Two-wheelers are everywhere! To go to work, during the holidays, with or without electric assistance: the bike is on the rise in France with more than one in two households equipped with at least one bike and a market of several billion euros. "For more than 10 years now, cycling has experienced a double-digit increase in attendance," Sophie Rapinel, head of the routes and cycling tourism division of the Vélo et Territoires association, a reference observatory, told AFP.
In 2022, bicycle crossings climbed by 13%, a jump marked in particular by the rise of the "velotaf" (+15%), the practice of cycling to work, which has developed enormously with electric bikes and the Covid crisis.According to a study by the Observatory Society and Consumption (ObSoCo), 55% of households are equipped with at least one bike. And a quarter of cyclists have been for less than two years.
This larger audience and these new practices raise the question of infrastructure. According to ObSoCo, just under half (44%) of cyclists have bike lanes on the majority of their routes.
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Cycling tourists spend more
The interministerial plan "Cycling and walking 2023-2027" presented by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in May set the goal of "100,000 km of cycle paths in 2030", double the current mileage, and the government wants to devote 1.5 billion euros.
The stakes are also economic: 854,000 bicycles were assembled in French factories in 2022 and the ambitious interministerial plan aims for 1.4 million in 2027 and 2 million in 2030.
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On the tourism side, the France has 22 million people who say they pedal during their holidays and the government hopes to take Germany's place as the world's leading destination for bicycle tourism. Because these cycling tourists are good customers: they spend an average of 68 euros per day, compared to 55 euros for a "classic" tourist.
Alexis Ehrart, a 25-year-old Alsatian, crossed by AFP in Finistère on the "Vélomaritime" route, makes daily stages of 50 km with his friend Florence Willer. They take the opportunity to "visit, discover the region", and if thanks to the campsite they save on housing costs, Alexis explains that they "enjoy themselves at lunch with a good restaurant".
In 2020, the turnover generated by bicycle tourism was estimated at 4.6 billion euros, according to the Directorate General for Enterprise (DGE).
Loire à Vélo and Vélodyssée, the most popular routes
In five years, revenues related to bicycle tourism on the route of La Loire à Vélo or in Brittany, flagship destinations, have doubled, according to the DGE. They now exceed 100 million euros per year on the Vélodyssée (from Roscoff in Finistère to Hendaye in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques). Many activities have developed around cycle routes: accommodation, bike rentals, repairers, etc.
Alexis Ehrart and Florence Willer had rented bikes during a previous trip to Normandy for "300 euros per person". This time, they bought some: "We can make them profitable in two trips and we also use them to go to work," says Florence Willer.
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Train transport remains complicated
There remains the thorny issue of transporting cycles by train, where the cohabitation between cyclists and non-cyclists is sometimes tense. "It's complicated," explains Florence Willer, "there are more and more bikes in the TER, and not many places in the TGV".
In summer, booking, on both TGV and TER trains, is imperative. SNCF promises to increase from 4 to 8 bicycle spaces in TGVs in 2024 and 2025 for Ouigo.
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"On the TER, many regions have set up experiments" such as the tarpaulin of seats allowing the installation of bicycles, says Sophie Rapinel, but the transport of bicycles by rail remains "a somewhat colossal project". Alternatives have flourished such as "one way" bike rental, from one stage to another, or "loop" circuits.
For daily cycling, the interministerial plan provides for the creation of 1100,90 secure parking spaces in the 000 busiest stations in 2027, "three times more than today".