France is the biggest destination for cycling tour operators in Europe, according to a recent study, and the economic value of all cycle tourism to the country is estimated at a massive €7.5bn a year.
After even just a couple of summers living here in the French Alps myself, I get the distinct impression that mountain resorts are increasingly recognising the value of encouraging cycling of all sorts.
Whether it’s about gentle family bike rides, climbing the cols or tearing down mountain bike trails, the offering for cyclists is gearing up noticeably.
This is a good thing, not just for local economies but also for the environment: “the emissions per cycle tourism holiday are 66% less than other holidays,” according to this same study.
It’s also a good thing because I’ve just got myself a road bike. Yay. OK, I’m still struggling with clipping in and out of the pedals, but I have aspirations to be climbing cols… soon. I also have a mountain bike, though I don’t do crazy downhill tracks. And I’m Dutch, so cycling is in my genes.
In short, I’ve been motivated to look around for good cycling-related promotions and, happily, I’ve found quite a few.
They range from small scale to big multi-partner operations and highlight, I think, just how important cycling is becoming to the summer marketing effort in the mountains.
So here’s my selection of 5 freewheeling freebies in the French Alps this summer:
1. Maps, maps, wonderful maps
Maps and map-reading, sadly, are increasingly becoming a thing of the past and there are zillions of GPS apps and satnav thingys out there for cyclists, but I still love maps and there are plenty of lovely free ones out there for cyclists, many also with route details, profiles and at least the basics of what you need to know.
The Savoie Mont Blanc one can be ordered online and covers the Savoie and Haute Savoie main itineraries and Cyclo Maurienne has a good one, too. Alpes Haute Provence has more than 20 routes profiled and GPS (GPX) files free to download. Another good one is Morzine’s cycling guide – it has 14 routes mapped, profiled and described – in French and English – including the infamous Col de Joux Plane.
2. Ride the cols traffic-free
It’s free AND traffic-free and often there are free goodies too: drinks and food and the like. One col is closed to traffic for part of a day most weekends from mid-June through the end of August and you can just turn up and ride – it’s fun and sociable and not a race. Here’s the official link and here’s a description by Will of the excellent Cycling Challenge blog. Route descriptions and profiles are downloadable from the site too.
3. 3 cols with a coach
This sounds quite appealing to a rookie like me: 3 cols in 3 days but with a coach cycling alongside to give you tips and a support vehicle should you need help and to carry any gear. The cols are classics: Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard plus the climb up to La Toussuire like in last year’s Tour de France, and it’s all free if you have accommodation reserved through Destinations Sybelles. Otherwise it’s a reasonable 15 euros per day. It runs on 3 different weekends – late June, late July and late August: here’s the sign-up form.
4. Tignes bike park and access
This one is for mountain bikers: once again this summer, Tignes mountain bike park and lift access to it is completely free! Sébastien Mérignargues, resort director, explains the reasoning behind the move in this interview (in French) – the bottom line is, it seems to be working for Tignes.
5. Bikes to borrow
In the Alpes de Haute Provence, Gap tourist office has bikes to lend for free (by the day, against a security deposit). There are touring bikes, junior mountain bikes and a couple of electric bikes.
If anyone knows of any other innovative and free cycling related promotions in the French Alps, please do comment.