Massif Central: Mixed-Surface Mountains to Mediterranean
Type of tour: 75% Gravel routes from central France to the Mediterranean. This tour can also be paved only. remote, dramatic and no easy feat. the days could be long with lots of climbing but this lesser-known range from epicenter to sea shouldn’t be missed.
best bike: gravel or adventure road with at least 32c tires. Paved version: road bike with 28c tires.
Start: Clermont-Ferrand End: Sète
7 DAYS/8 NIGHTS – FULLY SUPPORTED 3500€ Deposit of 500€ LIMITED SPACE
July 22-29, 2020 SOLD OUT ** Oct 3-10, 2020 Available
(Custom Dates with a minimum of 2 riders, including Women’s Only)
tell me more
France is a very lumpy country (maybe you’ve noticed). You might also have heard about the famous RAID Pyrenees or the RAID Alps, where you ride your road bike across the width of the mountain chain and get a big pat on the back for doing it? Well, this isn’t that. This is riding your adventure bike (or gravel, CX, allroad, etc) across an entirely different range of mountains called the Massif Central. (Or road bike if you choose the paved-only option). We admit, you won’t be cycling the whole range, but a darn big chunk (because THAT would take two weeks and this is a one week tour). What the heck are the Massif Central, you ask? Some mighty fine mountains…that’s what! The Massif Central are often featured in the Tour de France and are home to some pretty impressive peaks. This ride follows a very well established trail from the center of France to the Mediterranean. The Grand Traverse, as it is known, spans a whopping 10 départments, 4 regional natural parks, parallels 3 major rivers and one UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, the uniquely beautiful Cévennes. YOU, you uniquely beautiful thing, will get to experience all of this. You simply have to pedal your bike. Easy, right?
The Grand Traverse mostly follows an unpaved trail, open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians (no spooking the hikers, or high-fiving the horses please). While traditionally a ““mountain bike”” trail, it was labeled that before we started riding gravel bikes or mixed-surface bikes or adventure bikes or whatever the cool kids are calling them now. Before that, Robert Louis Stevenson went hiking on the same path with an adorable donkey named Modestine. We’ll pass lots and lots of hikers (officially called Pilgrims if you must know). Some sections of trail are quite technical, in which case we’ll find a nice stretch of pavement to pedal instead. If you are so inclined, you can hike-a-bike through those sections while we wait for you up the road. In villages and towns, we’ll have no choice to ride on the pavement but we promise you won’t mind at all. The tour offers approximately 65% unpaved to 45% paved…though sometimes in France “paved” is a loose term. (The paved-only version of this tour is 2% unpaved but appropriate for modern road bikes). We’ll spend the nights in scenic villages, some bearing the prestigious “Most Beautiful Village of France” designation. We’ll spend the days riding the Grand Traverse and watching the landscape change from pointy old volcanic mountains to sweeping plateaus. Next, soaring views of faraway hills and deep valleys. Finally we’ll begin to see signs of the South of France. We finish along the Canal du Rhône on our way to the sparkly blue sea. No cars are allowed on the official trails, hooray! and traffic will be light in the smaller villages and roads. Generally, French drivers are respectful of cyclists as long as we don’t do foolish things. Sometimes they do foolish things too. We should hug it out if they do. We recommend you bring a rear light with a flash setting for low-light conditions and a fender. We try to run our tours during the “dry” season but we are no better at telling the weather than the local weatherperson.
Well, we wouldn’t call it an adventure tour if there wasn’t some adventure. Which is usually code for gravel and/or climbing. In this case, we mean both. Bring your “easy” gears. We won’t judge. Some hike-a-bike is totally possible, so we don’t recommend road shoes. This isn’t a great ride for beginners or those without at least some unpaved experience. This is not a race, Granfondo or training camp. It is a vacation with your bicycle and several like-minded cyclists who love a challenge. You do not have to be an ultra-fit athlete to tackle this trip. Know your limits, be ok with the possibility of a crash or tip-over, find humor in tired legs and a sore ass (poor Modestine), accept that there will be some sweating (swearing) and many hours in the saddle. No one will get dropped. Seriously, we can’t drop you. If you read Travels in the Cevennes with my Donkey, there was mention of bandits. Nobody wants to be hassled by bandits. We’re totally kidding about that…there are thankfully no bandits and rural France is a particularly peaceful place. As the trail is fairly well-marked, just follow the friendly guide who will be following those markings (and the directive of a fancy GPS device, just in case). You’ll also receive a “professional” looking road book that may or may not be spell-checked which describes the entire tour in painful detail. This will give you plenty of opportunities to ride ahead and prove to everyone how much faster you are. You totally are. Plan to ride 50 to 80 miles per day (80 to 130km) with between 4,000 to 7,000 feet of climbing (1,200 – 2,100m). If we can do, you can do it. Well, we actually have to do it. You have the option of hopping in the sag wagon. **For the road-only version…there will be no hike-a-bike but plenty of jaw-dropping scenery and epic Tour de France style climbs. Inquire for route details.
Arrive Clermont-Ferrand. Getting there from Paris is easy-peasy. We can help you arrange travel if you ask nicely. Don’t worry about the night-before hotel…it’s included! We’ll have a nice get-to-know-you dinner together, go over the next day’s route and hit the pillow for a good night’s rest. The next day, we ride. The tour will look a little something like this (give or take a few kilometers if the route needs adjusting):
Stage 1 Clermont-Ferrand to Murol Climbing: 1603m/5260ft Distance: 103km/64mi
Stage 2 Murol to Saint-Flour Climbing: 1609m/5280ft Distance: 106km/66mi
Stage 3 Saint-Flour to Bagnols-les-Bains Climbing: 2145m/7039ft Distance: 132km/82mi
Stage 4 Bagnols-les-Bains to Sainte-Énimie Climbing: 1244m/4082ft Distance: 98km/61mi
Stage 5 Sainte-Énimie to Dourbies Climbing: 1897m/6224ft Distance: 89km/55mi
Stage 6 Dourbies to Saint-Jean-de-Fos Climbing: 1650m/5415ft Distance: 113km/70mi
Stage 7 Saint-Jean-de-Fos to Sète Climbing: 268m/878ft Distance: 77km/48mi
Depart Montpellier. Only 15 minutes by train to Montpellier from Sète. Go anywhere from there…why not? The whole of the South of France is your oyster. Mmmm…oysters. (We really shouldn’t write this stuff when we’re hungry). From Montpellier, you can easily take a train back to Paris or Toulouse, which is a really, really big city with an international airport.
Why should you pay us and not that other tour company? Because we know gravel, we love to eat great food, we know how to balance an enjoyable day on the bike with a decent challenge. Most importantly, we know how to have fun. We are cyclists. We love bikes and love to ride them in some pretty epic places, just like you. We are more interested in providing you and your best riding buddies with a personalized experience instead of just filling tours to “make our numbers”. Four riders is all we need for a group tour. A private tour can be had for as few as two (shoot us an email for details). We provide a capable guide with average people skills and a great sense of humor, a great mechanic with no humor at all, a broom wagon (just in case), luggage transfers, accommodations including the night before your tour, memorable meals (because food is more than fuel), custom jersey, 2 custom bottles, a custom tour poster and portable cycling nutrition that actually tastes good. We’ll stay in traditional hotels, B&B’s or well-appointed gites when possible. You’re still paying attention, right? A buffet breakfast will be available every morning, thoughtfully prepared by our hotel hosts, so remember your manners people. Many cultures are not big breakfast eaters (think croissants and jam and cheese, with juice, coffee and some granola or cereal NOT bacon and eggs). We’re happy to help supplement your morning meal if you let us know in advance. Expect 3-course dinners with 2 adult beverages per guest, if you like, on us. (BTW real cyclists drink rosé). We prepare healthy, picnic-style lunches on the road highlighting local flavors. There will be cheese. You don’t have to eat it. There will be charcuterie (delicious meat in tube form). Again, you don’t have to eat it. If you don’t eat meat, we promise it will not touch the vegetables. Yes, we will accommodate your complicated dietary needs or wacky food whims (within reason & availability…this is France after all, so we might have to get creative).
i really need my beauty sleep
So do we. It keeps us from getting cranky. Rooms will be shared. We’ll try to match you with a super duper roommate but if you’re squeamish about a stranger seeing you in your underwear, you can 1) bring a friend or 2) request a single room for a 400€ supplement (think about it: no snoring and you can sing in the shower). Hotels TBD depending on the season and availability. We like to mix it up from time to time but promise there will be modern plumbing, clean sheets and WiFi to upload all your epic cycling photos. Some might actually be swanky but they won’t mind you sleeping with your bike in the room or going to breakfast in your bibs. You’ll just have to trust us. If you don’t, no hard feelings. We’ll send you a list a few weeks before the tour.
When we aren’t on tour, we operate a rad little bike shop complete with espresso machine. Not one of those pod thingies…an actual shiny Italian kind. We can usually handle any last minute adjustments or repairs. We sell socks and tubes (and other helpful items) if you forget those. Bicycle rental is available for 350€. Send us your fit numbers and we’ll have it ready to roll when you are. Want to bring your own sweet ride? Woo-hoo! You provide the Bike Flights label and we will unbox it/assemble it before your tour then disassemble and re-box it after your tour for 150€. Want to bring it on the plane? We’ll assemble and disassemble for 75€. Proof of health/accident insurance required. Travel insurance highly recommended. Come on, it’s what grown-ups do. Can non-riding guests come along? Sure! But, they won’t be riding. So, they’ll have to find something else fun to fill their time. They can join us at the hotel after our ride each day or meet us at the finish line in Sète. We’ll provide a non-cycling, emotional support-buddy supplement if they want to share your room (but not your meals…they get their own). While you’re out laboring on two-wheels (poor you), they can be living it up on the Mediterranean. There’s the beach, the food, sightseeing, shopping, people watching, sailing, horseback riding, wine tours…we could go on and on. If we haven’t listed it here and you NEED to know about it, just ask. We’re always available by email, instant message or by phone. We speak French and English. And Texan, which is kind of like English, just weirder. Ok, enough already. Let’s go for a great ride, shall we?