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  1. #1
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    France road guidebooks new editions

    Two English-language guidebooks for road-cycling tours in France have come out with second editions:
    * Cycling France, by Ethan Gelber (Lonely Planet, 2009)
    * Cycling in the French Alps, by Paul Henderson (Cicerone, 2008)

    Lonely Planet Cycling France
    The first edition was Sharon + my introduction to bicycling in Europe -- and we're glad for it -- our copy is torn up and dog-eared from serious use -- I've already put one of their routes into GPS format in prepartion for our next trip. Then for several years after it was very difficult to find this book for purchase, so now I'm happy to see that Lonely Planet has revived it. Though I have not yet purchased the second edition (since I didn't see any major new tours in the table of contents, and because for my riding purposes some minor improvements don't matter much). So my comments are about the first edition . . .

    * Main focus is on traditional multi-day tours (mostly on-road) -- though it does have some single-day routes.

    * I rarely do multi-day tours, so mostly I would use one stage day of their tour as half of my single-day loop ride -- and made up the other half of the loop from a Michelin 1:200000 paper road map.

    * The guide samples a wide variety of regions in France, and each time their route (combined with my half) make a good introduction to the region.
    Sometimes we afterward felt it wasn't the most enjoyable riding, but that was because we just weren't impressed with that region of France -- found out it didn't fit out style of riding -- wouldn't have known that if we hadn't tried their route.

    In our favorite regions that we've chosen to visit again, we've come up with some routes we like even better than in the book, because they fit our specific style of riding (which is not multi-day tours) even better.
    * the book also had lots of helpful ideas for mountain road riding other than the specific routes in the book -- which inspired me to do lots more research in other sources -- and led me to lots more days of interesting riding.

    regarding the new edition:
    GPS: nothing in the publicity I've seen suggests that it has added anything to help GPS navigation - (though I can remember at least one time where some GPS waypoints could have helped me better follow one of the routes in the first edition). Not surprising for a print paper book.
    Nevertheless, I note that the publicity for the new edition of Lonely Planet Cycling Italy does mention something about GPS. Maybe someday they'll add some helpful GPS supplements to the Lonely Planet web page for the book.
    French Alps - Henderson
    I never owned the first edition, and only just purchased the second edition, so I have not yet tried using it. Paul Henderson also wrote a helpful guidebook for backcountry ski touring in the Savoie region of the French Alps, and I've benefited from using some of its ideas in my skiing.

    * Main focus is on traditional multi-day tours (mostly on-road)

    * Has some creative multi-day routes that I hadn't heard of before -- in addition to the obvious Lake Geneva to Mediterranean Sea traverse, and circuit around Mont Blanc.

    * Some ideas for single-day tours - (buried in the descriptive text).

    * Main focus is on climbing over things. Some mention in the prose descriptions about gentler riding available, but most of stages with turn-by-turn route descriptions include substantial climbs.
    Even though there's some delightful moderate valley riding thru farms + vineyards in and around the Alps -- which some of us prize more highly than lots of the pass crossings. Of course you can't tour for a week in the Alps without some major climbs on some days, but I do think around some of the routes there were additional opportunities for gentler pretty riding. Perhaps most cycle tourists who chose to visit the Alps are not looking for that.
    * Looks like I could get some new ideas for single-day rides by using some of the stages in this guidebook as ideas for half of my ride. I already noticed a new idea for a section one famous loop which I'd ridden before.

    * not so much additional sections (as Lonely Planet) about riding other than the routes in the book - e.g. no list of cyclosportif events + routes in the Alps (e.g. Marmottes), or Top 10 hardest climbs (better yet Top 10 prettiest climbs).

    * I did enjoy learning different cultural-historical details in the descriptions -- new to me despite having spent lots of days around the French Alps.

    * lots of details about riding in and out of airports, lodging for each stage of multi-day tour (not my thing)

    * although the tours are described as around a week long. Looked to me on the overview maps like there would be ways to "short cut" to make a tour only half as long. (Or anyway very athletic riders could combine two stages into a single day).

    * mostly no maps for the route for a single day's riding -- though each multi-day tour has an overview map. (unlike Lonely Planet which has both multi-day overview and single-day maps). My feeling is that it's easy to purchase paper maps, and that most mountain road routes have fewer choices for turns, and I've navigated all over the Alps without special guidebook map pages. Anyway there's way better technology for that nowadays . . .

    * GPS: I didn't notice anything to help GPS navigation. Not surprising for a print paper book.
    I'd also say this is generally not critical for riding in the Alps -- but there might be some sections (especially going thru towns) where some key GPS latitude-longitude waypoints might be pretty helpful. Maybe someday they'll add some helpful GPS supplements to the Cicerone web page for the book.
    Ken
    Last edited by Ken Roberts; 10-21-09 at 09:56 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    About using GPS systems.. Don't have one in our car.. There have been times when out on the bike.. I have had rides where I enjoyed being lost for awhile.. That really was the means to find yourself in the discovery mode.
    I second getting Lonely Planet when organizing a tour.. Don't we get guides when we visit world famous antiquities.. Why not when on a bike tour.. Without some kind of guidebook , you'll pass by significant stops that would have been worth a break..
    Lonely Planet does a great job of telling a cyclist why this location deserves a stop.
    Pray for the Dead and Fight like Hell for the Living






    ^ Since January 1, 2012

  3. #3
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    Playing around with getting lost can be interesting when the weather is good, not so much fun when it's raining and windy -- or getting dark.

    After saying for years that a GPS is not necessary for bicycle touring -- and it isn't -- I started using one this summer -- it took some figuring how to make it work to suit my riding style -- and now I can't imagine riding without it (on unfamiliar terrain).

    But it doesn't matter what I think. I know too many smart people who insist on using a GPS for their car driving. Also I run a large regional website of road-bike routes, and discovered that people were using a GPS to drive (with their bikes on the car) to the starting point -- and getting lost while driving because they hadn't programmed the ride staring point into their GPS correctly.

    If I want lots of other people to benefit from the road-routes I've designed, I have to put them into a GPS format, which takes time and I'm not done yet.
    (I suspect that lots of GPS units designed for car driving are not suitable for bicycling navigation -- at least not the kind I like on quiet roads -- because they cannot store and follow .gpx tracks.)
    Ken

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    Having travelled for work and pleasure around many of the regions that you write about, I must say that I enjoy your posts. Unfortunately, I'll probably be too old to ride thru the mountains of Europe by the time I get my next opportunity to do so. Keep posting for if nothing else, our reading pleasure.

  5. #5
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    Thanks for the reviews. I think I'll buy at least the one on the French Alps.

    I've never used a GPS, so the fact that these books don't offer any GPS data doesn't seem like a problem to me. I think you get a much better feel and understanding for the place and geography by using a paper map. It may slow you down due to occasionally having to stop to re-read the map, but who's in a hurry? Also, this leaves a much stronger memory of the route in my brain than would simply doing what a GPS told me to - I can still remember details about which road I took on rides I did several years ago - if I had used a GPS to navigate then I don't think this would have left such a strong memory.

    Anyway, back on topic - I'm looking forward to reading about some new routes in these books. The circuit around Mont Blanc is one that I'm particularly interested in reading about because it is a ride that I was already hoping to do this summer. I've been looking at the map and saw that it could be cut quite a bit shorter than the on-road route by going over a few passes that are only hiking trails. These could be quite fun to do on my new cyclocross bike. I'm eager to see what route is proposed by the guidebook.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris_W View Post
    The circuit around Mont Blanc is one that I'm particularly interested in reading about because it is a ride that I was already hoping to do this summer. I've been looking at the map and saw that it could be cut quite a bit shorter than the on-road route by going over a few passes that are only hiking trails.
    I don't remember that book having much about options like that for the Mont Blanc tour. The author was based in France, and my feeling was that he had much more insight on the pure France tours closer to his home.
    For interesting variations "around MB", there's more detailed ideas in this 2006 report + this 2008 report.
    Other than Cormet de Roseland, I wasn't that impressed by the road passes around the southern part of the loop. Col de la Seigne off-road is much prettier, but I doubt I'd volunteer to ride it on unsuspended 25c tires again. (Grand Ferret on the other hand I would do again on my road bike w 25c tires). Col du Joly as an alternative to Saisies is something I'd like to explore. Bonhomme I know nothing about, but it has less appeal because the on-road alternative of Roselend w side trip to Col du Pre is pretty nice. (I've already ridden it again once since).

    I think you get a much better feel and understanding for the place and geography by using a paper map.
    I agree. I still spend lots of time w paper maps. I still consult the paper map even while riding w GPS.
    What Sharon + I have found out there riding is that it's not so much that we rely on the GPS to show us each turn, but that with the GPS we recognize that we made a wrong turn after only five minutes.

    ... this leaves a much stronger memory of the route in my brain than would simply doing what a GPS told me to - I can still remember details about which road I took
    Yes, but I've long been marking my paper maps with route lines and notes, and then use those markings for future times that I ride, and now I can store GPS tracks in digital format -- seems like paper + digital devices are so much better at remembering facts + turn directions than my mind. Maybe it's more important to remember the feelings?

    Or maybe it's less important to remember details for myself than it is to accurately share details with other cyclists -- and for that digital GPS routes are much much easier.
    Like this Cotes du Rhone / Montmirail route which Sharon + I rode in November has several tricky turns on little rural roads with missing signs. Would have taken lots more work to write a careful cue sheet for it. Much quicker and more helpful to just put it up on Bikely.com.
    It somebody wants to transcribe it to a paper map and not use a GPS, they still have that option.

    Ken

  7. #7
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    I just read the reports you linked to, thanks a lot for those. You asked a few questions about some Swiss roads that I know quite well, so I thought I would respond to them here, even though some of it is off-topic.

    "Is it legal (or reasonable) to ride on the Autobahn when descending the upper North side?" - Yes, no problem. In fact, on the south side, you can legally join the main road half-way up and avoid most of the cobbles. It is only about the first 5km of the old road when leaving Airolo that bikes are not allowed on, for the rest of the road you have a choice between the old (mostly cobbles) and new. I've ridden it south to north 3 times, once on the old road (during the AlpenBrevet cyclosportif), and my body felt really beat up by the cobbles, the other two times I've switched to the main road halfway up, which was a much more pleasant experience. Both of those times, it was pretty late in the day (after 6pm) and there was not much traffic (the majority of the traffic goes through the big tunnel underneath anyway).

    "I rode the south side of the Brienzersee lake following the national bike route, which was quiet, but got me into some gravel and complicated turns -- not sure how it would work to ride around the north side of the Brienzersee." The north side of Brienzersee is awesome. I've ridden it a few times, it is moderately busy, but most of the traffic is on the motorway on the other side of the lake. The road is plenty wide enough, so the traffic is not a problem at all, and there are normally many cyclists using the road. You go through some nice villages and the scenery is spectacular, it's hard to keep your eyes on the road. I've never tried the south side, but have heard from a few people that it is not an easy ride with no great reward for the difficulties.

    In regards to your comments on the north end of the Route des Grands Alps, I totally agree that Col de Jambaz is far nicer than Col des Gets, and also the idea of going into Switzerland is of course far superior to either of these options, although it is a lot longer. The climb up to Lac d'Emosson is a must side-trip for the views of the Mont Blanc massif.

    "vehicle traffic from Chamonix thru Argentiere to Col des Montets. (I don't know how to avoid this other than by taking bus or train, and I don't know the bicycle policies for the bus or train)." Bikes are no problem and on these trains and bikes are free on the French part of this route (in Switzerland they require a half-fare ticket or a 10 Swiss Franc one-day bike pass, whichever is cheaper).
    Last edited by Chris_W; 02-08-10 at 05:04 AM.

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