Your packing list for a cycling trip around France depends on what you are planning on doing exactly. How long are you cycle touring France for ? Which season do you plan on doing this cycling trip around France ? Which regions do you plan on visiting ? How many kilometers will you be cycling each day ? Are you going to camp or stay in hotels or homestays ?
Start by answering all these questions as they will influence what you will need to pack for your cycling adventure around France.
To give you an example, we were planning on doing a 3-months tour of France (which ended up being cut short), from mid-April to mid-July, only cycling 20-30 kilometers per day, mostly visiting and sightseeing, and staying in either campsites, hotels/b&bs and staying with locals.
April in France is generally still a bit chilly, depending on the region you’re in of course. But May, June and July can get really hot. So we were mainly going to cycle in sunny weather. We still needed to have rain equipment but we knew we didn’t need really warm clothes and lots of camping equipment.
We were not planning on cycling a lot, since our goal was to sightsee almost every day and blog, we calculated an average of 20 to 30 kilometers per day. Knowing that some day we would stay 2 nights in the same town. That means we didn’t need to buy professional cycling equipments and cycling clothes or shoes.
We wanted to stay in various types of accomodation, going from staying at local’s with Couchsurfing and Warmshowers (the cyclist equivalent to Couchsurfing, I’ll explain more in the next post), to staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs, campsites and wild camping. Which means we needed some camping essentials but again, not too many camping accessories since we were not going to camp all the way.
What kind of bike for a cycling trip around France ?
When deciding what to pack for your cycling holidays in France you might wonder which kind of bike you should use. Again it depends on certain factors. Which kind of route are you going to take ? Bicycle trails, roads or dirt roads ?
In France, more and more bicycle routes are created and most of them are asphalt. Sometimes you’ll end up on the regular road. Very rarely, if you follow a path, you’ll end up on a dirt road. Except if you follow what Google maps says. As much as we love using Google Maps, it is not always right !
We both had Lapierre trekking bikes that we bought in Mondovélo Shop in Caen. The shop manager, Vincent, was very helpful with choosing the bikes and giving us advices. He gave us discounts for the bikes with the accessories.
Trekking bikes are the best compromise between road bikes and moutain bikes. You want the tires to be not too thin and not too thick. That way you can cycle on most roads and paths. You need a carrier rack, mud guards and a light.
For a long term cycling adventure, the best brakes are the disk brakes. But they are way more expensive. If you are planning on doing only a few months like we did, it might not be worth the investment. Our bikes had regular brakes and they were fine.
And if you have the budget or if you can get them sponsored, think about electric bikes. They will save you a lot of pain and energy. They are quite heavy and require charging but so helpful when cycling in a hilly region like we did on the Alsace wine route, the Cotes du Rhone wine route and even in the Drome Provencale.
What camping gear for a cycling trip around France ?
The camping gear you need depends on what kind of trip you’re planning on doing. (Not tired of me repeating myself yet ?!).
If you have the budget for and want to sleep in a comfy bed each night (which you will need from time to time trust me…) then maybe you can lighten your bags and only stay in hotels, homestay or b&bs.
If you are the budget traveller type, then camp ! Almost every village in France has a town campsite usually very cheap, under 10€. They are basic but have all the essentials except maybe Wi-Fi.
If you are even more on a budget then in many areas bivouac is authorized as long as you’re respectful and unless stated otherwise. That means setting up camp at nightfall and leaving in the morning, leaving no tracks and making no fires of course.
If you are unsure whereas you can camp or not, pop in the town hall, tell them about your trip and they might give you indications. Remember to use some basic French words, French people are proud people and they will treat well if you say Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur before asking your question !
Here is our camping gear packing list :
- Ultra light sleeping bags
- Ultra light camping mat
- Light hiking tent. Ours was less than 2kgs and quite compact. Perfect for that trip. But we couldn’t fit much of our stuff in it. We packed a plastic bache to put over our bikes at night to protect them.
- Quick-dry towel
- Travel pillow. Sure you can make a pillow out of your clothes but I like to be as comfortable as I can be and a travel pillow is an essential for me. I had an eye mask and ear plugs as well, as I hate being woken up by sunlight and noise. But again, maybe not an essential for everyone !
- Camping cookware (1 pan + 2 forks + 2 spoons + 2 plastic cups + 1 Cleaning Loofah + 1 mini stove). We didn’t pack washing liquid and a kitchen towel. We used the same soap we used for showering and let our cookware dry or dry it with our towels.
- Tupperware. We always travel with one. When we have a kitchen we usually cook something or make a salad and pack our lunch to go.
- Food. The only food we always had with us were tea bags and dry fruits or barres de céréales. Otherwise we always bought our food as we went. Especially when cycling in France, you almost always find a shop and a boulangerie in every village.
What bike accessories are essential to pack for a cycling trip around France ?
- Bike lock
That seems obvious doesn’t it ? Well, actually, when you are on a cycle touring trip, you will not lock your bike somewhere with all your gear on it and then go for a tour of whatever city you’re in. Either you’re travelling with someone who can have a look at your bike and gear while you do that. Either you leave your bike and gear at your hotel/homestay/campsite. And that’s when the bike lock will come in handy.
At first Antoine didn’t want to bother with one but he soon realized it is the kind of accessories that cost only 15-20€ and can potentially save your life. So yeah, buy a helmet.
- Bicycle bags
The best ones are Ortlieb, they are waterproof and resistant. But we didn’t have these ones, we had regular waterproof bicycle bags which were good enough but the downside was that they were a pain in the ass to take off the bikes whenever we needed to bring our stuff in our room for the night.
We had two on the rear each and I had one small on the front. The front one was very helpful to catch something quickly like a small camera or my phone. Some people add bicycle bags on the front wheels as well.
We made the choice to carry our backpacks with our photo gear. It was a poor idea. Do yourself a favor and never carry your backpack while cycling. We didn’t want all our photo gear and electronics to suffer from the vibrations that are more important in the bicycle bags than in our backpacks. We sacrificed our backs to save our gear. And they will never know nor thank us for it. Ungrateful bastards.
Some people use a cart to carry all their gear. It allows you to pack a little more than you would with bicycle bags. The downside is that it can get very heavy. In those many hills where I had to get off the bike to push I would have probably not be able to do it with a cart. Also we were planning on getting a few trains along the way and many train stations didn’t have elevators, we had to carry our bikes down and up the stairs ourselves (well actually, Antoine did…hehe).
What tools do I need to pack for a cycling trip around France ?
We didn’t pack many tools simply because we would not be able to use them, we’re not what you can call « bicycles savvy » ! So we packed only the essentials. The tools that would help us fix the bike until we could find someone to actually repair it for us.
- Mini pump
- Plastic tire levers
- Cold patches
- Air tubes (1 each)
- Multitool Repair Tool Kit. We didn’t have one and never had to use one, but it could come in handy though.
Other accessories to pack for a cycling trip around France
These other accessories may seem like non essentials but they truly are life savers on the road.
- Pocket knife
- Bungee cords. We used them a lot to attach a bag on top of the porte bagage
- Duct tape. Just because duct tape is your travel best friend.
- Lighter or matches. Especially if you have a camping stove.
- Clothes line & Clothespin. Sure you can dry your clothes wherever you find space in your hotel room but if you are camping, a clothes line and pins are sort of essential !
- Plastic zip lock bags. They are your life savors, not only for a bike trip but for any trip. You can pack your food leftovers, use them to protect your electronics from water and keep your soap.
- Flashlight. Only if you are camping, in hotels it will be useless.
- Multi-socket power strip. That one might not be an essential but if you are travelling with a lot of electronic and photo gear like us then yeah, it’s pretty helpful !
- Plug adaptor. That’s in case you don’t have european plugs.
- Watch. Seems like a silly one to include in such a list but a watch is always a good accessory to pack for any adventure.
- Notebook and pen. For the travel diary aficionados !
- Sewing kit. I have always had a sewing kit while travelling and it came in handy so many times I can only recommend you to pack one. Especially because they take so little space. But that means you need to know how to use it !
- Passport + copy of your passport. Another packing list essential item for any trip.
- Fanny pack. Even though Antoine hates mine, I still think it’s another traveller’s best friend, and especially if you are planning a cycling trip.
What clothes to pack for a cycling trip around France ?
- Waterproof jacket for cycling / bike raincoat : no matter which season it will be, trust me, you will need one. See picture above for proof.
- Shoes. You want to have solid sole shoes not soft. The best would be either bying cycling shoes or small hiking shoes. Antoine had light trekking shoes and I had regular sneakers which I think are perfect for travelling !
- Sports clothes. We used our regular sports clothes like running pants and tops but we should have bought these cycling pants that look like adult diapers. Instead we bought a sur-selle though, but it still was very uncomfortable.
- Regular clothes for sightseeing during the day and nicer clothes for nights out. We both had one day outfit and one evening/night out outfit.
- Underwear. Better buy quick dry underwear, 5 pairs of socks each (you don’t need more than 5, you can wash them as you go).
- Generally the best thing is to buy quick dry clothes so you can wash them in the evening and they dry during the night.
Cycling holidays packing essentials : First Aid Kit
Just like the tools kit, we didn’t pack much because if we happened to hurt ourselves on the road we knew there will either be someone to help us or we would call for help if it was really serious. Like that time Antoine hurt his hands and we had to go to the hand clinic (picture above).
France is a quite populated country, it’s not like we were cycling all the way through the Australian desert. Again we would only need the essentials.
- Hand sanitizer
- Anti-inflammatory ointment
- Pain killers
- Eye drops
Toiletries and beauty products to pack for a cycling trip around France
Again, go with the essential. Don’t overpack your toiletry bag. Here are the beauty products and toiletries we packed for our cycling trip :
- Soap + Solid Shampoo. Bottled shampoos are heavy and breakable, your next travel best friend is this solid shampoo.
- Washcloth. Useful when you can’t shower !
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Coconut Oil
- For girls : I did pack a little make up for the evenings but not too much as I knew I wouldn’t use it so often. I only packed a mascara, rouge à lèvre, bb creme & concealer. Find out more about what’s inside my toiletry bag.
Electronics & Photo Gear
As you may have noticed, photography and video are big things for us. So when it comes to electronic gear, we are not light packers. Our electronics and photo gear backpacks weigh between 8kgs for mine and 10kgs for his.
This was the biggest downside of our cycling trip around France. Carrying all this weight on our backs. We could have put all this gear in bicycle bags attached on the front wheels but we were afraid the vibrations would be a problem. Also, as we were stopping every 30 minutes to shoot because France’s countryside is so pretty it hurts, we needed our gear to be reachable.
We always update our photo and electronics gear and since we haven’t been completely satisfied yet I am not going to list everything we use but I will write an article about that soon.
I will repeat myself but really what you pack for your cycling trip depends on what kind of cycling trip you’re planning on doing.
Here I gave a list of the gear we packed based on our plans : 3 months in Spring/Summer, various types of accommodation, only a few kilometers per day.
If you are planning a longer trip I would probably advise you to pack more tools. If you are going in cooler seasons then you’ll need proper sleeping bags and warm clothes. If you are planning on taking dirt roads and or going through less populated areas then you might need more appropriate clothing and camping gear.
It really depends on what you are planning to do. But if you are planning to organise a similar cycling trip as us, then I hope you found some inspiration here !