route inspirations. I've done a fair amount of cycling in Île-de-France, and it's generally a great place as long as you avoid the more congested areas.

If you can't find a company that does what you want, there's always the possibility of renting a bike, taking the train from Paris to a provincial city (many trains permit bikes except at peak hours), and then doing a few circuit rides from a home base or two--or taking the train to point A, checking into a hotel, and then taking the next train to point B and riding back to A. IGN publishes a map of cycle circuits in Île-de-France.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2013

Another thought: I got some good tips on route planning from a forum post by the owner-operator of French Mystique Bike Tours (specifically, from this forum post). His tours aren't what you're looking for, but he might be able to offer a custom self-guided service, or recommend someone who does.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:34 PM on June 11, 2013

I've been on three 7-10 day self-guided bike tours in France with Randonnee Tours: Loire Valley, Burgundy and the Dordogne. I would unreservedly recommend them - bikes fit us perfectly (had sent our measurements in advance), the maps were accurate, there was never a problem with the luggage transport, and they offer three accommodation levels, depending on the types of places you're wanting to stay and how much money you want to spend. MeMail me if you have any specific questions - am happy to help.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: So to update this thread: I ended up going with Cyclomundo's 4-day Alpilles tour in Provence. I found enough reviews of them online, and of Randonee, both positive (and negative) that it seemed a well-trodden enough path.

It was what I was looking for: a good first outing, reasonably easy. Wonderful scenery, mostly nicely quiet back roads, good hotels and eating. I would give them a solid "B+" of a review.

Things I would ponder more in advance next time: 1) weather (Their recommendation, Provence, was >90 F for each of the days; perhaps Normandy would have been a better choice?). 2) Timing of luggage transfer arrival, which got there at ~5pm each day (so I needed to carry some clothes and shoes in the panniers). 3) Feet of climbing per mile, or some other objective measure -- though the route was advertised as "easy", the 2nd day had quite a bit of climbing, which would have been good to anticipate. Someone else's "easy" is very subjective, and I can see where that amount of climbing would have killed, say, my spouse if I had brought him. 4) Bike specifics. The route for this 4-day option included ~5-10 miles of dirt/grass roads, so they provided a hybrid, which was like piloting a truck for most of the rest of the way. I did ask about this in advance, but still wish I had appreciated how heavy that hybrid would be, so for a next trip I would definitely find a road-only trip and insist on a real road bike.

The very best thing I did was to bring my own saddle, pedals and shoes. So despite piloting a truck, at least the cockpit felt familiar and did not generate problems.

Notably, I was handled in Provence by someone operating through another outfit (Transworld?). I found reference to this online as well -- that Clyclomundo actually subcontracts your trip to a local outfit, as do many other operators.

I also got a lot of mileage out of this past AskMe thread about Paris
posted by Dashy at 11:32 AM on July 31, 2013

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