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France - Cycling
There are cycling clubs in every town and this is a sport which is universally encouraged. The year round good weather means that it is a viable option for getting to and from work each day. Most towns have a cycle shop and there are hire facilities in many places, including the new short-term hire schemes which are in place in many cities.
The popularity of cycling in France means that motorists show a great deal of respect for those on bikes and they are given plenty of room to manoeuvre. If you need to travel part of your journey by train then taking your bike with you will not cost you any extra, although if you are travelling on one of the TGV trains you are required to remove the wheels from the bike and place the whole thing in a bike bag. These can be purchased from most cycling shops.
Many country lanes are designated as safe cycling areas in France. There is around 2500km of marked routes and there are a number of ‘voies vertes’ which are to be used exclusively for those who are touring the areas on bikes. More and more of these ‘voies vertes’ are being created by the French, making use of old paths, old railway lines and towpaths that are no longer in use for their original purpose. These are primarily aimed at tourists, but where possible these are also being used by cycling commuters.
There are a number of cycling associations in France that provide information on cycling routes. Some of their websites have search engines which will help you to find cycle paths in your area and can give advice on a wide variety of cycling issues.
France has become a pioneer of city cycle hire schemes and these have grown in popularity in recent years. The scheme in Paris has more than doubled the number of bicycles it started out with and other cities which operate their own system include Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Marseilles. The schemes were launched in 2007 and are used just as often by tourists as they are by residents of the cities. The ‘Velibs’ are picked up at a hire station and can be ridden to another hire station in another part of the city. Many Parisians are choosing a velib over taking the Metro, which is often crowded and uncomfortable.
However, one of the downsides is that the bikes are intended to be ridden from one station to another. If you need to stop at a shop en route then you are leaving the bike at your own risk, even though they do come with a small chain. The bikes are equipped with baskets for shopping, but these are small and not suitable for large items.
Hiring a bike is fairly straightforward. The idea is that no matter where you are in the centre of the city you are no more than a few hundred metres from the nearest hire station. The bikes are available round the clock, so availability should not be a problem. You simply go to the hire station, swipe your card and select your bicycle.
This is a very cost effective way to travel. You are not charged for the first 30 minutes of the hire. There are different types of cards which include short term and long term hire and rates are slightly different but most will charge you €1 for the next half hour and €2 for every half an hour after that. This is a free way to travel if you only have to cycle a mile or two across the city. The access cards can be purchased online or at a station. The card has a PIN number and gives the user access to the system and users are charged on a subscription basis. In order to hire a bike you must be at least 14 years of age.
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