Breton Bikes Cycling Holiday Survival Guide
HOW TO SURVIVE A BRETON BIKES HOLIDAY
The following few pages have been produced to help you have the best holiday possible. They draw on our experience of our own cycling holidays, and feedback from the many people who have been before you, the result I hope you will find useful and informative. There are many tips that will help make the difference between a good holiday and a great one, but please feel free to ignore it all and do it your way!
CYCLING IN BRITTANY
In France you drive and cycle on the right hand side! In fact, this is something you will get used to very quickly, the danger times being first thing in the morning, or any other time when you set off after a rest.
The next thing you will probably notice is that the roads are very quiet, and what little traffic there is treats you with great respect. Often a car will sound a toot on its horn to warn you that it is approaching, this is a courtesy not a “get out of the way!”
Road surfaces are generally good, but watch out for pot holes as they can cause punctures or worse, it is polite to shout out “pot hole!” to warn following riders.
The thing most people are worried about is the hills. Brittany is not flat and can sometimes produce quite nasty hills. This should not be a problem though as all our bikes are equipped with very low bottom gears, the secret being to get into a low gear and stroll up at walking pace. Often people exhaust themselves by pedalling like mad for the first few yards, and then having to push up a hill, which they could have easily cycled up if they had taken their time. When hill climbing, you should be turning the pedals about once every second, if you can’t talk as you climb then you are pedalling too hard. Always remember that for every foot you climb there is a foot downhill, besides cycling on the flat all day can be uncomfortable and intensely boring.
As far as we know, there are no hire companies, which offer touring bikes of anything like the quality we do. One reason for this is that we expect you to carry all your own luggage. There are many advantages doing it this way and the extra effort needed to carry your gear is minimal.
You are equipped with a full set of panniers. These will take a considerable weight, but for you own comfort it is advisable to carry as little as possible. We have ensured that the equipment we supply is lightweight so don’t go spoiling it by buying six bottles of wine at the first stop and carrying them all week.
You will quickly become used to carrying a load, and in fact the bikes are more comfortable when loaded as they tend to ride bumps better. Again, the secret is to use low gears and to take it easy when you climb any hills.
The only problem carrying such a load poses, is that it does tend to make the bike a little top heavy. This is not a difficulty once you are on the move but you need to be careful the bike does not try to fall over at traffic lights, etc. This tendency can be reduced by packing your luggage so that heavy items are as low down as possible. The brakes on the bikes are well up to stopping you when loaded.
The big advantage of carrying all your equipment is you have the freedom to stop where you like and there is no chance of you being separated from your luggage.
PUNCTURES, BREAKDOWNS AND ACCIDENTS
Modern tyres have greatly reduced the chance of punctures but they are still the most common form of breakdown. Avoidable things like thorns, brambles and stones cause most, also riding a loaded bike over kerbs is a sure way of getting a puncture or buckling a wheel.
We expect you to repair your own punctures as this is easy and will save you waiting for us to arrive. You are supplied with a repair kit and new inner-tubes and if you are unsure of how to do this, we will gladly show you.
As we use only high quality equipment, breakdowns should be rare. The two most common after punctures, are broken chains and cables but we probably get only one case of either a year.
For those taking the hotel option you obviously have more carrying capacity and/or a lighter bike. All hotels will be ready for you from 4pm though sometimes B&B are a little later (the hotels should let us know if it will be later and we will tell you). You will generally have to leave by 10am, if you’re still in bed after this time then you have obviously overdone it the previous evening. The hotels will also have breakfast ready for you each morning. Remember you are under no obligation to eat at any hotel but if you have eaten anything else at the hotel or had drinks there, please make sure you pay for them before you leave!
CAMPING (those doing hotels can skip this bit)
Most people take to camping like a duck to water, you can rest assured that with our equipment you should always be warm and dry, and after a day’s cycling, a good meal and a bottle of wine, you are unlikely to have a sleepless night. A bundle of clothes makes an excellent pillow and will help stop your back aching. On arrival at your campsite, you will find hot showers and clean loos. French showers have a water pressure so high that it is more like standing under a hot waterfall than the pitiful dribble some of us are more used to. Camping fees vary but average out at about 6-8€ per person per night. Larger campsites with bars, etc. and those in tourist areas are a little more expensive. We generally try to avoid these unless specifically asked for. Sometimes you will find that the caretaker does not arrive while you are there, so you will have a free nights camping. Security is also good at campsites as there is a “fellowship” of campers and people tend to keep an eye on each other’s things. In the 28 years we have been running our holidays no one has had anything stolen whilst in Brittany.
WHAT DO WE SUPPLY?
Everyone will have a bike, detailed route plan and map (per group), saddlebag and frontbag containing puncture repair kit, and all but those doing the fixed centre tour will also have a pair of panniers. In addition, those who have chosen the camping option will have a tent, sleeping bag with liner (fixed centre campers also have a pillow), camping mattress, stove and pan set (per group), mug, plate, knife/fork/spoon/can-opener, in fact all the specialist camping equipment you need.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BRING?
Basically you need only bring a washing kit, small towel (hotellers have towels supplied in the hotels but you may want one for the beach or lake) and the clothes you need to wear over the week. Please bear in mind that your space is limited, and that you will have to carry what you bring. Our equipment is as light as possible so don’t spoil it by bringing everything but the kitchen sink! One holidaymaker last year came for two weeks with fourteen pairs of knickers, not a good idea! All campsites have excellent washing facilities so really you need only three changes of clothes, e.g. three sets underwear, three T-shirts, a couple of sweatshirts, a couple of pairs of shorts/ trousers, swimwear, and a set of thin light waterproofs, anything else is a luxury! Clothes should be loose fitting or stretchy, jeans are hopeless as they restrict movement, take ages to dry and have a seam in just the wrong place (ouch!). Seriously, this is a minimum list and I know Kate always takes a sarong/flimsy dress, but if you don’t mind a limited wardrobe it will make things easier, and no-one will mind shorts and T-shirt even in the poshest restaurant! A good rule of thumb is no more than two small carrier bags full per person. A camera will help you remember the holiday and together with valuables can be kept in the frontbag which is easily detached and has a shoulderstrap. I also carry a small longwave radio for radio 4, and a torch is essential. Two other essentials are a bottle of strong sun tan cream and a sun hat (we hope!). It is a good idea to bring a small first aid kit to cope with the odd graze or insect bite, don’t forget the aspirins if you plan to avail yourself of the local brews!
The currency in France is the euro, one euro being worth about 85p. The euro is divided into 100 cents (the french call them centimes), the smallest coin being 1 cent. Banks are to be found in all small towns where you can cash travellers cheques. If you have a Visa or Mastercard it is possible to use that, even to withdraw money from a cash dispenser using your pin number. This is the cheapest and easiest way to withdraw money. Such a card can also be used in most restaurants and supermarkets as a cashcard, drawing money directly from your British bank account. NOTE banks and post offices operate during normal shopping hours i.e. open 9am - 12 then 2pm – 5pm weekdays and Saturday, but not always on Monday. Many shops and supermarkets will stay open till later, usually until 7pm and some on Sunday mornings.
For shop hours see above - don't get caught out with no food on a Sunday afternoon!
One of the pleasures of Brittany is shopping for food. Bread, cakes, seafood and cold meats are all specialities and can be found in any small town. Supermarkets are fairly common and stock everything you might need, they are also a similar price to Britain. Small shops are generally more expensive but well stocked. Most campsites have a place to buy food and bread nearby.
Once in France the range and cheapness of restaurants will soon become apparent. Restaurants roughly divide into two types. The first and best value are the daytime restaurants found in most large villages which open between 12.00 and 2.00pm (but to be sure of a place you should try to be there by 1.00) and which offer a fixed menu of 4 or 5 courses for 10E to 12E including wine and service! These will fill you to the brim and are highly recommended. Don’t expect haute-cuisine, just a lot of well prepared calories - easily enough to last all day! The evening restaurants which generally open a 7pm are a little more expensive, but most offer a three course meal for around 18E + wine. Children are very welcome in all restaurants and many have a children’s menu.
It has been said that Brittany has more bars than people, and although this is a slight exaggeration it is hard to find even the tiniest village without one. These make wonderful watering holes for thirsty cyclists, and nobody minds how sweaty you are and children are very welcome, and nobody minds if you eat your breakfast croissants or picnic lunch in the bar if you are having a drink there. Beware the cost of soft drinks which are more expensive than beer. Most supermarkets and general stores sell wine, and it should be possible to get a perfectly drinkable red wine for under 3 euro a bottle, they are also much better places to buy soft drinks. Don’t believe the stories about French tap water, it is all drinkable unless otherwise marked.
ROUTES AND MAPS
We supply you with a detailed route plan of the “turn left after the third bar in the village” variety, which should be all you need to find your way from place to place. You will also be given a map which will help if you get lost. The other reason for this map is that if you are camping you can really go wherever you like, as campsites are very plentiful, all good, and clearly marked on your map. So if you hear from another camper of a good place to visit, or decide to do 50 miles the next day you are entirely welcome. If half way through the week you need any information on a place you feel like striking off to then ring us up and we will try to help. It is this freedom that makes the cyclecamping holiday so special. Obviously people in hotels lack this flexibility, but there are compensations.
Can you walk a mile to the shops and back with the shopping? Then you are fit enough to do the easiest routes! Cycling on our bikes should not be hard work, low gears see to that, but if you haven’t cycled in years, 25 miles a day will be very hard. A little practising will help, especially to get you used to the feel of a bike and to break your bottom in a bit! One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that you can feel absolutely worn out at the end of a days ride and yet you never feel stiff the next morning, so don’t worry about overdoing it on the first day and being unfit to cycle for the rest of the week.
Sometimes we have cyclists who have found a route harder than expected. Almost without exception when questioned they tended to get up late and do the bulk of their cycling in the afternoon. This tends to lead to a viscous circle of going to bed tired, getting up later and later and finding the afternoons cycling hard. If you get up in reasonable time and split the cycling evenly between morning and afternoon you will find it far easier. This will give you time for a proper break at lunch time and you’ll arrive nice and early at your campsite/hotel ready to prepare for the evening. An additional problem (though it gives lovely long evenings) is that in Brittany we run on Central European Time, i.e. two hours ahead of the sun. This means that the sun is directly overhead at 2.00pm and the hottest time of day is around 4.00pm. If the weather is hot, it is lovely to cycle in the crisp clear morning rather than slog through the hottest time of the day! Always remember that in extremis we are there at the end of the phone waiting to help.