From July 26th to August 20st I was on a 2000+ kilometers bicycle trip through France and Switzerland, from Paris to the lake of Constance, and back.
My previous experiences about this way of traveling were no more than 3 days long so I could say this one is the first long run.
I won’t put a lot of pictures here, I made a paper album this time (which only a few privileged people will see 😉 ). But I want to write down my experience about distance, load, maps, … and some organizational aspects of those holidays. Just to write down such a trip is much easier than one might think.
I used to make more than 100km a day when riding on weekend with a half loaded bike. So I thought it would be much more difficult to make as much while carrying everything for a 3 weeks trip. Afterwards that’s not that true. We rode an average 80 to 100km every day and some of us were not trained for bike (but I admit everybody was in good shape). And this distance added day after day can take you everywhere. Riding this fast, or this slow !, I can be anywhere in France within 10 days and as far as Vienna or Copenhagen within 15 days. and almost anywhere in Europe within a month. That’s fast.
I also need to add that Switzerland can be a flat country !
This picture is from our longest day, during which we rode through Switzerland, Liechtenstein and a piece of Austria, and also flattest although surrounded by mountains.
Before I left home, several people told me I had to be very careful about how much I will have to carry and that I should weight everything and asking myself weather each item is necessary or not.
I always ask myself the question: « Do I need to take this stuff? ». And the answer is often « obviously not ». Remember the 5kg luggage for a 14 days trip in Scandinavia in May !
But on the other hand I never weight things. Even this time. And I think it’s not necessary to do so. Weight is a matter for trekking or hiking because you’re carrying everything on your shoulders. But here, the bike carries everything, and you just make it move. That’s much easier. I often say I started commuting by bike because I’m lazy.
One kilogram more doesn’t really matter when the bike itself is already 19kg ! (I re-checked the weight recently)
Fully loaded !
So weight is not a problem but I carried unnecessary items that I won’t take next time: too much clothes, one pair of socks is enough, most of time I weared none. Gloves are useless because the handling bar is very comfortable on my bicycle. I even carried an extra U-lock we never used !
OK it was during summer, so cold temperature is not a problem, even in Switzerland because we were never high in the mountains. I was afraid of very hot temperature but we didn’t encountered more than 26°C. So it was really no problem to ride full days.
On the other hand the weather was not that nice with us because we encountered rain, heavy rain, almost every 2 days. The essential thing is that clothes and other belongings remain dry in the panniers. So that’s why I’m glad all of us had very good waterproof gear. A good pair of panniers may sounds expensive but that’s really worth it. Then if you are wet, it doesn’t really matter in summer.
I use one of my Ortlieb pannier everyday to bike to work.
In some countries, maps are useless. Switzerland and Germany are 2 of them. You have signs everywhere for cyclists. Making it very easy to go from one point to another without using major axis. Of course before leaving we had an idea of our global itinerary because we checked the existing routes on this map. Then on field that’s easy to follow the signs. We just used a global map of the country with the location of camping grounds in order to know were we could stop.
In France maps are necessary if you’re not on one of the very few bicycle itinerary. We followed some parts of the Eurovelo 6 route which is well indicated also in France (even if we went lost at the entrance of Mulhouse). But in the countryside between Paris and Besançon I was on my own to find small quiet and picturesque roads.
It’s good to know that you can always follow canals. But it’s not always an official route, bikes may just be tolerated there.
In order to avoid carrying lots of paper maps, I used a GPS device. Not to give me directions, just to have a map to check when in doubt and to register tracks. I find that really useful. The problem is that I needed to charge it every day, which is possible while couchsurfing or in a hotel, but more difficult in campings.
No camping ground was booked in advance. I didn’t know how many kilometers we would be able to ride each day. Next time maybe we will book in advance because we know we can stand the distance.
A bike trip doesn’t necessarily means cheap holidays. For us I even think it was expensive. First trip means everyone had to invest in new gear. And the destination itself, Switzerland, isn’t cheap. Camping grounds are 2 times more expensive than in Germany and 3 times more than in France.
Only on the part were I rode alone I asked couchsurfers a few days in advance. Because spending the whole day alone on my bike doesn’t matter. But I like meeting new people. So rather than spending evenings also alone in my tent, I prefer being with friends. Each time it’s wonderful and I thank them very much for their kindness and generosity.
Here is a map of the trip I used for the paper album (click for a larger version). Only the Swiss part.
That’s definitely something everybody enjoyed and would like to do again. It’s only the first of many other bike holidays.