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My cycle from London to Paris in a weekend!

Distance, speed and time are all related.

In modern life, time prevails and the speed of transportation allows us to ignore distance - most journeys are achievable in a day. What if this was not available to us, what can you achieve under your own steam? I would imagine most kids have, like I did, the frustration of little freedom, not able to get places without motorised parental support. I have always been interested in what I can achieve on a bike, and what lies between A and B. The following gives an account of our cycle ride from London to Paris (and what's between!)

Saturday 10am - All loaded up on triple portions of Spaghetti from the night before we met at Victoria Station at a reasonable hour. A hot day was on the cards. At the start of a Bank Holiday Weekend most people were donning board shorts and flip flops in search of more relaxing park based pursuits, but not us. Cycling shorts, although tight and too warm, promised comfort for the next two days.

I knew the first hour of the journey by heart, from a previous trip to Brighton and living in the area as a student. Hasam required a first wee stop less than 30 minutes in, a recurring theme of the trip, so I took the opportunity to get my first FPF sticker out in the world. Gradually the images of maps slipped from my mind and I began to rely on the list of directions that flapped from the handlebars, we were now in the "Burbs" with their large roads, shopping centres and drive thru's. Head down, pedal! 

Saturday 12.30pm - After a relatively smooth first leg we arrived in Cobham, just inside the M25, with a healthy 25miles under the belt: What we thought constituted a third of the distance for day 1.

My love of cycling and taking things apart has, over the years, manifested itself into a shed of bicycle parts, a previous venture at University refurbishing bicycles from ebay and freecycle, selling them on to my fellow students, and also to the fact that I have never purchased a new one! I was therefore inquisitive to inspect the goods of my fellow riders, Kit and Hasam (aka Sam), both with Aluminium framed speed machines. A quick squeeze of the brakes and spin of the wheels, gave me a glimpse of a problem; the back wheel of Sam's month old racer from Halford's was wobbling and catching the brake pads. Closer inspection showed that all of the spokes were loose, with some taking no load. Coincidently, Cobham had a local bike shop handily located next to the bench where we had parked up. Disappointment was to follow relief as the mechanic, after hearing of our challenge ahead, recommended a new wheel, which he didn't have! He pointed us in the direction of a Halford's, which was once again luckily just off our route. Outside a group of professional looking cyclists had formed a group around the shop. They explained they were training for the organised London to Paris ride. It took a while for the penny to drop that we were en route, without a support team!

Saturday 13.30pm - A crunch, a yelp - I turned around to see wheels spinning horizontally, feet in the air. Crash number one came after a missed turning to Halford's - Hasam had decided to take the turn with Kit just following close behind his back wheel. After attending to their wounded ego's I thought to myself "cycling to Paris is a challenge enough without this!"

Halford's were of a different opinion to the man in Cobham - a few turns to tighten the spokes "will easily get you to Paris" - is not exactly what we wanted to hear. Sam decided that it was the best we were going to get out of the situation and we returned to Kit, who was nursing his wounds outside.

Saturday 15:00pm - Sam, after living in Guilford for a couple of years, could only come up with the local Weatherspoons as a lunch venue. Kit had no problem making himself comfortable and, teacosy beenie over the eyes, fell straight asleep within seconds of ordering food - a sight we would come to get used to every time we stopped.

Leaving Guildford took us into the real Countryside and unfortunately, for our legs, into the rolling South Downs. We oscillated between chugging, heads down, in low gears, achieving nothing but generating sweat, to freewheeling, wind rushing past through beautiful tunnels of trees, sunlight penetrating their canopies like it was bouncing off disco ball. There were precious few markers of exactly where in the Country we were, or where we were going - Hasam and Kit, tired of the hills and small roads, started to complain about my directions. I had to stay confident, knowing there were few options apart from the A3, which is pretty much a Motorway!

Saturday 17:30 - Only one hill defeated us. We got off and walked, people jeering from cars that passed - with the weight of our pannier bags it was a struggle enough. What goes up must come down, and down it was from here on to Havant, which was the end mark on my directions from the internet - right next to Portsmouth, right! Well no, not exactly - but at least we could see the sea.

Like a terrace to a gigantic football pitch we traversed Portsmouth from up high, with the joyous decent that followed, allowing us to keep speed with the cars going towards the ferries.

Saturday 21:00 - Finally, 4 hours later and 25 miles more than expected we arrived at Portsmouth Harbour, shattered. The internet directions had also informed me that we would have burnt 6000 Calories so far! So this added to normal living and breathing constitutes eating 4 times what is advised for a normal day. So we were on the hunt for a big meal, and I called a friend for some local knowledge, but this went out the window when we noticed two chaps eating close to where we had stopped. We followed their directions to a small and rather undesirable chippie. After ordering Kit was straight to sleep in the plastic garden chairs!

The Habour area of Portsmouth is rather run down and after eating our fat and carbohydrates in a litter filled, overgrown park area, we were glad to board the ferry with a fair few other cyclists, who looked like they had a similar plan to us. We quizzed a couple of riders on the lift up to the deck, most of which had three or four day tours lined up, some to Paris - eyes were raised when we explained our mission to complete the journey to the Capital in one day. We started to wonder if we had bitten off more than we could chew, we had completed a knackering 100 miles; day 2 was 130 miles on paper!

7.30am Sunday - The night was not comfortable. With a maximum of 5 hours sleep between us the massive task ahead required a good breakfast - sugary pastries, energy bars and glucose drink. Le Harve on a Sunday morning was a ghost town and this emptiness continued as we followed the Seine inland. The terrain was a different ball game - cycle specific roads, and delicious flatness.

Unfortunately the person that designed the cycle route obviously did not expect anyone to venture over the Pont de Tancarville and we ended up on the hard shoulder of a motorway briefly. Refreshingly the road signs confirmed our direction was correct, Paris listed at the top of the distances sign, but with the still daunting 165km next to it.

We struggled to our first stop at which point Sam put his foot down about my directions from the internet. I was open to change and we spent the next hour cruising at 20mph, crunching through the distance, passing glorious houses and strange signs advertising a local sport "tracteur pulling" - however our progress was constantly punctured with Sam's constant wee stops, I had lost count by now.

3.00pm Sunday - Lunch came late, 60 miles into France. I had seen all of this exercise as a great excuse to eat some fantastic French grub, but alas - France closes on Sunday lunchtime and we were left in the back of a Kebab shop.

Crash number two was less spectacular but more worrying. Sam had struggled with getting his large trainers into the pedal baskets from the first minute. This time too much concentration led him via the side of a parked car on a trip to the tarmac. Let me tell you one thing about Sam; he's a fighter - a proud army man -with the "be the best" attitude, and although he had no previous long distance cycling experience, he was determined to get to the end regardless. This was his biggest challenge yet, a gaping hole in his knee, down to the bone. He picked himself up remarkably quickly with blood, sweat but no tears just as Kit had fished out the emergency numbers. The mission was still alive.

Hills on day two were a whole different story; shallow but long, never-ending affairs, every corner just a bit further. Fortunately this came with the bonus that the descents were equally long allowing us to build up tremendous speed, and at one point hitting 43mph, I would imagine the fastest I will ever go on a pedal machine.

6pm Sunday - We saddled up alongside our old friend, the Seine River. Towns went passed, litres of water flowed and rations were reduced to packaging as we neared our goal. We had all planned a large steak and chips (or two) for our arrival but it was becoming plainly obvious we were not going to arrive at a reasonable hour.

As dusk fell we arrived on the outskirts of Paris. Huge rows of camper vans and caravans lined the opposite side of the road, motorists in their frustration driving on our side of the road - Paris was being evacuated?

The last part of the journey was possibly the weirdest. We entered a forest, pitch black, no streetlights, very few cars. As if the calm before the storm we came to brighter, wider roads - up to 5 lanes - more and more built up but Paris did not seem to be getting any closer.

All of a sudden we went over a bridge and we were lost - the map did not have good enough resolution to help us out. Couples walking home from dinner or the movies ignored our "excuse moi" and it took 5 minutes to find an answer - we were literally a street away from the champs elysee. With renewed vigor we remounted our steeds for the last 10 minutes.

And there we were at midnight - Paris, the Arc de Triomphe; 227 miles in 17 hours 2 minutes pedalling time.

We could have made it to Sydney in that time!



  • Distance: 227 miles
  • Time: 17 hours and 2 minutes
  • Combined calories eaten: 60,000kcal (enough to feed 15 people for 2 days)
  • Average Speed: 13.3 mph
  • Water Consumed: 68 litres
  • Wee stops: Hasam 350, Kit 20, Nick 20  
  • Please support your national local cycling groups. They have a wealth of information including; routes, insurance, organised cycle rides maintenance. 


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Tips for planning your own cycling adventure:


  • Water, take at least 1 litre per hour.
  • Calories, constant physical activity requires sustenance
  • up to 4 or 5 times your normal daily intake. Cereal bars, sugary snacks and fruit provide constant fuel on the road but make sure to have full meals during the day. Carbohydrates, like pasta, a few days before a long trip will give you good reserves.
  • Helmets, they are cool
  • Suncream, stay protected as sunstroke will end your trip prematurely.
  • Maps, Ordanance Survey in the UK and Michelin in France do good local maps  - study these before your trip and buy a handlebar map holder.
  • Make sure your bike is well serviced and correctly set up, you should feel comfortable - most importantly your saddle height should allow you to just about extend your legs fully when pedalling - otherwise you will have problems with your knees and you will expend a lot more effort. 




Posted Jul 26 2009, 10:19 AM by nicholas


richard wrote re: My cycle from London to Paris in a weekend!
on 07-30-2009 9:40 AM

Well that had inspired me! I want to ride my bike somewhere... LOVE IT!

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