• This topic has 37 replies, 14 voices, and was last updated 1 year ago by Bez.
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  • Road bike tour – Brittany or Normandy. Routes or tips please.
  • Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Looking at doing a road bike tour in N France in the summer. Looking at about 3 days and 60-80 miles per day. Will be on road bikes and not camping, so travelling light.
    Anyone got any good circular routes (ideally getting the ferry from portsmouth)?
    Are the green ways ok for road bikes on 25mm tyres?
    Any top places to stay or visit?
    Thanks

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    I’m doing pretty much exactly that twice this year: once with my lad on the tandem (3 days, 40 miles per day) and once with some mates (2 days, 100 miles per day). Overnight ferry to St Malo, then either afternoon or overnight ferry back from Caen.

    There are plenty of options along the way. At the start you could either skirt the coast via Cancale, head straight east via St Meloir, or jump on the little ferry to Dinard and follow the estuary down on voies vertes to Dinan.

    If you take one of the first two options there’s voie verte from near Mont St Michel heading east, and from that you can turn north to Suisse Normande. Then you can choose to take in a load of hills and gravel, or follow the voie verte along the river. That one also leads you nicely into the middle of Caen for food, then it’s a short run up the voie verte along the estuary to Oustreham for the ferry.

    We did a fairly flat route in one day last year (see below); this year we’re adding an overnight stop and taking in the crumply bits through Suisse Normande.

    One of the guys last year was on 25mm tyres, I think. Wider is a little better but they’re doable on skinnies.

    I can share some routes if you like, but a browse of Opencyclemap, which shows the voies vertes, should get you started.

    A Day and a Half

    Premier Icon Dickyboy
    Full Member

    Overnight ferry to St Malo, then either afternoon or overnight ferry back from Caen.

    Done this before & it makes for a great weekend, easy parking at ferry port if taking the car down, then bikes on ferry and your choice of routes between gites 👍

    Premier Icon IHN
    Full Member

    Watches with interest…

    Premier Icon Speshpaul
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    Great place to cycle. Some nice ideas

    Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Thanks for all the replies.
    Bez, if you could share some routes, that would be great, particularly the proposed, slightly longer one taking in the Suisse Normande.
    Thanks again.

    Premier Icon ton
    Free Member

    been to Brittany a few times.
    followed the coast line from st malo anti clock wise to morlaix and came back via carhaix plouger and loudeac.
    and from st malo clockwise via ploermel, vanes, Quimper and brest, heading back via mur de bratange.

    awesome place to cycle. everywhere is nice. quiet roads away from the coast.

    Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Ton, did you stick to the main roads? If so, what are they like?

    Premier Icon ton
    Free Member

    I try to stay off the main roads. roads are very good in france, all well maintained and surfaced.
    you can ride all day without seeing many cars.

    Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Thanks Ton. Got a map or gpx file?

    Premier Icon Bez
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    Bez, if you could share some routes, that would be great, particularly the proposed, slightly longer one taking in the Suisse Normande.

    Sure. Last year’s one-day route is here:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/26982433

    This year’s two-dayer:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29441908
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29441914

    roads are very good in france, all well maintained and surfaced.
    you can ride all day without seeing many cars.

    Broadly true, but near the channel in the school holidays you get a lot of Rosbifs who should be avoided, especially when it’s near ferry arrivals/departures.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    Aha!

    I thought that Day 2 route didn’t look quite as I remembered it…

    Longer version:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/29566422

    (To be honest, there’s lots of decent-looking stuff to choose from. Can’t do it all.)

    Premier Icon Ioneonic
    Full Member

    Been pondering this for a while. Might pinch those routes as well thanks.

    Premier Icon freeagent
    Free Member

    I’d certainly try and include Mont St Michel in your tour – amazing place. If you stay near there try and visit in the evening, the ‘night’ tours around the church are really good.

    this place is good for a night –
    http://www.camping-haliotis-mont-saint-michel.com/english-version-camping-haliotis-mont-saint-michel.php

    I’ve done a bit of cycling around there – as others have said very quiet and excellent roads.
    Some of the villages inland from Mont St Michel look like they’ve barely changed since WW2.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    If you’re contemplating Mont St Michel, it’s worth knowing the restrictions on bikes (no access along the causeway in summer daytimes, luggage lockers closed because zomg terrorists, etc)…

    http://www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/fr/preparer-sa-venue-au-mont/venir-en-velo-au-mont
    https://forum.cyclinguk.org/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=129281

    Premier Icon ton
    Free Member

    go to dinan and dinard also. the ride along the Rance is superbe.

    Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Thanks very much everyone, particularly Bez. All that is so useful!
    I love STW!

    Premier Icon Dickyboy
    Full Member

    Mont Dol is worth a spin up for the view on a clear day, Fougere Castle is good, the WW2 era stuff around Caen is interesting too. Would stay clear of the main roads particularly if they head near the ferrys, minor roads are great and traffic free, cycles routes we took were mainly tarmac but can be a little dull (old flat straight railways).

    Premier Icon pedlad
    Full Member

    The ride from mont st michele to cancale or reverse is good – just make sure you pick a tail wind! Cancale is a great place in the sun people watching, amazing seafood from one of 25 restaurants, lovely sandy bays on the north coast just out and then west.

    Mirror what the others have said re Dol, Dinan and Dinard. Plus Rance valley. Did a cracking ride down to combourg, back up to the forest west of Antrain then following deserted medium sized roads to St James.

    You can’t really go wrong for road riding round there.

    Premier Icon charliemort
    Full Member

    ermmmm ….. interesting

    what id a voie verte – obviously a ‘green way’ but are they traffic free / off road or what? thanks

    Premier Icon Bez
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    Most of them are disused railways. You can think of them as “family friendly” trails: rarely hilly, and normally gravel of some grade, some finer, some coarser, some tarmacked. Motorised vehicles (other than wheelchairs/mobility scooters) are prohibited. Inevitably they don’t all join up, and sometimes there’s a bit of quiet road needed to get from one to the next. Opencyclemap is good for spotting them, although slightly ironically they fit into the category of paths which it renders in red. The disused railways are easy to spot: usually a reasonable length, with long, sweeping curves.

    Premier Icon kittyr
    Free Member

    Nice write up on the blog Bez – might nick those routes and add them to my hit list of trips

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    FWIW there’s another write-up here…

    Farewell to Summer…

    Premier Icon littlerob
    Full Member

    I’m interested in doing something like this. I was thinking of ferry to Cherbourg, then home from St Malo. However, I’m struggling with the logistics.

    a) Do we go light i.e. Hotels, thus a bit faster, but we have to find conveniently placed hotels.

    b) Take camping kit, and be a bit more free, but with the associated baggage of camping.

    Roughly speaking, how much slower might we expect to be on relatively laden road bikes?

    e.g. If a typical ride might be 13-15 mph, then would 10mph be reasonable, or might we be even slower? I’ve never ridden with much kit (other than some off-road bike-packing that doesn’t really help).

    Interested to hear any anecdotal advice/evidence.

    LR

    Premier Icon Dickyboy
    Full Member

    Depends how you are doing it, to cover the miles gites/hotels beat camping hands down & there is nothing like the draw of a prebooked hotel to keep you pedalling when the chips are down 🤔

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    Depends how much you’re taking. Cherbourg to St Malo might be a day, or you could detour for however long you want. For a night or two in half decent weather, a rack/post pack plus handlebar bag is plenty IMO, and that load will only really affect your speed on climbs. Once you start needing panniers things get slower. But then you may want to go slower anyway… there are places to see and cider to drink if you don’t want to treat it as a race. I’d say 10mph is a fair estimate for a moderate pace with a bit of luggage.

    Hotels shouldn’t be a problem; these days I tend to mostly use Booking.com (website and app) and it has pretty good coverage. I confess I’ve largely lost my enthusiasm for camping so can’t comment on that option 🙂

    However, I would strongly suggest doing the trip the other way round: if you do it the way you propose, the overnight options for the long St Malo route are few and far between (Tuesdays in peak months only, if I recall) which means you’ll lose a full day to the ferry crossing. If you sail out to St Malo it’s kind of free travel. Or if you want to depart Portsmouth later at night then Le Havre is a good alternative.

    Premier Icon pedlad
    Full Member

    My younger fitter self did 11.3 mph LeJoG with heavily laden panniers. What makes a massive difference with that weight is the terrain. Uphills v quickly sap any speed and you’re into grinding the lower gears. Along the flat once up to speed you roll nicely though.

    The Cherbourg peninsular is pretty lumpy so I’d get that out the way first and have the flatter Avranche to St Malo sector to look forward to

    Premier Icon littlerob
    Full Member

    Interesting, if somewhat contradictory, answers 😉

    I was thinking to come back from St Malo simply because the overnight crossing might be easier after a long day in the saddle (I’m not great on ferries). I think it runs Tues/Thur. There’s certainly no danger of me doing the long crossing during the day!

    The intent was roughly:
    1. Arrive Cherbourg ~13:00 leaving a few hours to get somewhere.
    2. Another overnight (probably somewhere between Coutances/Avranches/Villedieu les Poeles)
    3. Home overnight from St Malo.

    So we’d be away 3 nights. 2 in France, and one on a ferry.

    I’m intending to put as much stuff on my bike as possible, leaving my wife’s virtually luggage free.

    Also, what’s the situation with Parking at Portsmouth? I had a google and it shows a multi-story, but since we’d probably be driving down with the bikes on the roof it suggests we’d have to unload everything *before* parking (and vice-versa on the way home).

    LR

    Premier Icon whitestone
    Free Member

    We did a few days touring in Brittany last summer, basically Nantes to St Malo via Voies Vertes. We’d been attempting the French Divide so had bivy/camp kit with us, we were on rigid MTBs.

    We seemed to hit peak “town fair” time as every place we visited seemed to be shut due to the festivals surrounding the travelling fairs! Rural France has suffered in the same way that rural UK has due to the motor car: lots of villages with shut down bars, restaurants and shops because all the work is in the towns and cities so people just commute and do their shopping in town. There are exceptions of course.

    I hadn’t been to Brittany for forty years so couldn’t remember how hilly or otherwise it was. Think along the lines of rolling terrain with occasional steep sided valleys and you won’t be far wrong.

    Most villages and towns have “camping municipale” which are cheap and varied from being busy to there being only us on them.

    The Voies Vertes were fine, I’d want at least 28C tyres though just for comfort. We found one or two very short, as in 200m, sections of rough hardcore surface. The rest of the time the surface was fine. You can get maps of the local network in the tourist information offices – I think we needed three or four for the route we took.

    Premier Icon cakeandcheese
    Full Member

    I don’t like planning. This is how I did it in 2016:

    Book ferries.

    Ride in a direction that takes your fancy (weather, geography, sights or your return ferry can all influence your preference). Make sure, if you’re having picnic lunches, you pick up 2% ABV Breton cider. It’s like they invented it for cyclist’s lunch.

    At around 2pm, when you know what sort of area you are likely to end up in that day, search Airbnb or booking.com for a room. We went in June, there were loads of options.

    Cycle until you reach said booked room.

    Repeat until it’s time to go home.

    We stayed in some amazing places, couldn’t tell you where and wouldn’t be able to plan a similar route.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    I was thinking to come back from St Malo simply because the overnight crossing might be easier after a long day in the saddle (I’m not great on ferries). I think it runs Tues/Thur.

    There’s only one Thursday night sailing and it’s next week 🙂

    Caen is another option. Where it works quite well is that it leaves quite late and it’s well under an hour from the centre of Caen, so even if you’ve got a long day planned you can make the most of it, plan for a dinner stop in Caen, and still have some leeway.

    If you do go back via St Malo, try to stop at Georges Larnicol in the old city for kouignettes. (Sadly the shop opens a little too late to be convenient on the way out.)

    Also, what’s the situation with Parking at Portsmouth?

    There’s a site where you can rent space on people’s driveways and suchlike while you’re away. I forget the name but there are several threads on the CTC/Cycling UK forum about it. I get the train down, it’s only a short ride to the ferry. Might open up a few more parking options.

    Premier Icon pedlad
    Full Member

    JustPark or parkonmydrive

    Premier Icon littlerob
    Full Member

    There’s only one Thursday night sailing and it’s next week

    Oh poo. I had a look the other day and concluded “its every Tuesday & Thursday”. It’s even worse than that as there are hardly any night returns during July and August.

    I might have to go back to the drawing board ;-(

    LR

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    What are the criteria? Specific places to go or days to travel…? You’ve got four* French ports to choose from, there must be something that works 🙂

    * six if you can go via bike/train to Plymouth or Newhaven in either direction

    Premier Icon littlerob
    Full Member

    Bez, we’re fairly flexible. The only reason for doing it the way round I initially said was:

    a) The short crossing initially, so that we would have 1/2 day riding.
    b) The long crossing back so that we got a good sleep (I’ve done the overnight to Caen before and if felt like we got about 3 hours in bed).

    I’ll re-think things, and perhaps make less riding, more time for sitting in sea-side restaurants 😉

    LR

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    Yeah, Caen is a fairly short sleep. Way longer than the Newhaven-Dieppe overnighter though 😀 Le Havre gives a bit more sleeping time than Caen, though cycling to the port at Le Havre is markedly less pleasant than cycling to Ouistreham.

    Outbound to St Malo works really well for me: you get to Porstmouth for 7pm or so, you have a couple of beers, you get as much sleep as you like, and you’re on French tarmac at 8.30am: early enough to get a good day in, but not the cold and uncivilised 4am offloading that you get at Dieppe.

    Sadly the Tuesday night return is no use to me as I can’t be away on Mondays, but if that wasn’t an issue I’d be all over St Malo both ways. There’s a good choice of interesting stuff heading west from there, which isn’t available if you’re doing a short trip via Cherbourg/Caen/Le Havre, and it’d mean two crossings with plenty of sleep.

    I’m very much a fan of doing the travelling whilst asleep or in a bar rather than even a short crossing in the daytime when I could be merrily cycling 🙂

    Premier Icon RichT
    Full Member

    Got back yesterday from a fantastic trip based around your routes Bez. Had a great time and enjoyed the empty roads, so thanks very much for all your help.

    In summary, we cycled to Portsmouth (about 45 miles from where we live) and got the overnight ferry to St Malo. Three 75 mile days using your extended 2 day route with a few deviations and then overnight back to Portsmouth from Caen and then home.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Full Member

    Cool, glad it worked out. I’m currently over here yet again for the family holiday 😀 (sadly only managed to excuse myself for one 50km ride on my own, hey ho)

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