Cycling laws in France and other helpful tips
It is important to know the cycling laws in France before you head out on your first bike ride. Being on the road in a new country takes a little getting used to and a few minutes spent reading up on the cycling laws will help make your cycling more enjoyable. In cities, knowing what the different signs mean helps speed up your trip. For example, bikes are permitted to travel up one-way streets when it is signposted. Here we take you through the basic rules and signposts that apply specifically to cycling to get you up to speed on what you need to know.
As you would expect from one of the most popular cycling holiday destinations, France is a great country to cycle in. France has three cities, Strasbourg 5th, Bordeaux 6th, and Paris 8th ranked in the top 20 cycle-friendly cities according to the Copenhagenize survey. In our opinion, it is a great country to explore by bike and you will love everything it has to offer. The French Government has committed to a number of cycling-related initiatives such as spaces on trains and infrastructure in towns and cities for cycling.
Cycling laws in France
It is important that you understand the rules for riding a bike in France so you do not fall foul of the local laws. To see the full set of laws for bikes in France, the official government website is here. We have listed some of the key laws you should be aware of:
- helmets are not compulsory in France if you are over 12 years of age. Our observation is that many people do wear them, especially when cycling out on the open roads
- outside built-up areas, bikes riders must wear a reflective yellow jersey at night or in poor visibility conditions
- bicycles are not permitted on Autoroutes (highways designated by A in front of the road number eg A61)
- do not cycle on the footpath/pavement. Children under the age of 8 are permitted to use footpaths provided they ride in a safe manner.
- you are permitted to ride two abreast, but ride single file when passed by a vehicle at night or if the road is narrow
- it is prohibited to use headphones or a phone while cycling
- it is illegal to ride a bike while intoxicated. A limit of .2 mg/litre of air expired applies.
French road signs for cyclists
In our travels to France, there are 4 road signs that we have experienced that relate directly to bikes. These are the sorts of signs you will see regularly in your travels.
The first of these is “SAUF Velo”. This translates to “Except bikes” and you will see this quite often in cities and towns. It means that the rule applying to cars and other vehicles does not apply to bikes. You see these lots on one-way streets where it is one-way traffic for cars but bikes can still go against the flow of traffic. This is common also in pedestrianized areas off-limits to motor vehicles.
The second is the small give-way triangle. You will see this at bigger intersections where there are traffic lights. This sign means that bikes only have to give way at the lights and can proceed through a red light if it is safe to do so. In some instances, the sign may indicate a direction of travel. For example, you can give way if turning right but not if going straight ahead or turn left.
The third road sign is a red circle with a bike inside. It indicates that bikes are prohibited from the area. While many one-way streets have the “SAUF bikes” sign there are plenty that dont. So if you see the bike prohibited sign or a general “Inderdites” (prohibited) sign then you should be finding an alternate route.
The fourth sign relates to bike paths and your requirement to use them. A bike path sign on a rectangular border indicates the use of the path is recommended whereas a bike path sign on a circular border indicates you are obligated to use it. In the photo below, the sign indicates that the use of the Voie Verte is recommended but not mandatory.
Which roads can I cycle on in France?
In French rural areas, there are different road types that you should be aware of as a cyclist. A single letter and one or more numbers are used to designate roads in France. Roads are designated A, N, D, and C in order of importance.
Autoroutes roads in France are designated by the letter A. These are toll roads and the major routes between centres in France. Run by private companies, they provide the quickest and most direct route to get you from A to B. Bicycles are expressly prohibited on French Autoroutes. , so if you are planning a cross-country cycling route make sure you avoid them.
National roads in France are designed with the letter N. These roads are still busy roads and could be a single or dual carriageway. Cycling on an N road is not prohibited in France. However, we would recommend staying clear of them. Traffic volume can be high still and it is not a pleasant experience. We have ridden on them for short distances at times and this is something that may be unavoidable.
Thirdly you have the Department roads designated by the letter D. As a cyclist these are the roads that you will spend the majority of your time on outside towns and cities. D roads can range from very quiet country lanes to busier thoroughfares between larger centres. If you are not familiar with an area it can be hard to work out whether the D road will be a busy direct route or a much quieter country lane only servicing farms. The road surface can vary greatly from smooth and well-maintained to very rough and poorly maintained. We found using Google Street View when planning a route can give some indication of how busy a road might be and the condition of the surface.
The fourth, and last road type, is the Commune road which is designated by the letter C. You will find most of these are very small lanes in rural areas that do not see much traffic at all. They can be a bit hit-and-miss in terms of surface quality but are definitely something to consider when planning your cycling route.
Other tips about cycling in France
This series of tips and information applies directly to cycling and being out on the bike. So whether you are planning a long-distance cycle tour, road cycling mountain cols or just leisurely cycling you will find some useful information. For your first visit to France on a cycling holiday it is important you understand the rules of the road and what you can expect. Things are often different from what you are used to in your own country.
Safety – is it safe to cycle in France?
Bikes are a common sight on the road in France and many people use them on a daily basis to get to work and do shopping. We have now cycled thousands of kilometres across France and have personally never felt unsafe on the roads. It is not to say that accidents can’t happen, but generally speaking, we would say that France is a safe country to ride a bike in. The vast majority of motorists whether they be in a car, truck, or bus, respect cyclists. They will give you a wide berth when passing and sit behind you if it is unsafe to pass. French laws put the blame on the driver of a car, truck, or bus in the event of a collision with a cyclist.
Most larger French cities and towns have a network of cycling lanes and paths. In our experience, this is typically a mix of on-road bike lanes and segregated bike paths. We have always felt comfortable and safe on the bike, even in Paris where there is a lot of traffic. That is not to say it is totally risk-free. When sharing the road with other vehicles you need to make sure you play your part in keeping yourself safe.
Cycling on the road in France
Here are a few general things you should know about being on French roads. Even when you are riding a bike it is useful to know what signs mean and what other motorists may or may not do. This website has some great information and images of the signs for you to familiarize yourself with them.
- France, like the remainder of continental Europe, drives on the right-hand side of the road
- Yield signs, triangles pointing down, at an intersection mean vehicles do not have to come to a complete stop and can proceed if the road is clear. Known in other countries as Give Way.
- Stop signs at an intersection mean that vehicles must come to a complete stop before proceeding
Where is the best place to ride a bike in France?
The easy answer to this is that you can ride a bicycle where ever you wish in France. Every region in France has something unique to offer and riding a bike is a great way to visit new destinations. On our first cycling holiday in France, we focused on the big mountains of the Tour de France and spent time in the Pyrenees and French Alps. Since that first trip, we have visited a much broader range of locations. Here are a few different articles that will help you with some ideas on where to ride your bike on your first cycling holiday to France.
- Where to Cycle in France – Amazing choices for everyone
- Cycling in the Pyrenees without riding up big mountains
- 11 Amazing Rail-Trails in France to Discover
- Things to do in Beautiful Bordeaux by bike
- 6 Great Destinations for a cycling weekend in France