Joel and I wanted to take an independent bike tour of France on our new tandem. We got plane tickets on United, and the travel agent put a note in our reservation saying we would be bringing a tandem.
After calling many airport vans and taxi companies, we were still without a way to get the tandem-in-the-box to the airport, but Joel explained this to a group of people at work and one volunteered her truck. We obtained a bike box from our tandem dealer, and packed the bike in the box the morning we left. (Warning to those who have never done this: allow plenty of time for this operation. It took 1 1/2 hours ;-)
In the borrowed truck, we put the tandem-in-the-box with the tail open, and secured it with ropes. Then a friend drove us in the truck to the San Francisco airport. We arrived about two hours early for our nonstop flight to Paris. How do other people get their tandems-in-the-box to airports?
At the United check in counter, we pointed to our box as our luggage. The woman said she didn't know if she could take it, or take it without charging us, and we assured her that she could. After she typed silently for 10 minutes, they put on a few "fragile" stickers and a claim tag, and took the box off with no more comments (and no additional charge.)
On arrival in Paris, we stood around a while, and then inquired one of the porters about our box. Our box appeared shortly, with only a few scrapes in the cardboard.
We were then faced with the challenge of getting the tandem-in-the-box into Paris. We balanced our four panniers and our tandem on two luggage carts (the forward one facing backwards. This was more maneuverable because it was long and skinny than using just one luggage cart, which we tried first.) The best information we could get told us we had to take a bus to the RER (Paris area suburban train line) station. They have those articulated buses, designed for passengers with luggage, and the bus driver was even nice enough to help us get our box on his bus. (And people say Parisians aren't helpful.)
We arrived at the train station, but found that we had to carry the box down several flights of stairs (Some had escalators, which are a godsend for people with tandems!) and over the turnstiles to the train platform. (Plus of course, a second trip down each with the panniers, since carrying the box took two people.) The train was empty when we got on, so we just lo aded the tandem into the end of one car. It blocked the car into two areas diagonally. Then the train left. As we picked up more passengers, it became a problem that the box blocked the car, because some platforms are on different sides of the train, so we eventually wedged the box into a position that was less of a problem. On arrival at our stop, we carried everything up stairs and over the turnstiles, to the disapproving looks of the RER people.
We then carried the box and bags in shifts, to the work place of a friend of mine, who had agreed to store the box for us. After that we unpacked the bike, and rode off.
We also put the tandem on several French trains during our trip. We tried both sending it ahead as checked luggage, and taking it with us on trains that allowed this, with no problems. (The bike rides free if you take it with you. You can tell which trains take bikes by looking for the little bike in the notes section of the French train schedules.) It costs about $30 to send the bike ahead, but they will store it for several days.
On the way back, we did the reverse process. However, we took the tandem (with panniers attached) and box separately on the RER (and airport bus). This turned out to be much easier, as one person could carry the empty box alone, and one person could wheel the bike with panniers with ease. (It was not easy for both of us together to carry the tandem-in-the-box, not to mention the panniers in addition.) We brought tape with us, and packed the bike back in the box at the airport. We recommend this.
United made no comments on the way back, and the bike arrived fine in San Francisco, even though it had to change planes in Chicago.
Who says you need a folding tandem? (All our fellow RER passengers, maybe? ;-)
Arrive Paris, take bike-in-box to observatory, assemble bike, ride bike to train, take train to Dijon, sleep in Dijon
Dijon to Besançon. Get up late, after much sleep. Buy bread and eat it for breakfast. Go to train station to get bike. Ride bike (getting slightly lost leaving town, searching for the less busy roads.) Ride a little less than 100km through rolling countryside. Absolutely gorgeous, sunny day. Green hills, blue skies, puffy white clouds, little wind, and cute French towns. Besançon is a nice city, and we spent the night with a friend who lives there.
Besançon to Crançot (small town near Lons-le-Saunier.) After about 11 hours of sleep (jet lag + biking), and eating, we were on the road again. Unfortunately yesterday's weather was gone, replaced by intermittent rain, increasing as the day progressed. Mildly cold. Did a little less than 100km, including one big climb. Arrived in the evening at the farm of another friend.
Rest and rain. Saw Baum-les-Messieurs, a beautiful canyon with a waterfall and a big cave. Toured the farm. Slept in Crançot again.
Crançot to Bourg-en-Bresse via Lac de Vouglans. Joel wanted to ride the beautiful road which runs down Lac de Vouglans. This would have been breathtaking if it were not for all-day rain and cold, plus lots of climbing. We were very cold at the end, after descending. A little less than 100km.
Bourg to Lyon. Weather clearer in the morning, but we still had rain for the last part of the ride. We stopped at a village just before it started to rain, to find the boulangerie closed. The men who were sitting around on benches on the told us rain was immanent, so we put on a rain gear. We must have looked pretty pathetic, because one of them went into his house, and brought us a bar of chocolate, which was very sweet of him. A little less than 100km, mostly flat.
Rest and take train from Lyon to Avignon. Sleep in Avignon. Avignon is full of Americans, and you here English everywhere in the street, hotels, and restaurants. This is a change for us, because there were next to no Americans in the Franche Comte area.
Avignon to Arles. Maybe 40km, flat. I am wearing my JPL/Caltech Bike Club Jersey. Some other bicycle tourists passes us going in the opposite direction. One loops back, and tells me he recognizes my jersey, and he's from Glendale (which is right next to JPL.) Provence is really packed with Americans.
Arles to La Grand Motte. A little less than 100 flat km. Heading west from Arles, we immediately lose all the other Americans we were seeing.
La Grand Motte to Béziers. Flat 107 km (Yes, we finally did a metric century.) We had rain and headwind for the last 20 km. Good dinner at Restaurant des Halles. Béziers is a very pretty old city.
Rest and all-day rain. Sleep in Béziers again, because no train will take our bicycle that day, a Sunday.
Take train from Béziers to Perpignan. short ride from Perpignan to Prades. About 40km uphill in an very, very strong head wind with cross gusts. The wind was so strong, Joel had trouble controlling the bike. Very pretty scenery with orchards along the roads, and snow capped mountains ahead.
Prades to Mont Louis. 40 km? 1000+ m of climbing? Extremely hard day up to a pass in the Pyrennes. Hardest day of the trip. (Top altitude from sign: 1836 m.) Did a forced 150m sprint uphill at 1300m elevation, because we were chased by an unfriendly, extremely tenacious though quite small dog. We wish we had this on video tape.
Mont Louis to Latour de Carol. Mostly downhill, no idea of the distance, but boy did we use the disc brake. Went to Spain for lunch and ate paella.
Latour de Carol to Tarascon. No idea of the distance, maybe 40km, but another 1000? m of climbing to an even higher pass (Top altitude from sign: 1913 m.) A hard day, but not as hard as June 4.
Ride from Tarascon to Auterive. Downhill for the first past, and then rolling hills. 80 km, ending in a desperate search for a hotel as the sun sunk towards the horizon.
Ride from Auterive to Toulouse, short. flat 40km. (There's a great pastry store in Auterive right at the bridge on the town side. Get the strawberry tart ;-)
Train to Paris.
June 10, 11 Paris.
Good meal at Restaurant du Marché:, 15th arr. Favorite patisserie in Paris: Leclerq at the corner of Rue de Brètagne and Charlot, near Place de la République.
Packing list in two front and two back panniers with no other bags
one pair biking tights
one pair biking shorts
one pair biking knickers
one short sleeved biking jersey
one long sleeved biking jersey
two pairs coolmax biking socks
one polarfleece jacket
one pair gortex rain pants
one gortex rain anorak
one pair polypro liner-type gloves
one pair cycling gloves helmet
one pair wool socks
one pair cotton knee socks
four pairs of underwear
two white t-shirts
one tiny ;-) skirt
one long skirt
one pair pajamas/long underwear top and bottom
one pair shimano SPD shoes
one pair flats (regular girl shoes ;-)
one baseball cap
two pair of glasses, one tinted for sun
a couple magazines and books
small cloth purse with plane tickets, rail passes, wallet, passport, etc
small cosmetic bag with lotions, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, first aid supplies, sewing kit, vitamins, medicines, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.