Cycling from London to Paris in less than 24 hours

As usual the subject had drifted onto sporting challenges. I’d run the Yorkshire Three Peaks with Nathan the year before and he was hunting for a new adventure. The idea of London to Paris by bicycle in less than 24 hours was born. We’ll start at Big Ben and end at the Eiffel Tower following Donald Hirsch’s beautiful low traffic route. It’s about 190 miles with a four hour ferry crossing a third of the way through.

There’s something about this challenge that seems to capture people’s minds. I put the word out to a few friends and in the space of a few hours the group jumped from 2 to 17 people with riders flying in from Sweden and Brazil! And so on the 7th June, if you’re standing by Big Ben at around 16:30 look out for 17 cyclists creating traffic mayhem as we spin the pedals and head for Newhaven.

Donald Hirsch’s route is an inspiration. Riding through sun dappled tracks in forests for miles and yet being in the heart of Paris are some of the delights of the route. The journey begins following a tarmacked disused railway track for the first 35 miles, climbing up an imperceptible incline before rolling over gentle hills towards the capital. Whilst the middle sections follow roads, we will be cycling on the Sunday morning quietly passing through sleepy French villages. Closer to Paris the route once again picks up the cycle paths  until just a couple of miles from the Eiffel Tower we reach cobbled streets and dense slow moving traffic – entertaining! En route it is impossible to resist a quick whizz around the cycling hippodrome, like a moon orbiting a planet, before breaking free of the gravitational forces and sneaking through the backstreets and cycle paths of Paris.

You’ll have gathered I’ve ridden the route before. Last year I was training for an attempt on the tandem record from Lands End to John O’Groats and was hunting for some fun challenges to keep me motivated. I hatched the crazy idea of riding to Paris for Lunch and back again. I drove to Newhaven, put my bike on the boat, rode to Paris, a quick baguette under the Eiffel Tower and returned via a more direct route before a very uncomfortable and cold evening in Dieppe waiting for the ferry. On paper it sounded fun, but 240 miles of March mist and close to zero temperatures meant it was more of an ordeal. However, a brief respite in the weather that day gave me a sense of how much fun the route could be.

With this in mind I returned in the summer with my family and some friends and their children. A much more leisurely 3.5 days from Dieppe to Paris with my 13 year old daughter and the 9 year old son of our friends who managed the 55 miles that made up our longest day. Delightful B&Bs, ice creams outside the palace of Versaille and picnics by the river were a stark contrast to the bitterly cold mists of a few months previously. Going from London instead of Dieppe was the next logical step. In less than 24 hours created the fun challenge.

You can ride this route on almost anything. The cycle tracks are all rideable on narrow racing bike tyres, but increasing to 28c or more certainly increases the comfort. When I rode solo I had nothing more with me than a small repair kit in a saddle bag and a small triangular frame bag on my single speed road bike to hold the leg and arm warmers I imagined I would take off (but never did). When I went with the family, I towed a small trailer to carry their luggage behind my hybrid. This time it’s back to my single speed.

There’s a section on the site listing some tongue in cheek records. The fastest London to Paris time is a fraction under 24 hours and we hope to beat this. The fastest Dieppe to Paris time is… well modesty forbids. But really you can make of it what you will. If you are new to cycling and are looking for an adventure, this would make an excellent place to start. Take a few days over the journey and enjoy it. For speed merchants this probably is not the route for you. You can get to Paris more easily and by a shorter route taking the roads. They are pleasant, but nothing like as nice.

You can ride the route whenever you want. I’d recommend the summer months. It can get warm allowing shorts and t shirt riding. On the family ride temperatures were in the high 20s. But be warned, shops are few and far between so you’ll need to make sure you’ve worked out where they are and have enough supplies to bridge the gap. Donald Hirsch’s site has lots of useful information on this topic. Similarly, you won’t find a bike shop in easy reach so it’s useful to know how to do the basics.

Dominic Irvine © 2013 All rights asserted