What’s it like cycling with children in France?
What’s it like cycling with children in France? Is family cycling French style any different from family cycling in the UK? We’ve asked an expat cycling mum of two, Kate from Five Little Stars, to share her experiences.
I always think of France as being the birth place of road cycling. Probably because of the famous Tour de France, but also because at any available opportunity my husband used to pop over the channel from the UK to the Alps to cycle up Cols and put himself through gruelling two wheeled challenges. He made absolutely no secret of the fact that there were 3 things that he was most looking forward to about our move to France: the cheese, the wine, but above all else…. the cycling!!
We moved to France 2 ½ years ago from the UK when my son was 10 months old, and 6 months later my daughter arrived. So, as you can imagine, our first 18 months here were rather preoccupied. It was only my husband who was really cycling (he managed a 10 day Alps trip before our daughter was 2 months old!), and my son becoming ever more proficient on his balance bike.
Towards the end of last year, I decided to treat myself to a new electric bike (a Scott E-Sub Tour Lady 2017 – you can read my review of it here) and since then our family cycling has really taken off.
Curiously this meant my husband also needed a new bike, and so a single speed “family” bike has joined his (ever expanding) collection in the basement!
So why was my husband so excited about us cycling in France?
We live in Ile de France and are a half an hour drive/train into Paris (my husband cycles to work and it takes him just under an hour). In Ile de France, there are some terrific cycling facilities. There is also beautiful countryside, chateaux, and pretty villages a-plenty, with lots of perfect photo opportunities.
What’s it like cycling with children in France?
For leisure cycling, the voies vertes (green routes) all over France enable some serious long distance cycling away from main roads – perfect for family cycling.
We did a stretch of the Paris to London Green Route route this weekend, with the kids in the trailer and had a picnic in a gorgeous Chateau park we found en route.
We’ve also been out to the castle ruins at Les Andelys in Normandy where we got some terrific views of the River Seine.
From Paris we’ve got easy access to the majestic Alps and Pyrenees, and we are really excited later this summer to have a week camping on Ile de Re – where, we understand, everyone cycles everywhere!
In the summer months there are many more randonnees/sportives than in the UK, and of course it is easier to access the Spring Classics and other famous events (as a spectator, or to take part in the amateur days).
How is family cycling in France different from in the UK?
There are some negatives of cycling with children in France, compared to the UK. There is almost a complete lack of cycling café culture (and of course no pubs either). This has social drawbacks and also it can be difficult to find food and water, especially on a Sunday. My husband learnt that every cemetery (there is one in almost each village, signed “cimetiere”) is supposed to have running water, but it’s a bit hit a miss. In some areas the villages have fountains where you can get clean, cool running water – always welcome in the summer months.
In general we have found French drivers are good with cyclists and leave space. However, it is probably a more common occurrence here, than in the UK, that the well intentioned older generation don’t know how to deal with cyclists and don’t allow a safe distance when passing.
Since March 2017, it is obligatory for children aged under 12 to wear a cycle helmet in France. This covers them if they are riding or if they are a passenger; and if breached the accompanying adult can receive an on the spot fine. This is different to the UK where you can make that choice for yourself.
Also, I have seen some very curious behaviour from French cycling groups here too. Once I was driving the children on a rural road through villages and a group of about 10 cyclists had stopped to navigate their way…. but they had all stopped on a roundabout! Some French drivers don’t always seem to know how to use roundabouts (prioritie a droit and other curious lane discipline examples spring readily to mind from just the last week!) but this really took the biscuit!!!
Every day cycling with children in France
With our kids being so young (just 2 and nearly 3 ½) we transport them in the bike trailer – I find this gets a really positive reaction here.
People are always stopping to look and point, even when I just pop into the village for a baguette, or take the kids to crèche/pre-school.
We took our bikes and the trailer into Paris for a “Paris Sans Voiture” Sunday a few months back (a great fun event, when the main tourist areas are closed for cars and pedestrians and bikes fill the streets…along with taxi’s and buses!) and twice the trailer was photographed by Parisiens! Perhaps they’re more used to seeing cargo bikes in the capital. My colleague and fellow ex-pat Alison has one which she uses every day for the school run, which has plenty of room for the all important baguettes.
So, to summarise, we love cycling with children in France. We are looking forward to the long warm summer days stretching out in front of us for more exploring of Ile de France (part of the route to Mont Saint Michel is on our to ride list) and going on family cycling holidays in the Alps and Ile de Re. But when we move back to the UK at some point, whilst the weather might not be quite as lovely all the time, we will look forward to continuing cycling together as a family in the beautiful English countryside… swapping Baguettes and Pain au Chocolat for some pub stops along the way.
About the author: Kate is a Barrister by trade, and also a mum of two. She is currently a product reviewer and family blogger living an expat life in the suburbs of Paris. You can read more about her life on her blog Five Little Stars.
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