In France, cycle tourism changes gear


The “velorition” continues. This year again, a growing number of French tourists have chosen to spend their holidays by bike. From January to early July 2022, they were on average 16% more than at the same period in 2021 to frequent the EuroVelo, this network of cycle paths extended over 9,000 kilometers in France. A jump of 44% was even observed in May, according to the latest estimates from the Vélo & Territoires community network.

This surge follows a trend drawn up for several years, first driven by the rise of the cycle in town. Ten million new practitioners in six years, i.e. a total of nearly 32 million French people, were thus counted in March in a study carried out by AG2R La Mondiale and the Union sport & cycle. A third of them take the bike out of the garage at least once a week.

But since the health crisis, cycle tourism has reached new heights to become the first practice of tourist roaming, ahead of hiking. » The French spent their summers in the territory because of restrictions abroad. So we picked up these vacationers looking for adventure outdoors », explains Florent Tijou, from the France Vélo Tourisme association. Always difficult to quantify, these tourists were able to benefit from an extended circuit » since five years « by communities, he notes, the two phenomena feeding on each other: “The territories have also gotten into it by noting that cyclists are generally tourists who spend more than others on accommodation and catering, far from the anti-tourist image that they could project before. The layout of the network was reviewed about ten years ago, which took time, and we can now see the results. »

Search for personal challenges

These economic spin-offs, which have risen to peak at 5.1 billion euros per year according to Atout France, make it possible to irrigate usually landlocked rural areas, now connected over 25,000 kilometers and a dozen developed routes. Most are still designed for family outings, such as the « Vélodyssée » along the Atlantic coast, where the very signposted route helps beginners in their organization, as much as the arrival of electrically assisted bicycles facilitates their effort.

But a new profile emerges in parallel, “younger and sportier, looking for personal challenges”, portrays Isabelle Gautheron, national technical director of the French Cycling Federation, which has 110,000 licensees « older and who, conversely, traditionally practice cycling in a club ».

Thus, on the Route des Grandes Alpes, one of the circuits sought after in summer by the most enduring, between Thonon-les-Bains and Nice, 18 passes ranging from 1,000 to 2,700 meters in altitude are offered to experienced cyclists. Some will swallow the 700 kilometers of bitumen in a few days, “where it will take ten for the general public », Advances Lionel Terrail, co-host of the route, who phosphorus on the creation of a non-passable portion. This would attract the ever-increasing number of gravel enthusiasts, this bike halfway between road and mountain biking, « with reinforced tires and a more comfortable frame ».

Putting your body into play in an ecological way

In addition to a better reception than before by hoteliers, this category of cycle tourists has grown in recent years through social networks aimed at sports enthusiasts, such as Strava and its 4 million French users. “Creating these informal groups gave them extra motivation to challenge themselves and compare their performance,” analyzes Isabelle Gautheron. While visiting the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, 800 participants were able to compete last July against professional cyclist Matthieu Ladagnous and former Tour de France pros, for the duration of a route prepared by the Groupama-FDJ rider.

« This sporting dimension, if it is true that it has become more and more specialised, has always permeated cycle tourismnotes the geographer Alexandre Schiratti, author of the book Take the road, dedicated to the history of bicycle travel (1). Whether these are the first stories at the end of the 19e century or those that we can meet today, we find the same two desires. On the one hand, leaving the city to get closer to nature with which they have lost contact, going on an adventure with a motivation that can be formulated differently, that of ecology. And on the other, putting your body into play, regardless of its state of form: at his level, the French intellectual Émile Zola had for example said that he had converted to cycle tourism in his fifties to lose his overweight. »


France, second cycle tourism destination

With the aim, in particular, of overtaking Germany to become the leading destination for cycle tourists in Europe by 2030, the government presented the “destination France” plan in November 2021. It aims, for example, to multiply by five the number of places labeled « Accueil vélo », to reach the figure of 20,000. The development of specialized travel agencies – a dozen today – should also make it possible to guide the 20 % of foreign cycle tourists, in search of safety and therefore more tempted to head towards these structures. For the moment, the means allocated have not yet been specified.


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