An interview with: Lyn Eyb
Once described as a guru of the French cycling scene, Lyn Eyb now runs the popular website, ‘Free Wheeling France’ and we’ve managed to get hold of her for a quick chat about her passions for cycling, popular spots to visit and future ambitions.
- You’re an Australian living in France and an expert on cycling in France – tell us a bit about this.
I’ve not sure I’d call myself an ‘expert’ but my website has become the first place people come for information on cycling in France, or to ask questions if they need advice or support. I use it to collate all sorts of stuff on cycling in France – from routes and ideas to Q&As from cyclists and information on cyclosportives and events. It’s a real community site – I get lots of readers sending idea in, or local cyclists based in France contributing information on local events or offering accommodation to cyclists. It started as a spare time project and has increasingly grown bigger and bigger. I love it! There are worse ways to spend your days than writing about cycling in France! The only complaint I have is that I sometimes find myself spending so much time writing and talking about cycling in France that I don’t have enough time to get out there and do more of it myself.
- How and when did Freewheeling France come into existence?
When I arrived in France I spoke no French at all and had problems finding information on cycling. At the time – this was 2008 – we had a baby daughter and I was looking for safe cycling routes. When I couldn’t find any accessible leisure cycling websites, I decided to start my own. It’s grown a life of its own since, and became something of a community website for sharing information, advice and cycling experiences. It now ranks No.1 on Google for all sorts of searches related to cycling in France.
- Has the popularity of your site surpassed expectation?
For sure. I was really just envisaging a blog, but it’s grown into a full-blown website. We now have almost 1500 pages of articles, events, book and accommodation reviews, and pages covering every aspect of planning a bike trip to France. I’ve kept the blog aspect but it’s also now got dedicated bike hire, accommodation and tours sections, as well as an extensive database of bike routes across the country. I also offer a bespoke advice service to help people arrange bike hire, self-guided and guided rides, and bike shipping. I’ve tried to maintain the community feel of the site to keep it open access for all – many of my maps are downloadable, for example, and I don’t charge for any advice.
- As the sport has become more popular and cyclists are spending more money on their bikes, have you seen more demand for people wanting to travel with their own bikes instead of hiring?
Definitely. I added a shipping page a few years ago because I was getting so many enquiries from people asking whether it was cheaper or better to hire a bike in France or to bring their own. It really depends on the cyclist and the circumstance. Some people will hire bikes to avoid having to take their own bike on the plane, but increasingly I’m seeing people wanting to ship their bike out in advance to ensure they can ride something familiar. For longer rides it can also work out cheaper than hiring, but again it depends on the trip and it’s always worth weighing up both options.
In some areas of France bike hire can be hard to find – for example, in some regions that aren’t near the Alps or the Pyrenees, hybrid or leisure bike hire is common but high-quality carbon road bikes can be hard to find. For these areas, you only really have two options: use a long-distance delivery service or ship your own bike.
- What is the most popular route/most common question you get asked about by visitors?
That’s hard question – I gets so many! France is a big country, so it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming finding the right route for your ability and budget, especially with the language barrier. One of the good things about Freewheeling France is that it covers all types of cycling and it’s for all type of cyclists. I get enquiries from families with young children through to elite road riders who are coming to France for sportives or triathlons. I even got an email last year from a Paralympian who wanted my advice, and that was incredibly humbling.
We get a lot of people asking about coming to France to watch the Tour de France – my advice is always to plan ahead. Bike hire in particular can sell out in July, and we end up getting a lot of shipping enquiries as a result. Generally, though, I get emails from regular people asking everyday questions about finding routes or accommodation or local companies to help them plan a trip. From one-day rides from Paris to month-long adventures, nothing that pops into my email box surprises me any more.
- What is your favourite area in France to cycle?
Another hard question! We live in south-west France, about 60km inland from Bordeaux, so this area is particularly special to me. It has a lovely mix of rivers and vineyards (and the odd hill!). It’s never hard to put the bike on a train or on the car and ride farther afield, either.
The Pyrenees are only a few hours south, so I’m trying to venture more into their foothills (and up the hills). In between us and the Pyrenees is the Aveyron area – it’s a hugely under-appreciated cycling region with some stunning routes. For longer distance riding, I cycled the Velo Francette a few years ago and that was lovely – it’s a newer inter-regional route with some really varied landscapes from the coast at La Rochelle up trough the Loire and Mayenne to Normandy . Île de Ré is pretty special if you have kids – it’s almost impossible to cross paths with a car, making it a really safe destination if you have young riders (though the island can get busy and is best visited outside the peak summer months).
I’m a fan of Provence – it’s always popular, especially as it’s the home of Ventoux. But there are so many wonderful places to cycle in France and I’m keen to keep exploring them – Brittany, the Auvergne, the Alps and many more are still on my bucket list to explore in more detail.