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During your ride

You will find in this article advice and information to make your ride as safe and enjoyable as possible.  If you take the right approach, you will clear a lot of stress off your mind, leaving more room to enjoy your ride and the scenery.

Mutual respect on the road with motor-vehicles: written in History

Bikes fitted with pedals were invented in France in the 19th century, at about the same time as the first petrol automobile was also invented.  No doubt then that drivers and riders have learnt to share the roads in respect of each other.
This unique history gives riding in France a specific backdrop for all rod users: cars are mostly bike-aware.  They are more respectful of bikes than in most other countries.

In particular, the common practice is to not pass too closely to a bike and therefore side-swiping the rider if there is not enough clearance to do so.  It is common for a vehicle to wait a minute or two until it is clear and safe to pass.
Another remarkable point is the almost total absence of verbal abuse as you ride.
Riding in Australia can attract a lot of vulgar abuse thrown at you for free out of car windows, and sometimes even the odd bottle or other projectile.  (I’m sure this has happened to you too!) In France this is extremely rare.  In my personal experience of riding for over 20 years in the country, I have never personally experienced this.

However, in either country, keep in lind that arguing over a misconduct on the road with a motor vehicle can lead to retaliation in the form of them doing a fishtail on you to try to make you fall for example, except you are the one with no shell around you!
Some guys take their pride one level too high as to not accepting an evident mistake of their own, or not being tolerant to a mistake of yours; there will always be that one guy who is ready to knock you down with their vehicle just to have the last word since at this instant they have the power from within the safety of their vehicle.  So be aware at all times regardless of the country you are riding in.

Specifics about riding in the city

Riding in cities will only be a minor part of the overall routes but the busy and intimidating environment requires particular attention.

Your particular status as a training cyclist in the city

Vélo means fast Vélo comes after Latin velox, meaning fast.  It also led to Italian veloce, used by Campagnolo bike part manufacturer for one of its groupsets, and is also used in music to indicate a part should be played fast.
Fast can be really fast, and in the city, as fast as cars, or faster in busy cities.  As fast as cars, but less protection.
In practice, as a cycling enthusiast you will be riding alongside leisure bikes, typically used by commuters or families on week-end outings, and cars.  Therefore, category of road user that you would fall into is one of a relatively fast vehicle, although not perceived as fast by all road users (you’re just a bike after all), and also by Road Transport Authorities, who focus on rules, and not on your training obviously.
This dual status of being a bike, but being fast, is precisely what can make your life on the road a challenge. The road infrastructure in France is designed the same way as in most countries of Northern and Western Europe: it features bike lanes and bike paths in growing number with time.

The sensitive question of the bike paths in France

By law, you must ride on the bike paths if there is one available.  I am not talking about bike lanes here, but bike paths, so, separate from the road.

Of course you should follow the legal requirement.  However, I will talk here about usage, as observed on the road in real life situations.  This is not really legal, although sometimes tolerated, but is the typical practice among many serious riders, including myself when I ride in a private context.

Bike lanes are on the same road strip as common vehicles, only a line separates it from the car lanes.  Therefore they are the most seamless passages.  However, bike paths will be used by any bike, whatever their speed.  Their narrowness makes passing another cyclist sometimes difficult or dangerous, and needs communication with other users of the path before being executed.  In fact, thay usually run alongside a footpath making them interrupted at the end of each block.  This can be quite disruptive when you are training, when your speed can be over 30 km/h and you are making an effort to maintain it constant.

Although the training use of bike paths is obviously allowed, it represents a minority of the users; therefore motor vehicle drivers and the Police, more used to seeing non-training cyclists, expect you to use bike paths where available with all the requirements that go with them.

This duality of use of the bike creates sometimes uncomfortable situations where you would like to train using bike lanes but this is rendered virtually impracticable by the phyicality of the lanes, the debris that covers them, the other users of them, some of whom have nothing to do on them (prams, mopeds, scooters, quads, runners, or parked cars). A lot of bike lanes have never been maintained, and are often covered in gravel, shattered glass, and all sorts of debris.  They are also used by pedestrians as booze paths.  It is common that their night feats include smashing bottles, smashing bus stop windows, and breaking other kinds of objects on it, making them a potential source of flats.
Equally importantly, they are seen as parking space by a number of car drivers, who easily block them for more or less time by parking across them illegally.

If you are not willing to use them, and despite all the efforts that you make in sticking to the right edge of the road to let cars pass, no doubt you will receive a honk or a verbal reminder from one driver in ten or so.
French drivers will let you do anything possible in a city, such as riding between lanes, riding up a one-way street, riding without lamps, but somehow, riding on the road where a bike lane is available really gets them going.

This said, I have found that motorists tend not to tell you anything if they see you are a serious rider with a serious bike, and if you stick as much to the right as possible, never riding abreast, then you shoudln’t encounter any problems.
However, if the police spot you on the road where a bike path is available, they may just pull you over and give you a good talking to.  In their eyes, none of the reasons stated above will be accepted.  Remember, most of them just don’t ride at all, and they will absolutely not understand your reasoning, nor like you to discuss them anyway.

No wait priority

It is unlikely that anything will happen to you while riding as drivers in France apply a particular care for cyclists.  Even in the busiest city (Paris), they do stop for you to turn where you want, even if you are at fault.  In particular, the immense majority of drivers leave at least one metre between your left elbow and their vehicles.  Despite all this, we obviously can not completely rule out a possible“swiper”.
To give you a concrete example, at the time of writing these lines, I am just back from a 225 km across the country, where cars and trucks drive fast (although trucks are limited to 90 km anywhere on country roads), well, just a single vehicle“swiped” me, relatively (may they left 75 cm on my left).

Road Rules in France

A good place to start is to review together the important Road Rules in France.
Ride on the right side of the road!
You can’t really miss it, but it’s easy to forget when you come out of a carpark, hotel, driveway, etc, and you are not concentrating because your mind is somewhere else, especially in the first days.
Turn anticlockwise on roundabouts
And roundabouts are rife in France! In fact there has been a policy to turn as many existing crossroads into roundabouts for the past twenty years at least.  So you’d better get them right early.
A possible way to go if you are not sure is to stay on the right side of the road as you turn anti-clockwise.

Watchout when you are about to cross an exit as cars may just exit at high speed before you.  Use your left arm to indicate that you will continue to turn.  When finally you reach the wanted exit, use your right arm to indicate you will be exiting there.
Where possible, the best way to take roundabouts if you already know that you will be exiting past 12 o’clock (i.e.  turn left), is to stick to the centre of the roundabout as you enter it, then slip right just before the exit you want, using your right arm as a turning indicator.  You will notice that cars, in their immense majority, give you space and time to achieve this and let you go wherever you need to go.  Remember that a bike is seen as prioritary to any other vehicle by most French drivers, as long as a bike path is not available . . .
The“give way to your right” rule

This rule can be quite confusing and hard to comprehend for overseas visitors coming to France.
Basically it asks you to give way to anyone coming onto an intersection from your right if and only if there are no bands painted at the end of their road, such as in the picture on the left.

It can be disturbing as it typically applies whereas your road looks prioritary, but is not in this instance.  This secondary road across (in the example, taken in St-Marie-de-Cuines, the crossing road is actually secondary).  As a bike, going up the mountain at low speed, it is easy to slow down to check your right, but when you come down the same road, you fly down at 60 km/h, and this crossroad is potentially very dangerous, as local drivers coming from the right know it and assume they can go at their normal speed.
This trick can lead to serious accidents, and has made the French call the passenger seat (located at the front right) the“seat of the Dead”.  Nice . . .

Restricted access roads

If you see one of these signs on the right, it is not a good idea to enter that road.  The access is prohibited to bicycles.  Look for this sign whenever you enter a slip lane.  Some look too good to be true, their coating is brand new, and a direction sign features the city you want to go to, but unfortunately you will have to use a substitute.

No riding abreast
Although sometimes tolerated in two columns, riding abreast is usually forbidden in France.  I strongly discourage a party from riding abreast, but rather as a single column.
Privileges
Duties often come with privileges.  The privileges of a cyclist in France are quite inflated, thank God.  In particular, you can cross lanes to position yourself in the proper turning lane.  The cars behind you should and will wait for you to change lane, provided you give them a chance to and indicate your lane changes with the corresponding arm.
Most pedestrian streets in historic parts of cities are accessible to riders at low speed.  A wide tolerance is observed by the Police as regards to bikes, even when you ride where you are not supposed to, like on a footpath, although most of the time people do it because there tend to be fewer Police patrolling the streets looking to pull up bikes than in Australia.  They usually are not seen, or are patrolling for other purposes.

Finally, remember that I recommend you follow the road rules at all times even if you see other people doing the wrong thing (this is very common in France).

Warm up before letting the watts go

Part of your H&S is the warm-up aspect.  I do warn you about the adverse effects of starting a stage hard on the pedals with a climb for example.  I actually have two stages with that profile in our catalog.  In that case, please start gently, using a low gear, until you are warm enough (usually 20+ minutes).
You could put your tendons at risk of an inflammation if you mistreat them when you are cold.  This could hinder the rest of your journey, thus not enjoying it as you should.

No Ventoux from Bédoin start

As a consequence of the above, we discourage you from trying a Ventoux climb from a Bédoin start (the village at the foot of Mt Ventoux) as your only ride for a day A lot of riders do this.  They come straight to Bédoin with their car or van, get the bike out and start the climb.
Ventoux is very demanding due its no-relief steady 10% 15 km ascension before getting to the only relief of your climb: a short segment at“Le Chalet”, just 5 km from the top.  This type of effort should be done after a long and progressive warmup.  Plus, I encourage you to favour endurance training with occasional anaerobic passages, to feel good in bumps later in your life.  Climbing only 20 km from Bédoin as the only ride in your day (ok, and the 20 km descent, not really a physical effort) will not bring you any endurance training, and you will not improve your capacity to ride 200 km if this is what you would like to do eventually in your life.

I said we had two stages starting with a climb, in fact in both cases they start rather gently, with your occasional steep hairpin bend, but they do have relief stages, unlike Ventoux.

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created 10 September 2012
revised 10 February 2017 by
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