In 1998 we had successfully toured from York to Harwich with our new tandem and this year we had tackled some more challenging terrain touring from Chepstow to Holyhead across Wales. We now felt confident to set our sights on mainland Europe. France is just a ferry crossing away and is known for its friendly cycling culture, but it would be good to start further south than Calais to enjoy some early summer days with sunshine, long hours of daylight and cycling through landscapes that would be new to us.
The key to implementing our idea was the European Bike Express (EBE). This is a coach towing a large bicycle trailer that runs through Britain stopping at various pick up points and then continuing through France on several different routes with drop off points along the way. It is possible to travel out to one location and return from another allowing for circular or linear bicycle tours. And even better, the large trailer has a top deck capable of carrying ‘strange’ machines such as tricycles and tandems.
We bought or borrowed fro the library an assortment books with descriptions of cycle touring routes in France. By far the best of these was ‘France by Bike’ by an American couple - Karen and Terry Whitehill. It has well planned routes through fantastic scenery on quiet roads that they had cycled. The route descriptions are clear and informative. The book was published in 1993 and was still quite accurate in 1999, but unfortunately roads and places change and like all guide books its value will reduce with time.
We devised a circular tour starting and finishing at the Bike Express drop off point in Orange using two of their tours (Albi to Avignon and Avignon to Carcassonne), together with our own links to and from Orange and joining Carcassonne to Albi, which we devised by closely studying Michelin and IGN maps.
We booked seats for us and a top-deck space for the tandem on the EBE. We booked a hotel room for our first night intended stop in Anduze. Based on our previous tandem touring experience we decided to keep our daily distances below 60 miles with some shorter days to allow time for sightseeing in our overnight towns. In fact we thought it sensible to reset our cycle computer to kilometres for a trip in France, so 60 mile became 100km - a nice round number. We discovered that cycling in kms was much more rewarding as they go by so much quicker than miles. Given that and our later discovery of Audax cycle events regulated by Audax Club Parisien (ACP) has meant that all of our cycling since has been in kms.
We also thought it prudent to build in three non-cycling days to allow some catch up time should we have some unforeseen difficulties either with us or the tandem. We planned these to be in Carcassonne to have a day sightseeing the historic city; in the Ardèche so that we could try canoeing on the river; and part way along the Tarn gorge just for a rest (more about this ‘rest’ later)
Our Final Tour Itinerary