Cycling Holidays FAQ
Our season runs from the weeks starting the 19th May to the 29th September. Between these dates hotel and camping tours are available though for the first three weeks and last weeks of the season many campsites close so choice is inevitably more limited. However with hotel tours this choice will narrow as tours fill and hotel rooms become unavailable pre season. In this case you need to give us preferred dates and route choices and we'll let you know what is available. Outside these dates our Gite-based fixed-centre holidays run at a greatly reduced cost.
All trips are self led and obviously there are many to choose from, so whether other people are following your route solely depends on what others have chosen. That said, with so many routes it's likely to be one other couple/family rather than a hoard! The one exception being the September Led Trip
For this go see my heavy sell on bothFrance and Brittany
Not normally, as a small, family company we are limited to one area of France, so chose the best and stuck to it. On the other hand once a year we do run a two-week long led trip to 'other' areas - serious cycling and camping only so have a look and see if you want to join the select band of lunatics that come with me...
See also the'Kit-list' page.
You get all specialist equipment you need - bikes, panniers, puncture repair kit. Campers also get a tent, sleeping mat and bag, cooker and knife fork and spoon. You also get a Michelin map, a detailed 'turn-by-turn' route plan and of course us as back-up. To give you an idea most campers will have around £1400 of material (Orbit sell a bike almost identical to ours for £1000!)
Of course people on hotel holidays also get a room with en-suite facilities and breakfast. We don't include evening meals because we believe that it's much better for people to choose their own meals and where they want to eat (there is often a choice in a village). Nothing is worse than having had a big picnic or a luchtime meal at midday, to try and force down a vast meal you've already paid for but don't really want. Expect to pay between around 14 and 20 Euro for a three course evening meal, rising to 60 if you want 7 course 'blow-outs'. The difference with us is you get the choice! This is important when comparing our prices with other cycletour companies operating in France. If you add about £150/225 euro to our prices you will have a reasonable basis for comparison with companies offering 'classier' evening meals - this allowing for a 25 euro meal a night i.e. far from the lowest price on a menu...
You have to pay for all food (except for breakfast in the case of hotel tours), you have to get to our base, campers have to pay for campsite fees (varies depending on routes but generally averages out at between 20 and 40 Euro per adult per week) and car drivers pay for parking (1.20 Euro per day) at the campsite.
Those of you staying in hotels will have breakfast included in the price for every day. Otherwise you are free to eat where and when you like. Why do we do it like that? Well let's say you've cycled a morning and come across a lovely little restaurant at midday which gives you a 4-course meal including wine for 12 Euro (you'll pass places like this every day). Now there is no way you'll be able to eat another 4-course meal that evening! With any other cycling holiday company you will have such a meal waiting for you that evening- and you'll have paid for it whether you like it or not... Or say you arrive at your hotel and two doors down is the most gorgeous little creperie and you would much rather eat there. Well with anyone else you can't, because you've already paid for another 4-course meal at your hotel... You get the idea. Of course at every stop there is somewhere that will do you an evening meal - usually several and with a couple of exceptions you can eat at the hotel itself. When we use Chambre D'Hotes instead of hotels we only choose those that can offer an evening meal. In our experience these are stunning value - better than most restaurants and frequently cooked using produce from the owners garden or farm.
Of course campers are in a slightly different situation but basically the same rules apply. You eat when and where you want, and there is always somewhere to eat, or to buy food to cook yourself at every stop.
The problem is that with the pound changing very rapidly against the Euro the prices will always be wrong (up or down) but the alternative of changing the Sterling price every day is just impossible from a practical or accounting point of view. So the only practical solution is to fix the price and stick to it. When you book in Sterling you will pay the total currently shown on the website at that date, i.e. regardless of currency fluctuations you will pay the advertised price at the time of booking, this way you know how much you will have to pay and will not be in for any nasty surprises later on even if the exchange rate changes dramatically between your deposit and final payment. Unlike most companies we don't surcharge anyone if we loose on the currency exchange because we believe that you should know from he outset what you will be paying. I hate the situation more than anyone believe me - I hope you understand...
So if you pay in Euro you pay the Euro price, if in Sterling the Sterling price, up to you, however once you've begun to pay in one you can't pay the balance or whatever in another because that would make our accounts even more labyrinthine than they already are.
We are by the phone ready to help from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm every day. Even if we go out we transfer our calls to a mobile phone so if you need us we're there. If you have a breakdown we first ask for details (sometimes it's something very simple that can be fixed in 30 seconds on the phone) and then drive to you as fast as we can. How long a call-out takes depends solely on how far you are from our base, in extremis it can take up to 2 hours but usually is much quicker. Sometimes it's quicker and easier for you to get something simple fixed by a local garage etc and in this case we will re-emburse you, but we need you to contact us first so we can OK this.
This is important - it means that whatever happens you will be able to continue your holiday very quickly. The vast majority of our customers never need this but it is worth it for the peace of mind. The only thing we ask you to fix yourselves is punctures. We supply all you need for this and will instruct you if you don't know how to do it. The reason is that it's something you should be able to fix in 10 minutes and that's much more convenient than sitting at the side of the road waiting for us to arrive, it also takes us away from being able to answer any other callouts. BUT if you are really stuck on this then we will still come out.
We are also generally available outside these times, but ask you to avoid calling unless it is an emergency. You are also welcome to phone just for advice, a translation, restaurant recommendation etc. We are always there in the background pleased to help out.
Tricky... We offer the best value of any company in the cycle holiday business operating in France and we guarentee you won't find anything as good for less anywhere - how?
Obviously our camping holidays undercut all other cycle holiday companies because they only offer hotels, but our hotel based tours are also cheaper than anyone else we can find in France. Despite this our equipment is the best in the business and we like to think we offer at least as good a service. The little hotels and B&B's we use are going to be cheaper than some of the 5 star establishments some use (though by no means all!), but to be honest we prefer them - small family-run hotels are more likely to value our customers and give them the warm welcome we want you to have. But they are far from basic - they all (with one or two exceptions where the hotel is TINY!) have en-suite facilities and I'm sure you'll find them as charming as we do. You have to ask yourself - after a day's cycling do you want a large 4 star, air conditioned, tourist hotel where there's a pool, sauna, and a restaurant full of English speaking tourists at the end of the day? Or do you want to arrive at a little stone built hotel where (for example) Gwen will welcome you with a smile, take you up a tiny, spiral staircase to a cosy little room under the eaves where you can make a mess, have a shower and then come down to a bustling little country restaurant full of locals? If you want the former you're probably on the wrong website;-)
But in the end we are a family business, no middlemen, no agents, no advertising budget (there's only this website and I do everything!), no maintenance contract etc. But we've also fallen on a secret ingredient... If you buy really good equipment (for example our bikes are £1000 each) then the amount of maintenance needed is much less, breakdowns are rare and customers are much happier - then after a couple of seasons we can sell on those bikes and recoup much of the cost. The same applies to other equipment we supply. This contrasts with the standard model of cheap, disposable bikes that are changed each year - our way costs many times as much in initial investment, but long-term (and we've been doing it for 25 years) it probably saves money. - this all means that you get truly great value.
See the getting to us page.
Why don't you carry luggage?
We don't do luggage transfer - there are several reasons for this. First when we set up the company the idea was that we should supply gear and enable people to have an independent holiday as if we weren't there, we're only there for help when needed, most people don't see us apart from the beginning and end. To carry luggage with all the limitations on route choices, obligation to be in a group of other Brits, Americans etc, timing and the breaking of the feeling of independence that is so much part of cycletouring is just not what we'd want ourselves, so we don't do it for our customers. However the bikes we use are designed specifically for the job and are better by an order of magnitude than the average hire bike, go see our Pyrenees charity ride to see what they are capable of. This also means they are very light at between 26 and 28 lbs, approximately 10 lbs lighter than most hire bikes. 10lbs is a lot of clothes (2 washing machine loads) and obviously the bikes are much nicer to ride as well. We give you massive panniers to carry the gear, honestly no-one has ever come back and told us they'd have preferred to have luggage transported and cheap bikes. Obviously we look after extra baggage and suitcases back at base.
We generally discourage this quite heavily. The reasons are simple - Part of our service is mechanical back-up. I cannot carry spares for every type of bike that is likely to come, no bike shop does either... So if you had a problem, say broken axle, failed freehub/wheel, damaged rim, all very common, it would in effect end your holiday as parts would take days to get to me. In addition I have no way of knowing the state of your bike, it may be that I'm called out to repair it every day (this has happened...), and is it geared/tyred for our terrain and does it have the necessary fittings to take panniers etc? There is also the question of liability - if I repair your bike then it fails causing injury I can see a loophole which the insurance company covering us for third party would ride a coach and horses through...
I know all this sounds hard, I'm joined at the hip to my bike, but our bikes are better than those of any other tour company. The tourers and the hybrids have Reynolds 520 heat-treated, butted chro-mo frame, and they are ideal for the area we are in. If you still want to bring your own bike we can accommodate you, but we hold back a bike of your size ready to ride, so that if you do have a problem then we can simply bring out one of ours to you. For this reason there is no reduction in price if you use your own bike, but you are secure in having a functioning bike for the holiday - which after all is one of the reasons you pay us:-)
Normally it is a Saturday start, and routes are geared to work best this way, but it is also possible to start and finish on a Friday, though in this case you may miss markets and the like, and our taxi shuttle to St Brieuc doesn't run. Of course it is possible to leave early to make for example a 6 day tour, but as the equipment is lost to us for a week there is no discount for this.
You need to be able to say 'please', 'thankyou', 'hello' and 'goodbye' in French. This a lot of pointing and smiling will get you through just about any situation in France and is all part of the fun of being in a foreign country. To help with all this I've put up a basic French page here.
The French are carnivores to a man (or woman), but vegetarians are particularly well served in Brittany with excellent fresh salads, pizzarias and of course the local delicacy of Crepes - which are very filling and not at all like the travesties you buy out of Brittany... Vegans are on trickier ground as so much of Breton cuisine is cooked in butter, but in our experience vegans are used to making do out of necessity and the range of fresh fruit and veg is second to none.
Yes the canal is cycleable for it's entire distance - 172 miles, and it is really gorgeous. People go on about riding the 'Canal du Midi' but having compared the two, the Nantes-Brest is in a different league and really the best in France. For families with small children, or people who want a cycle well away from even the low density of traffic in Brittany then it's ideal. It has wildlife, shade, old lock buildings and so on, really, really lovely... It's easily the best in France.
But - there's always a but... when we use the Canal on our routes we mix it with sections of quiet country lanes and it's important to understand why.
1. It's generally flat... Sounds great, but the snag is that unless you stop you never get a rest, it's pedal, pedal, pedal. You never get warmed up and setting a pace is difficult. You also sit 'flat' on the bike in the same position all day, which gets uncomfortable. Personally I find 15 miles on the canal a lovely interval; 30 mind and bottom numbing...
2. The surface is pretty good, typical cinder cyclepath most of the time, but it is slower than tarmac, and so rather than being flat it's like cycling slightly uphill all day...
3. Like any canal it tends to follow terrain rather than go from place to place. So sometimes you have to ride 20 miles to cover 10 in a straight line. This also means that where a country lane will tend to go from village to village, the canal has sections of up to 25 miles where you'll not see a living soul, find somewhere to get a drink or eat. One of the joys of Brittany is the constant passing through little villages, passing bars and lunchtime restaurants, old churches, bakers etc, you don't get much of that on the canal. This all my own opinion, some people love it, and I don't really want to put you off riding the canal entirely as it is gorgeous, quiet and totally safe for kids, but when we use the canal on our tours we are careful of what sections we use and mix it up with country lanes. As an example look at the Two Chateaux and The Blavet.
See the previous question - cycling on the flat all day is not the paradise people think - ask anyone who's cycled in Holland against a headwind... Yes Brittany has hills, but they are of the gently rolling type, hills steeper than 1 in 10 are very rare and short. Generally you get well-graded hills around 1 in 20 that you can cruise up leaving many gears in hand. Obviously the routes also vary from the almost totally flat "easy rider" and "Two Chateaux and the Blavet" to the rather more demanding "Heart of Brittany", but none of the hills should cause problems for anyone who considers themselves reasonably in shape. It's also important to realise that for every 'up' there's a 'down' and that all routes are on average 'flat' - think about it...
You'll see a disclaimer on every one of our routes pages. Some people have no idea how fit they are and so choose one of the longer routes despite the fact that walking half a mile leaves them exhausted. Likewise others choose an easy route and find they do each day in an hour. We have routes for you no matter how fit, or unfit you are but only you can judge which will be best for you. Try some rides before you make a final decision on routes.
True story - a few years back we had a lady come cycling with us with a friend. In correspondence she said how she was quite fit and played squash etc. On this basis I recommended one of our medium routes to her. After three days I had to pick her up and rescue her because she found the route far to hard and said I should have never have recommended it. I was obviously devastated by this, but speaking to her it transpired that her squash playing days had ended five years previously and she had had half a lung removed 12 months ago. Now you see why there is that disclaimer on every route page...
Most companies in France pay lip service to families. We see them as a fundamental part of our business and around 25% of our customers come with small children. However we are equally committed to the other 75% and adult-only groups will find themselves well away from families if they choose, particularly depending on routes.
Do I have to cycle in a group
All our trips are independent with the exception of the september led trip which explore other areas of France. This means that you choose any of the routes on the brochure. It may be that there are other people who have chosen that route for the week, or not, but there's no obligation to ride together - you are on YOUR holiday, as if you were using your own gear.
Absolutely 100% up to you. If you choose the fixed centre route no-one will be hassling you to cycle at all! Or if you want we can produce special routes up to 80 miles per day - it's your choice depending on your own experience. As a rule of thumb we think that an inexperienced rider out for a gentle ride will average 8 mph (13 kmph) including time to read maps, have a drink etc. So a 25 mile route will take about 3 hours. Small children, say a 6 year old on their own bike, will average 4-5 mph. The more experienced will bowl along at up to 15 mph, this will of course have a bearing on what route you choose.
People are paranoid about carrying their own luggage, a paranoia other companies cater for - it's a snare and an illusion! Think for a moment. Luggage makes no difference whatsoever to your speed on the flat and actually increases your speed downhill. Uphill it's just a question of power to weight:-) If for example you weigh 85 kgs (like me) and the bike 15 kgs, then to carry 10 kgs of luggage ( a full camping load) will increase your total weight by a maximum of 10% - remember everywhere else you are at least as fast. Over a day that 10 kg load will probably require less than 2% extra effort - often you can kid yourself that it slows you more because the bike 'feels' slower, but it is an illusion. Granted if you want to take evening dress and ballgowns, your luggage will slow you more, but then you've probably chosen the wrong holiday:-) We obviously send you advice on what to bring, but for an article on the subject see the 'Rule of Three'
No-one is perfect. The mark of a good company is not that they get things 100% right, but how they react when things go wrong. The first thing is that we need to know about it, at the time when we can do something to put things right. People who return after a week to say "we've had a great time, one of the bikes wouldn't change gear but we didn't want to bother you" - is not what we want to hear! For those doing hotel tours the same applies - we want to know of any problems at the time so we can fix it, the end of the week leaves you unhappy and us frustrated... We know that someone's holiday is a big investment both in time and money, well beyond the price you pay to us and we react appropriately.
See also our 'Safety' page, and our page on 'holiday insurance'.
It's very unlikely, but with 500+ people cycling a total of around 50,000 miles a year accidents inevitably happen. Thankfully in 19 years the worst has been fractures and skinned knees and pride - it is something we dread but are prepared for. As always a phone call and we're there, but often the immediate situation has been dealt with by locals, passing drivers and the emergency services which along with the French health service are some of the best in the World. The result, even of quite minor injuries, may be to stop you cycling. In this case we generally bring you back to Gouarec so that you, or at least the able bodied in your party, can continue to have a wonderful holiday, either on or off the bike. In effect we do everything we can to make a horrible experience OK in the end. If you have an accident that doesn't result in injury it's important to contact us as we need to know in order to judge whether a bike is damaged - sometimes a fall will leave a bike in a dangerous condition. Don't worry, we just consider any such damage normal wear-and-tear.
It is of course very important that you are covered by holiday insurance and have relevant forms for the EEC if you are European (the Euro health card for European citizens). This will smooth things considerably - we of course will not charge for our own work, but medical bills/hotel rooms/taxis etc will need to be covered. Also it may be that if you are on a camping holiday a fall will mean you really need a proper bed and so insurance will cover you for hotel costs.
The idea of camping in gorgeous weather is lovely - doing it in the rain seems a nightmare. On average Brittany gets only 5 days a month when rain (even light rain) falls during the summer months of June, July, August and September, so a wet week is unusual to say the least. But if the worse happens the truth is that camping in the wet needs a bit of care in keeping dry (your tent won't leak and everything should be dry) and treating it as part of the adventure. Once out on the road it's mild so you don't get cold, and to be honest 'shower dodging' and diving into bars and restaurants is all part of the fun. But we understand that in the unlikely event of having two or three days non-stop rain you might have lost your sense of humour... Fear not - all you need do is give us a call and ask us to book you in for a night to dry out in a hotel - we book you in (there's always one en-route) and you just pay the hotel direct. We don't charge for this - it's just part of the service. The most important thing (especially for fixed centre people), is NOT to sit in a tent waiting for the rain to stop. Just ignor it and get out in it and you'll find that in the end you will have just as much fun as if it were sunny. Honest - as our cyclecamping holidays have to be taken in April and October we frequently face the problem and just get on with it.
Well it's here because it's what everyone asks - people seem to think we hire bikes for 4 months of the year and do something else for the rest of the year:-) NO! The simple answer is that we work our socks off in order to make sure that your holiday is a success. The 'off season' is filled with accounts, wesite construction, publicity material, route writing and checking (two months on its own!), equipment servicing/ordering, writing articles for websites (for free publicity), visiting hotels, unarmed combat with the French authorities and of course looking after 3 children who should be old enough to look after themselves;-) But yes we do have 3 weeks holiday, generally cycletouring in France...