The Bikes (our “Cycle Home Page”)
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There is no “right” answer to the question, “Which Should I Choose?” The right bike for one person may not be the right bike for another, and the nature of the trip (hilly or flat) should also have an influence. Most importantly, this is a vacation, not the Tour de France. You are here to enjoy the ride, not to get maximum performance from a bicycle. So, regardless of any objective “better,” you should take what you will enjoy riding.
About Our Bikes
We own a stable of road touring bikes, which live in central Paris. All are equipped with back rack, mud guards, 21 or more speeds, water bottle holder, and at least two wheels.
We also own one tandem, the M/F model shown on this site.
Tire pumps, cable locks, patch kits, the wrench set needed for geometry adjustment, and / or a spare inner tube can be borrowed at no additional cost (you must leave a deposit unless you are travelling on one of our organized trips). Front and rear clip-on lights can be rented for what is essentially the cost of the batteries (and are provided for free on our organized cycle trips). If you require cycle luggage, it can be rented through us, as can some other accessories. This page offers details.
The bicycles are composite machines, assembled from carefully selected components by our star chef d’atelier, Michel Corvelyn (at right), a former pro racer (Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and yes, even the Tour) and expert mechanic.
They are not the “disposables” common in rental fleets: they are purpose-built, designed for distance, comfort, and luggage carriage. Frames and parts are regularly tested and replaced based on fatigue cycles, and mechanical failures are rare. In fact, they are rarer on our bicycles than they are on the “better” bikes independent riders often bring, though this is scant comfort, since the one we give you will almost certainly be the one to break down. (That is a joke. We hope.) Regardless, if you are on one of our organized trips, our Trip Coordinators have the mechanical knowledge to keep them running, and our guests find them well-suited to the type of travel we arrange.
Further discussion of our cycles follows, if it is a topic of particular interest.
They are both better and worse than those available elsewhere, and in any event they are unusual. “Road Tourers” are rare, representing only a percentage point or so of all bicycle sales. We are proud of them.
They are designed for distance travel on paved roads of varying quality: a good combination of (relatively) light weight, frame strength and rigidity (mostly steel frames), and road equipment like mud guards, back racks for carrying paniers, cruising brakes (which do not pose legal problems in Europe, and which touring riders find convenient), and varied gearing (triple chain rings on the front).
They are not well-suited to city touring (not sufficiently robust for bumping over curbs, too attractive to thieves). Nor, despite a superficial similarity in appearance, are they light-weight “racing” or ”training” bikes, which crumple at the first pot hole, and can carry no more than a pocket handkerchief as luggage.
Moreover... they are a rental fleet, maintained for function, not for form. That means that (a) they don't look like much, and (b) they use technology selected for robustness, not for style, and less still for being on the “cutting edge.” An example: they often carry 7- or 8-ring rear cassettes, not the 9- or more that have become common. Experience has shown that it is easier for non-mechanically-inclined guests to keep these aligned on longer trips, and that, frankly, 21 speeds is enough. (Typical low gear is 24 / 32.) Components are Shimano Alivio, Shimano Tiagra, or equivalent. Our recommended handlebars are classic ram’s horn, or “drop” bars, not aero bars (upright bars are also available, as are women's frames).
So... if this is what you want, we have it. But we are the first to say that our cycles are neither the cheapest, nor the fanciest, nor the best-suited to all purposes. They are, on the contrary, precisely designed for the use we make of them: distance riding on paved roads, often with saddlebags, a.k.a. paniers....
Which Style to Choose
We offer three styles of bike to choose from (click on the names for photos and a brief description):
All of our bikes, whatever their style, share the many characteristics of road touring cycles. They have in common gearing that is appropriate to distance riding on variable terrain, and a light weight relative to their road-worthness (the later implies solidity, rigidity, and the ability to attach touring equipment).
For clarity: a “road touring bike” (ours) and the far more common “road bike” are not the same thing.
A road bike is designed for fast riding on smooth surfaces without baggage.
A road tourer equipped with “racing” / “ram’s horn” / “drop” handlebars (those are all terms for the same thing) has approximately the same physical appearance. But it is designed to survive a bumpy road, to allow the rider to sit upright if s/he so pleases (double break levers), to carry baggage if necessary, and it is geared to better handle hills. Conversely, it is heavier, and will not allow you to equal the performance you got out of your 700-gram carbon-fiber bike at the vélodrome last week.
With that in mind, and since it is a question we get frequently, here are our thoughts. But only because you asked.
If your trip is a week or less, and you ride regularly at home, we suggest that you take whatever style you are used to riding at home.
The learning curve in using anything else will cover 3 or 4 days. If you have a 3/4ths of your trip left once you get comfortable, you will think that that was a worthwhile investment. If you have 2 days left, you may not see it that way.
For longer trips, and especially for hilly ones, we suggest what we call “Men’s Racing” bikes.
Clarity again: this means road touring bikes, equipped with triangular frames and “drop” handlebars.
Here is why:
Why to Choose Drop Handlebars
The advantages of “drop,” or “ram’s horn” handlebars, such as those that equip our “racing” style bikes, are four.
- They allow for three different positions on the bars (top, over the brakes, and on the bottom of the curved bar), which in turn allows for three different back positions.
While all three riding positions are more awkward, at least initially, than the more vertical position of upright bars, they all avoid the transmission of shocks to your spinal column on rough sections of road. Moreover, the variety avoids the physical stress that comes from spending long parts of the day sitting in one position. This is especially important if you are new to distance riding: a back “crick” can easily be gotten rid of if you can simply sit in a different position.
- Their use makes you more aerodynamic.
This reduces effort at equivalent speed, but especially has safety implications. The rider’s center of gravity is lowered, and weight distributed across the bike, improving the bike’s adhesion through curves, and on uneven roads. This is especially important at speed, for instance going downhill. Most people feel safer going downhill on a drop bar bike, at least after they get used to the bike.
- They make the bike narrower.
Our drop bar headsets are 44 cm wide, compared with 64 cm on average for upright headsets. This means that, on a “drop bar” bike, the rider’s shoulders are typically wider than the handlebar, and not the reverse. Research has shown that auto drivers subconsciously measure the width of a bike by the width of the human on board. So, if the handlebar sticks out beyond the width of the human on the bike, a driver who is driving unacceptably close to a cyclist may “catch” the protruding handlebars, with a result that you can probably picture, but would rather not.
Beyond the safety angle, though related: navigating in town traffic is easier on a narrower bike. You are less likely to clip the mirrors of the cars you pass, and have an instinctive feel for your width, as it is that of your body, and not that of a wider bicycle.
- They make climbing easier.
You can pull up on the bars, thus keeping your torso relatively rigid, and avoiding the dispersion of the energy furnished in pedalling.
Why to Choose a Men’s Frame
Men’s frames, where a top bar parallel to the ground forms a triangle, are more rigid than women’s frames (photo), which tend to wobble a bit.
This is especially (only?) important if you are travelling “self-contained,” and so riding with a set of paniers (the handlebar issue is of more concern to riders whose bikes are relatively unladen). Even with light paniers, however, the frame type will influence your comfort level when going downhill, when bumps in the road will be amplified by the lack of rigidity in a woman’s frame.
Choosing Between Our Bike and Your Own for use during our cycle trip
The use of a bicycle is included in the dollar ($US and $C) prices of our organized “long” (4+ night) cycle trips. Its shipment to, from, and within your trip, as necessary, is also included.
€uro trip prices do not include the cycles, nor their shipment to the trip from our Paris garage, because it is easier for European guests to bring their own, and so some choose to do so. But our cycles are naturally available, at an additional cost which is shown in the “Facts & Figures” table for each trip (at the bottom of the page which describes the trip). And guests from Oceania, Asia, South America and Africa (who also sign up in €) generally choose to use them. Exceptions: in Norway the use of a mountain bike is included, and our “Day Out from Paris” excursions also include the use of the bike.
If you prefer to bring your own cycle, and have signed up for your trip in $ (or for one of our day trips), you receive a credit for the bike rental and shipping costs associated with our bike. The amount of the credit, trip by trip, can be found here. But this is not a way to save money: the credit is often more than used up by the costs of shipping your own cycle, which can be more costly.
If you are considering this option, you may wish to visit these pages.
If you are using one of our bikes, on one of our organized trips, read on.
Outfitting the Bike
You can customize our bike by bringing your own pedals and/or seat. Simply fill out your trip application accordingly. If you are travelling independently, tell us what you would like when you reserve the bike.
Our bikes are equipped with standard, “flat” pedals. At no additional cost, toe cages, either full strap or front-of-toe only, can be fitted (we recommend front-of-toe only “half cages,” for safety reasons, and that is what we use unless you tell us otherwise).
If you are used to “clipping in” via any of the variety of systems (attaching your foot to the pedal), you may bring your own clip-in pedals. The threading is standard, and the tension of the clipping mechanism will thus be suited to your needs. In sum, you are less likely to fall over and crack your head at the first traffic light (hope you had your helmet on!). We will supply your bike without pedals, and yours can be threaded on by hand, no tools required (we will have the necessary wrench available if needed for final tightening). If you are on one of our organized trips, we will help you fit your pedals when you reach the trip (our Trip Coordinator will have the necessary tools).
If you are not used to “clipping in,” but think it sounds like a nice idea, do NOT test the theory on a cycle trip. Unfamiliar terrain, stop-and-go riding conditions, a bike you aren’t used to, and possibly jet lag, will conspire to put you in one of Europe’s excellent emergency rooms faster than you can say “knackered knee.”
Our standard saddle is our opinion of what a touring saddle should be. It is unisex, so wider in the rear than a men’s racing saddle (14 cm), but not as wide as gender-specific female saddles. It has a central partial cut-out, to ensure that weight gets placed, er, in the right places, and not the wrong ones. Our regular riders of both sexes give it high marks.
But, if you ride a lot, only your own saddle will do. It has molded to your bottom (or your bottom to it). It just “feels right,” and anything else feels wrong. We understand, there is no need to be defensive. So it is that you may also request that your cycle be prepared without a saddle, and bring your own.
In the case of any standard, “two rail” saddle, you should only bring the saddle itself (one piece, no moving or detachable parts: no seat post, bolts or other attachment fixtures).
We will also help you fit your own pedals or saddle without advance warning. However, if you are meeting your bike elsewhere than in our shop, you will generally have to carry our pedals or saddle through your trip, in order that we be able to re-assemble a rideable bike when you leave us. And, if you are meeting the bike in our shop, and cannot make the necessary adjustments yourself, you may have to wait some time for a mechanic slot.
Cycle Assembly, Tuning, Repair... Mechanic Time
Our central Paris workshop can re-assemble and tune boxed bikes, disassemble and box using your carton, attach parts or accessories that you bring, and perform general tuning or repair. Costs vary with tasks performed, but our expert mechanic time is 56€ / hour, charged by the quarter hour, with a 20€ minimum. Our mechanic is the right combination of good and fast. His intervention is by reservation only.
Cycle rental is included in the $ prices of our escorted cycle trips, and offered as an option to riders whose statements are in €uros. However, the rental charges (whether included or additional) do not include insurance of the bike from damage or theft. Less still for riders renting our bikes for independent travel.
We do offer cycle insurance, discussed on our bike rental page.
This covers serious damage to, or theft of, the cycle.
We additionally offer a Maintenance Contract for travellers who have rented cycles from us for independent travel.
This covers routine repair, adjustment, roadside assistance, and other parts and service. Also discussed on our Bicycle Rental page. Maintenance Contract services are included in the cost of bike rental (or of the trip itself) if you are travelling on one of our organized trips, with a Blue Marble Trip Coordinator.
Travelling by Train With Your Bike, Shipping Your Bike
Getting on European trains with your bike can be complex. Many fast trains (most in some countries) do not allow bicycles. Those that do severely restrict the number that can board a given train, require that you reserve your cycle spaces, and often sell out those cycle spaces far in advance, especially on weekends. Reservations for cycles on trains are not generally available outside the country of travel.
Getting Our Advice
This is a domain of expertise for us... if you would like information on making a trip with your bike or bikes, we offer our consulting services for a flat fee of 20€ per trip (regardless of the number of travellers making the trip, bicycle tickets and reservations additional where required).
For the same fee, we will instead provide a country-specific booklet / instruction manual, offering general information pertaining to that country. “France” is our most popular title. If you then wish detailed schedules / options for a particular trip, however, an additional charge will apply.
To Request Our Input...
simply create a customer account, and submit a payment of 20€. Then submit your request by e.mail (to avoid misunderstanding, and so that we may associate your payment with your request), along with your name, e.mail, a phone number where you can be reached, and a postal address.
One of our advisors will reply with the details of bike transport on the route or routes you are contemplating, or we will forward our general discussion of the particular country in which you intend to travel, as appropriate.
Satisfaction is guaranteed regarding the quality of our information, not regarding the quality of the railroad services on offer. In other words, if we cannot reply fully and accurately, no payment is due. If cycle transport by train is simply impossible on your route, no payment is due. However, if we reply with the method, and you do not like it (the railroad requires that you travel by local train when you would have preferred an express, for instance), our consulting charge is nonetheless due.
We can also reserve bike spaces aboard continental European trains which require such reservations. Bike reservations on trains are not always required, but where they are, they must generally be purchased simultaneously with the rail tickets. Please do not buy your tickets or railpasses elsewhere, and then ask us to reserve bike spaces for you. It will cost you more than it would have cost to book both simultaneously, and may require an entirely new set of tickets.
For information on having us reserve your train + bike travel, please see the relevant sections of our train travel page (concerning passenger and cycle reservations, and our fees for making them).
Having Us Ship Your Bike
We can do this
within Europe (we do not ship to or from other continents). This allows you to travel without it, by plane, or on a different route. This is an expensive service: if you are on a tight budget, you will probably need to find a way to carry your bike with you. Follow the link for information on shipping.