Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

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triker131
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Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby triker131 » 16 Sep 2015, 1:40pm

I'd like some advice please about the regulations in France - which roads can you legally cycle on?

I recently did my first cycle camping trip since 1979, from the Ouistraham ferry down to the other side of Le Mans and back in 4 days. I was riding in a velomobile, (a recumbent trike with full body shell) but I don't think that's relevant to this question. There's a trip report on bentrideronline at: http://www.bentrideronline.com/messageb ... p?t=122483 for anyone interested.

I understand that the situation in the UK is that we have two categories of roads with respect to cycle use: motorways on which cycles are forbidden; and, all other roads on which they are legally allowed. I also understand that there are many non-motorways on which you would not want to cycle - even though it is legally permissible.

So what is the situation in France please?

I naively assumed it was more or less the same and took the main N158 dual highway south from Caen. Lovely smooth road, 5 ft or so wide strip at the side for most of the way (4 or 5km missing at one point), too narrow to be a proper hard shoulder so assumed it was brilliant cycle provision. Very light but fast moving traffic, didn't feel unsafe even when the "cycle path" disappeared for a few km. No signage indicating cycles not allowed. Southbound was fine on Thursday 3rd September; coming back on Sunday 6th I was close to Caen when an angry motorbike cop was waiting for me at the next exit and ordered me off. Didn't get a ticket or anything but he was very assertive that this road did not permit cycling. How was I to know?

An hour or so later, in Caen, I was following the traffic signs for the Ouistraham ferry, again, riding in a 4-5ft wide section at the inside of a busy urban dual highway. Good cycling provision I thought until I was surrounded by 3 squad cars with flashing blue lights, each of which disgorged 3 officers. So I'm surrounded by 9 very excited French cops (including a couple of women), all adamant that cycling is not allowed on this road. Again, I wasn't charged with anything but had to have a police escort to a cycle path a couple of miles away. This was a good thing as the cycle path led all the way to the ferry - I'd have taken it if I'd known it existed.

There was an incident earlier that afternoon on the D958 between Argentan and Falaise when two gendarmes were waiting for me at the top of a hill to tell me how difficult my vehicle was to see and that I shouldn't be cycling on this road as it is too dangerous. This was a regular, wide single carriageway with a marked cyclepath at each side? Light traffic and no problems whatsoever other than the hills, my tired legs and a bike that weighs 38kg before adding any camping equipment.

So after 7,000+ miles in the UK in a bit under 3 years I was stopped 3 times in about 4 hours by French police. The first one seems to be par for the course for recumbent riders. It's the last two incidents which concern me as, it seemed, I was riding perfectly safely on non-motorways and didn't realise I was doing anything wrong. Ignorance of the law being no defence I'd like some clarification so that, if I go back, I'm less at risk of getting a ticket for riding on the wrong roads.
Thanks in advance, John.

Richard Fairhurst
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby Richard Fairhurst » 16 Sep 2015, 2:00pm

According to Wikipedia, the N158 is a 'Voie rapide' (sometimes known as a 'Voie express') indicated by one of these signs:

Image

Cycling is forbidden on these roads.
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Audax67
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby Audax67 » 16 Sep 2015, 2:09pm

Any road bearing that sign is forbidden, as are dual carriageways with 2 lanes in each direction and a central divider, sign or not. Even then if the dual carriageway loses its divider in a couple of hundred yards or narrows to one lane in each direction, nobody is going to bother you for taking it. I have heard that you can also take a divided 2x2 it there's no alternative. I've done this a couple of times, once even on the advice of the police down near Argelès. I'd stay pretty close to the side, though.

N-roads (theoretically) no longer exist after responsibility for maintaining them was decentralized under Sarko. The various départements then renumbered them as they thought fit, usually replacing the N with D, but if e.g. the D31 already existed then the N31 might become the D1031, etc. To make things even more confusing, when you cross from one département into another the D1031 might become the D31 or v.v. And in many cases the local authority left the old signs in place.

An N-designation doesn't mean you're not allowed on, because lots of N-roads are still single carriageway.
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simonineaston
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby simonineaston » 16 Sep 2015, 2:28pm

re your post, Triker, I can't add anything constructive - other than to remark, "Blimey"! :shock:
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james01
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby james01 » 16 Sep 2015, 2:47pm

I reckon your recumbent was the catalyst for all the attention. People who've never seen them before assume you're very vulnerable and react accordingly. Similarly, we occasionally get press stories here of street-legal electric mobility scooter users being stopped by police and escorted off non-motorway roads because the police were "worried" - I'd like to know their legal explanation apart from slowing the traffic. I've used dual carriageways in France on my conventional bike without being challenged, sometimes it's the only road pointing where I want to go so there's no alternative.

triker131
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby triker131 » 16 Sep 2015, 3:32pm

Thanks for clearing that up. I didn't notice any blue signs - would have avoided the road if I had. Thanks for the link to wiki article.

So I was unwittingly breaking the law and not surprised that the French cops were ticked off. Both the second stops meet the criteria you describe as being divided roads with two lanes in each direction. Oops.

Having said that the first 10 miles heading south from Caen hasn't really got an alternative without doing a big detour. Whenever possible I used minor roads that were heading in the same general direction.

I think before I do another trip to France I'm going to have to plan my routes carefully and work out which roads I'm allowed on. This will reduce the spontaneity somewhat as a change in plans could easily put one on a road disqualified for cyclists. This was only my second cycle camping trip ever, first one was 1979, also in Normandy, France. At this rate, 36 years between trips, I'm not due another until 2051 when (if I'm still here) I'll be 95.

tatanab
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby tatanab » 16 Sep 2015, 4:15pm

triker131 wrote:Thanks for clearing that up. I didn't notice any blue signs - would have avoided the road if I had.
The blue signs are not very big, and often are placed at the start of the forbidden road just as you've passed the road that turns off. You need to be alert to that. Maps - same as UK, blue is motor traffic only. I got caught out 15 years ago with old maps so I did not know the road I was approaching had changed its status, and I failed to see the little blue sign. I realised after a couple of km and came off at the next junction.

Audax67 wrote:as are dual carriageways with 2 lanes in each direction and a central divider, sign or not.
Do you have a link to the legislation? On another forum somebody wrote this but I've not been able to find any law. It would explain why a lorry driver blasted me with a horn when I was on a dual carriageway near Lons le Saunier a few years ago. I'd come up a minor road on one side and needed to link to an equally minor road on the other side. How else was I supposed to get between them?

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Audax67
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby Audax67 » 16 Sep 2015, 4:34pm

tatanab wrote:
Audax67 wrote:as are dual carriageways with 2 lanes in each direction and a central divider, sign or not.

Do you have a link to the legislation? On another forum somebody wrote this but I've not been able to find any law. It would explain why a lorry driver blasted me with a horn when I was on a dual carriageway near Lons le Saunier a few years ago. I'd come up a minor road on one side and needed to link to an equally minor road on the other side. How else was I supposed to get between them?


Sorry pardon. I've been cycling here since the 80s and just absorbed the knowledge from other cyclists I know (some of whom are remarkably fussy about rules).
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iviehoff
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby iviehoff » 16 Sep 2015, 5:07pm

Audax67 wrote:Any road bearing that sign is forbidden, as are dual carriageways with 2 lanes in each direction and a central divider, sign or not.

I was thinking, hmm, I think you can ride down the Champs-Elysees, even if you aren't in the TdF, but I see it doesn't really have a central divider.

stewartpratt
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby stewartpratt » 16 Sep 2015, 5:12pm

tatanab wrote: It would explain why a lorry driver blasted me with a horn when I was on a dual carriageway near Lons le Saunier a few years ago. I'd come up a minor road on one side and needed to link to an equally minor road on the other side. How else was I supposed to get between them?


If I understand your description correctly then that presumably can't have been a road with a central divider…? (I assume "central divider" here means a physical divider, eg the concrete barriers often used on autoroute-style roads, rather painted hatchings, which would make an unlikely amount of carriageway out of bounds.)

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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby PJ520 » 16 Sep 2015, 6:09pm

Wow Audax and I thought they made life complicated over here. I've come across three 'names' for the same road. e.g. SR123 (State road), CR456 (county road) and Herbert J Wotsit Scenic Byway, all the same road (I'd have to dig out the real example but I did come across something like it in Oregon.)
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tatanab
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby tatanab » 16 Sep 2015, 6:24pm

stewartpratt wrote:
tatanab wrote: It would explain why a lorry driver blasted me with a horn when I was on a dual carriageway near Lons le Saunier a few years ago. I'd come up a minor road on one side and needed to link to an equally minor road on the other side. How else was I supposed to get between them?


If I understand your description correctly then that presumably can't have been a road with a central divider…? (I assume "central divider" here means a physical divider, eg the concrete barriers often used on autoroute-style roads, rather painted hatchings, which would make an unlikely amount of carriageway out of bounds.)
As I recall it was a "normal" dual carriageway with a wide grass divider and side roads entering and crossing. Looking at Google maps they appear to have built new roads in just the area I would have crossed and the new ones have a narrow grass divider with continuous crash barriers, hence no way across.

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Audax67
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby Audax67 » 17 Sep 2015, 8:31am

There are lots of roads that seem to fit the description but can be cycled upon, essentially in urban areas, e.g. the D263 here. You can ride through here because it has only been expanded to serve traffic coming off the autoroute for the commercial centre. Elsewhere it's a modest single.

Outside towns the rule applies generally, unless the divider is there for just a couple of hundred metres, e.g. to sort things out at an intersection.

A lot of the N-roads that were single-carriageway 10 or 20 years ago have been converted to duals without worrying about the convenience of cyclists. Since the Nationales always took the easiest route across the landscape, once they've been dualled the only alternatives, when they even exist, involve a deal of climbing. And even then, when Nationales been converted to autoroute, parallel roads are liable to have quite a bit of HGV traffic avoiding toll fees. The D86 down the Rhône valley is a case in point, although if you take it at the weekend there'll be few HGVs and if you have the Mistral behind you it's a dream.
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triker131
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Re: Which roads in France are legal for cyclists.

Postby triker131 » 17 Sep 2015, 5:32pm

After all the helpful advice here I think I now understand which roads one can legally cycle on in France.

However, regarding route planning either in advance, or whilst on the road - how can one discern in advance which roads qualify as cyclable? I had a look at the maps on the viamichelin site to see if I could find any more info.

If a cycle route has been planned in advance with an on line route planning tool - one might expect that the route planning engine would know which roads are allowed. However, it's a different proposition if making decisions on the fly whilst touring. The obvious road to take might turn out to be one that has qualifying sections of dual carriageway.

I guess it all boils down to local knowledge - which is exactly what you don't have if you are riding through an area for the first time using basic maps or a (non-cycling) gps for navigation. My windows phone with offline "Here" maps helped get me out of trouble with the French police as I was able to show them I was following the route found by my phone - for cars - also following the traffic signs above the roads.