In Paris for PBP
Arriving in Paris is, amusingly, only the first in several exhausting steps of actually being ready to ride.
Migrating Across the City
You’re going to have to move from Airport to Hotel. With a bicycle this is going to be more difficult. Even a Ritchey Breakaway-sized case. You have a couple options:
🚲Assemble your bike at a hotel near the airport. Most hotels will let you store luggage between stays. So you can stay a night once you arrive (I’d recommend two, for reasons I’ll get to later), assemble your bike, head over to PBP-land to do the ride, return and happily collect your box.
This involves having just the right amount of luggage so that you can carry it on your bike, across Paris (Charles-de-Gaulle airport is literally the opposite end of the start). It is admittedly an ambitious option, and not one I’d take personally, but chapeau to anyone who does it.
🚐Uber yourself to the start. This is definitely the most painless option. It also costs an arm and a leg. If you are solo, you can fit into a larger car with your bike case. Smaller cars are European size and probably won’t fit the case. If you are travelling with anyone, you’ll need something van-sized and that’s likely going to greatly increase the costs.
For reference, in 2019, I took an Uber Van from the airport to hotel in Maurepas (2 train stops away from Rambouillet). It cost €130 😰
Expect a taxi to be in a similar price range.
So why do I mention this? It also took only an hour, as opposed to 2 hours and 20 minutes via transit + walking…
🚈 🚉Transit. You have to take a train (or non-stop bus) into the centre of town, then catch the appropriate train to the start area.
Paris Metro is one of the least accessible transport infrastructures in the world (although they’re committed to improving this over the next… 10 years). What this means for you, my good bike traveller, is: hauling your bike up and down some flights of stairs, waiting for attendants to open the gates that are large enough to fit you and your suitcase through, holding your bike case and backpack of stuff close to you in a packed metro train, trying not to get pickpocketed.
Once you arrive at the urban-train station, you migrate across to the other rail-train part of the station, look confusingly at the giant board of train departures to find the one you want, buy your ticket, and off you go. Oh and of course up and down some stairs to the platform, and again on the train to find seating.
Despite the difficulties I paint in this section, I don’t think it’s all that bad to transit, provided you do it in a group and during a quiet time on the metro. I’m assuming that you’ve taken my advice and acquired a bike case that can roll upright, and has good handles… Oh, and you have some time to kill and aren’t so tired you will won’t fall asleep on the train 😅
It’s also worth trying to post on social media (in 2019 there was a Facebook Group) to try and organize ride sharing etc, because that will help with costs.
The Necessary Time pre-PBP
In my opinion, it’s basically a necessity to have some extra days before PBP to do things such as overcome jet lag, fix any bike problems, buy any last-minute snacks and of course register for the event.
You’ll very likely arrive tired from the plane ride, so having sufficient time to recover from the flight, as well as being able start on bike assembly early (or split the assembly into sections), is a great advantage in keeping the trip relaxed and well-paced.
Of course, you’re also dealing with August hours, travelling in a city you’re unfamiliar with, and speaking French, so don’t expect things to go smoothly ever 😊
Local Phone/Data Plan
📱Like many others, you’re probably thinking of acquiring SIM cards and travelling data plans. They’re super helpful for finding things and navigating a strange city. I’ve been to Paris many times in recent years and every time have acquired a SIM. With the recent EU laws, you can roam anywhere for free and just pay the cost of your plan (or use prepaid data/minutes), so this can be useful when you’re travelling elsewhere before/after the event.
Just get a tourist plan at the airport in one of the shops there (you might have to walk across the terminal to find it). Honestly this is the easiest. It’s a bit pricier than going into a store (maybe €10-15 more) but it’s soooo much less hassle. You’re likely to spend 30-40 minutes finding a store that’s open and sells the prepaid plan you want, then wait 20-60 minutes in store for a rep to be free, then have to buy the plan. The French are not efficient at retail… Things to note:
- Make sure the plan will last the length of your trip. Orange has offered a tourist sim for many years, but it only lasts for 14 days.
- If you need international calling, check if there are different minute totals for international calls vs. domestic vs. EU
- Coverage is all relatively the same, but some carriers are a bit poor in rural areas. Just do an internet search for “France carrier coverage 20XX” for the year of travel and you’ll get a general idea if your carrier is bad. I used Bouygues in 2019 and it was just fine.
- Technically all cards will require a passport/identification proof to purchase. If you go to a carrier’s retail outlet, they will ask you for it. If you buy it at a general store, they will likely text you and ask you to call in and identify yourself in order to keep using the SIM.
They of course, can’t verify your ID so you can mix up the numbers on your passport if you’re trying to keep your identity a secret 😉
Without a doubt, you’ll forget something. Given that this is journey is for a bike event, there’s a high chance that item is bike related. Luckily, the French are reasonably into cycling. However, as with any city, you have to know where to go to find what you need.
Decathalon is a major sporting department store that has better-than-Walmart quality stuff, but not by a ton. There are lots of them, however, and if you succeed in registering for an account for them online, you can request 1hour in-store pickup for anything you order. Great if you’re on a timeline and just want to grab something. (Use the address of a store if it asks you for a French address).
It is not a bike shop by nature though, so expect the mechanics to be very young and limited in what they know. Best to stick to acquiring tubes or simple stuff from here. It’s main advantage is in the operating hours and vast selection of “sports stuff”.
Other bike shops will vary on knowledge from very little, to brand-specific, to Randonneur specific, but become increasingly harder to get to as you go up that chain 🙃
Cycles Victor is a shop that is mentioned frequently around the start of PBP. Expect it to be super busy!
There is also limited mechanical support at Registration (and the day before registration!). So if you need some basic things like a shifting adjustment, or just to buy a multi-tool, you’re probably covered by them. Again, the earlier you go, the better.
If, by unfortunate circumstance, you need more substantial repairs, you’ll need some vocabulary.
Here is a dictionary of terms published by the Quebec government that includes French-English (and other) translations of most common bike parts. I’ve found it to be fairly accurate, e.g. “ratchet” is “cliquet” in French, and although skeptical of this translation, every shop knew what I meant.
One interesting fact is the word for “freehub” and “freewheel” is the same in French – “roue libre”. They don’t distinguish between the two really. So if the “corps de roue libre” (freehub body) has issues, expect them to just figure out that your 6speed freewheel isn’t stuck on.
If you have troubles with your generator lights, you’ll be asking about “cables de dynamo”. However, don’t expect much in the way of understanding or ability to fix your bike, except by specialized shops (probably similar to what you’d find back home). Several times when I asked a shop, they suggested I buy all the parts for electrical installation at Castorama and do it myself – likely possible, but overkill for my one broken spade connector.
As always, if it’s specialized hardware or gear, and it’s hard to find, and it’s likely to break… bring a spare.
If you have bars or snacks that you know really agree with your stomach, or you are just particular in your tastes, bring ’em! If you pack those in your bike box, it’s unlikely to be overweight, and it will save you having to try out something new on the ride.
France does have a large selection of dried fruits, nuts, and bars in most grocery stores. The only thing I had trouble locating was my favourite Ensure drinks (like Boost).
Remember, the first 200kms are a zoo, so the more you can just carry and eat with your bike, the better.
I’d also recommend picking up some snacks for your days around town. In between bike registration/numbers pick-up, waiting for others you’re travelling with, and pre-departure, you’ll probably be hungry. Having your own snacks will let you stay energized, and probably save you a few dollars vs. the food stands the organizers set up (not to mention if you have dietary restrictions).
Generally getting around
Once you pass the outskirts of Paris into Versailles, transit becomes more limited. You’re walking more and the city becomes more car-focussed than pedestrian focussed.
Usually it’s okay to bike, although there are some strange bike routes that should be avoided (such as the N10, which even the PBP organizers said to stay off of, as it is right on the highway and filled with debris like glass).
If you’re in the area with family, a car is a huge asset to get around, or saving some money for taxis to travel to different areas if you want to go for meals or the suchlike and are unable to walk long distances.
Expect to be walking up to 30 minutes in the heat if you need to get somewhere, so a backpack and water bottle are must-haves.
Be careful with following Google maps directions. They are okay for driving, pedestrian and transit, but for a bicycle, it either takes the extreme of routing you on a multi-lane highway-like road, or on a tiny dirt path as a “bike route”. I would highly recommend plotting any routes you have to take in advance, looking at the road surface or other people’s rides beforehand. Even the national cycle routes can be worse than just riding on the road, with some being old pavement that is riddled with cracks and tree roots.
If you’re planning on taking the regional train, leave plenty of time to walk between platforms (read: up and down stairs) and bring small change to pay for tickets (somewhere in the range of €3-9). There are attendants during regular hours starting late-morning, but in many stations there are closed sections, and only one machine working, and the machines only accept cash/credit (and specifically you can only insert money only once you’ve selected which ticket you need). Trains run every 30 minutes, and expect the carriages to be full of bike-bearing Randonneurs 🙂
I’ve done a reasonable amount of bike travelling outside of PBP, so there may be some beginner tips I’ve missed that you think would be good to include here, so if any come to mind, please leave a comment and I’ll add it!