The French Riviera has a real mixture of terrain and trails - something for riders of every ability, from complete beginners to the hard-core expert downhill riders.
From dusty trails, rocky paths, the red cliff of the Esterel and the pine forests that line the coast, you will have plenty of terrain and scenery to enjoy. You will find that in the Alpes-Maritimes there are several world class bike parks where the trails are designed and maintained for you to enjoy, some with lift access. And along the coast you can share the walking trails with hikers or head to the FFC (French Cycling Federation) waymarked and graded bike specific trails that adorn the coastal green spaces.
Hiring and buying bikes
Whether to go full-suspension or hardtail is a question which creates a lot of healthy debate amongst the mountain biking community. Whether you're renting or buying you should first decide which type you're looking for, and there are numerous makes and models of both types available.
So what's the difference?
Full-suspension: Both front and rear suspension that is effective at absorbing lumps, bumps and jumps, thus providing better performance and a smoother ride.
- Much more comfortable and arguably more control over the rough stuff with more options to adjust to suit the terrain.
- You can make a full suspension bike ‘lock out’ when needed, so the experience is like riding a hard tail.
- Can handle larger drops and jumps.
- More forgiving and confidence-inspiring as they have a wider margin for error allowing you to ride above your skill level.
- Better tech beneath you - modern full-suspension frames are incredibly sophisticated.
- It can be more energy intensive on the uphill unless you have a ‘lock out’ facility on the rear suspension to avoid ‘suspension bobbing' as you climb.
- A weight penalty for all that bump proofing suspension.
- Potentially more moving parts to repair should anything go wrong.
- Difference in price is quite significant.
Hardtail: A bike with no rear suspension. Suspension forks may be at the front of the bike but its back post is rigid.
- In general, tend to require less maintenance and perform better on steep uphill climbs and sprints to the finish line.
- Inexperienced or beginner riders may prefer to start with a hardtail complete with front, lockable suspension.
- Good to get a feel for preferred type of riding before progressing to a full-suspension bike.
- On the whole more efficient as they're lighter, maintain speed and no energy is wasted compressing a rear shock as you pedal.
- Because of the rigid frame you won't be able to make any adjustments.
- Less efficient on rough terrain, rather than rolling over, the rear tyre hops up off rocks and trees when on a rough trail.
- Less comfortable as those shocks and vibrations transfer through the bike into your body, using your arms and legs as shock absorbers which can be tiring.
- Less traction due to the rear wheel rebound on rough terrain.
If you plan on renting equipment then there are plenty of Antibes mountain bike hire shops hiring out both full-suspension and hardtail mountain bikes. On average you can pay anywhere between €16-€80 for a day's hire, depending on whether you select a bike with or without suspension. It's also possible to hire mountain bikes for children from around €15 a day.
There are numerous makes and models of both types available to the potential buyer so when deciding on which type of bike is best, it's important to consider the following:
- Your budget!!
- The type of riding you and your bike will be undertaking
- The typical terrain and angle of decent you will be riding
Bringing your own bike
If you bring your own bike then there's no point filling your excess baggage with spare bike parts (unless your bike requires specific specialist component parts). Antibes has some excellent biking shops that sell plenty of spare parts and components for your bike. However, remember the spares list does not extend to some obscure pivot in your one off special downhill rig. We're talking rear mechs, pedals, cranks, chains, cassettes, brakes, brake pads, cables etc from the more popular manufacturers. The exception to this rule is the rear gear hanger; bring one with you for your bike, especially if it’s of the super funky alternative/rare type. The bike shops do not carry this part for all the different bike manufacturers and models, and it's probably the most frequently damaged part in the event of a crash. Even a relatively innocuous fall can damage this part and although they can often be bent back into shape, it would be a shame to ruin your holiday if this were not the case.
Before you travel
It is highly advisable to ensure your own bike is in tip top condition before lugging it all the way over to France. A day riding in the Alps equates to many rides in the UK, and the wear and tear on your bike reflects this. If you start the week with your bike in a poor to average state of repair it will let you down at some point and spoil the day, if not the week's enjoyment. If you're not a competent bike mechanic then have your local bike shop service your pride and joy. It's also money well spent to upgrade your tyres if they are of the lighter weight cross-country variety, and purchase some free ride tyres with a 2.3 section to smooth your way and avoid the punctures. There is every chance a set of brake pads will disappear in a week, so bring a spare pair and carry them with you on the trails to avoid that metal on metal effect! If you run out of time before you come away, Antibes local bike shops will be able to carry out a service for you.
Equipment for cycling
- Water - One of the biggest problems in this region is the heat. Fit two bottle cages to your bike and take 750ml bottles with electrolyte drinks.
- Sun Cream - The hot summer sun means you will burn quicker here than at home.
- Windbreaker - Although it may be warm in the valley temperatures can drop rapidly as you climb, weather can change quickly and the fast descents can cool you down fast.
- Snacks - Energy Bars and gels are a very good idea if you are planning a day on the roads.
- Mobile Phone - Being able to contact someone to pick you up if your chain breaks is helpful.
- Money - You may need it in an emergency or just for a beer at the end of the day.
- Basic Repair Kit - You can't fix everything by the side of the road but not all breakdowns require the day to end.
Flying with your bike
A review of airlines terms and conditions in relation to sports equipment baggage indicates that it is highly likely that you will be subjected to a standard charge for taking your bike on board. Easyjet; bmibaby; Aer Lingus; and KLM indicated that there was an average additional charge of between £15 (€22.50) and £25 (€36) to take your bike, one-way.
However, make sure that the combined weight of your luggage does not exceed you allowance. Although you may have paid an excess for your bike its weight may be added to the weight of your hold luggage and there can be a penalty for any kg's over the allowance.
The more conventional airlines such as British Airways and its code share partner Swiss airlines permit free transport of bikes providing they fit within the free baggage allowance, and are packed in a hard shelled container.
Packing your bike for a flight
There are a few options available in transporting your bike. Hard bike boxes tend to cost in the region of £300 and like a hard case suitcase it will minimise the risk of damage occurring to the your bike but they are heavier. A soft bike bag is the cheaper option, costing around £100. Whilst this will provide your bike with a little more padded protection it is not as reliable as the hard box. On our recent trip from the UK to Geneva, we transported our bike in its original cardboard box, protected the key areas with bubble wrap and cardboard and it arrived safely and undamaged. Most airlines stipulate the following:
- Bikes should be contained within a protective box or appropriate bike bag;
- Only one bike should be carried per box/bag, and no other items (except protective padding) should be included within the box/bag;
- Handlebars and pedals must be fixed sideways against the frame or removed; and
- Tyres should be deflated slightly to reduce the risk of damage.
If you are transporting your bike, you should also check out your travel insurance arrangements. A lot of travel insurance companies will not cover your expensive mountain bike without an additional excess payment, and a lot of airlines will not be held responsible for any damage sustained whilst the bike is in their care. Check out your household insurance policy to see whether it can be covered as 'contents away from home'. There may be a slight surcharge for this option, but it's potentially better than having to fork out for a new bit of kit, or a brand new bike!!
In addition to bubble wrap, purchase some pipe lagging and zip ties from a DIY store to put around the frame of the bike for protection during transportation. In addition, if you don't have your original cardboard bike box, ask your local bike shop for one. If you have the choice always use the manufacturer’s box and your bike should arrive safe and whole. However, it is worth noting that the most frequently damaged part of a bike is the rear gear hanger. Remove the rear gear mechanism and tie wrap loosely to the frame to avoid this scenario. This applies almost equally to disc brake rotors if your bike sports them. Take them off, likewise pedals, its only a five minute job and will prevent you engaging in a fruitless search for an obscure part in resort.
Taking your bike on the train
Going on holiday by train to Antibes with your bike is pretty straight forward, but as with a lot of things, its better to book in advance.
The Eurostar allows you to take your bike in 1 of 3 ways into Europe.
1) Reserve a place for your bike on the train in advance - For peace of mind, you can reserve a place for your bike on the train you’re travelling on for £30 one way, subject to availability.
2) Fold it up - If your bike is placed in a suitable bike bag no longer than 85cm, you can carry it on board as part of your baggage allowance.
3) Use the registered baggage service on the day of departure - For fully assembled bikes or bike bags over 120cm at their longest, you can use their registered baggage service for only €29 one way from Paris, €25 from Brussels and £25 from London. They will do everything they can to ensure your bike travels on the same train as you. But if it can’t, they guarantee that you will be able to collect it at your Eurostar destination station within 24 hours of your departure. If you can fold or dismantle your bike and place it in a bike bag between 85cm and 120cm at its longest, then you can use their turn-up-and-go registered luggage service for just €15 from Paris or Brussels and £10 from London. Your bike will generally travel on the same train as you unless there is not enough space. If this is the case, they will send it on the next available train.
Domestic or regional trains (TER) and Tourist trains quite often allow you to transport your bike for free, although you may have to put it in a bike compartment, or hang it from a hook to save space, or fold it up and take it on as hand luggage. Spaces are limited and you cannot reserve in advance, and in some regions bikes aren't permitted Monday-Friday during working hours as the trains are too busy with pedestrians.
On Intercity trains it's best if you can dismantle your bike and carry it on in a bag no more than 120x90cm. Some of these trains require a seat reservation, whereas others do not. Consequently, according to the type of train, it may or may not be necessary to book, or pay for, a place for your bike.
Currently the walker/rider relationship is generally amenable. To keep it this way slow down for walkers and pass in single file to one side. A ring of a bike bell is more conducive to alerting walkers to your approach and getting them to step to one side of the trail whilst you pass on the other than an intrusive shout! A friendly “bonne journée” as you pass usually goes down well too.
Some trails are marked ‘piétons’ meaning walkers only; please comply, you wouldn’t be too happy to meet a walker half way down your favourite downhill course! It would be a shame if the restrictions were to be introduced in Antibes.
The following 6 mountain biking rules were introduced by the International Mountain Biking Association, and should be understood and followed by every mountain biker before venturing out on the Antibes trails.
- Ride on open trails only. The mountainside and it’s environment is precious, ensure your cycling is environmentally sound and socially responsible.
- Leave no trace. Stay on existing trails and don’t create new ones, so no cutting off switchbacks!
- Control your bicycle. Where safety notices are displayed, take note and follow them!
- Always let your fellow riders know you’re around. Many trails are also used by hill-walkers who have priority over mountain bikers. There may be trails which are off limits at certain times of the year so it’s best to check this out before you venture out.
- Never scare or intimidate the local wildlife. Remember to leave gates as you found them
- Plan ahead. Check out your equipment before setting of to ensure it’s in good repair, taking puncture repair and basic tool kits with you. Carry necessary supplies including food and waterproofs. Always wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear for the terrain you’re about to tackle.