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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

London to Paris by bike on Avenue Verte. Route and top tips

Avenue Verte Route and Top Tips
After completing the London to Paris cycle ride on the Avenue Verte (Green route) in August 2014 I thought it would be useful to share my top tips and route information for anyone else thinking of doing the same. We did it over 4 days which I wrote about on my blog (London to Paris day 1). We did the ride on road bikes, mine was a Ridley Cyclocross bike which I put a pannier rack on, and Big George had a Cannodale Caad with a rack attached to his seat post. We both do lots of cycling so expected to average up to 15 Mph, but this was a big mistake.

About the route
The Avenue Verte is one of the longer routes you can take to Paris but has the advantage that as the 'official route' the majority of it is really well sign posted. Apart form getting out of London or the final 10 miles into Paris, then the rest of the route could almost be done by following the signs alone.

I had the route downloaded on to my Garmin E trex GPS. I planned the route on my PC using Garmin mapsource software and the maps from the official Avenue Guide book. On the few occasions we missed a sign the GPS quickly got us back on track (I have put the GPX files I used at the bottom of each day's map which you can download). 

We caught the train from Norwich to London on a Wednesday night and cycled the first 10 miles of the route to the Premier Inn Wandsworth, near the start of the Wandle Trail section. Even at 7.30pm it still took longer than expected to get out of the city. I would imagine during the day it would be fairly busy. There were no London to Paris Avenue Verte signs that we could see on this bit of the route.
The start of the Avenue Verte is the London Eye
Route on first evening

Click link to download London to Paris day 0 route GPX file for your GPS

Day 1  London to Seaford (see blog post London to Paris Day 1 ) 
Next morning we left at 9.00 and continued out of London on cycle tracks, side roads and through some parks, then along the Wandle trail. The sign posting from this point on wards was very good but it was still slow progress as there are no nice long sections where you can build up speed. This section continues in this way until you reach a hilly bit over the North Downs to Redhill.

The route continues south to Gatwick airport (the cycle path goes right by the runway) and Crawley. It took us about 5 hours to cover the 35 miles to get to this point, however fast a cyclist you are you will find the first section very slow so don't over estimate your speed. Things do get faster from here.

The route turns east along the Worth Way to East Grinstead. This is nearly all on a flat offroad track although the surface isn't great you can keep rolling along as opposed to all the stop start there had been up to this point. East Grinstead looks like a good stopping point if you were doing the English part of the route in 2 days. Unfortunately we weren't so had to push on with time against us.

The next section heads further East towards Tunbridge Wells on another old railway line, this time the Forest way. Once again it is very pretty and flat but also a fairly rough surface. It is possible to go a bit faster, if need be, but would also be very pleasant for those not in a hurry. Having a cycle cross bike with 28mm tyres was a help as it felt a bit like riding in Paris-Robaix spring cycling monument race (not that I have).

Here the route turns south over the South Downs. There are several challenging hills to get over but with some great views and you also go through some lovely little villages. However be warned that a little way before you reach Heathfield, at Oxon woods the path turns off into a field for some proper off road which you really need a mountain bike to conquer. If you are on a normal bike with panniers etc you may well have to walk bits of this short section. There is an alternative road route which I would recommend using having tried this way.

The next section is the best on the English route as it follows the old Cuckoo railway line on a tarmac cycle path. It is a lovely smooth track going through some great country side and a real pleasure to cycle on.

From here its back on the little roads again going through a number of typical Sussex villages to Seaford and then along the sea front on some more nice cycle track all the way to Newhaven. 
Cycle path to Newhaven
We stayed at the White Lion Hotel (pub) in Seaford before catching ferry on day 2.

Route from London to Seaford

Click link to download London to Paris day 1 route GPX file for your GPS

Day 2 Seaford to Dampierre en Bray (See blog post London to Paris day 2 )
We cycled to the port and caught the 11:00 ferry. Apart from the restaurant stopping serving hot food 90 mins before docking in France (with no warning) then the ferry crossing is very straight forward. There were a number of other cyclists on the ferry and the crew are very helpful in getting you on board. The crossing takes 4hrs and gets to France 16:00 local time.

The alternative ferry leaves at 11:00pm getting into France 4.00am. We met some cyclists who had done it this way although they looked really tired.

At the other side the trickiest bit is getting out of Dieppe as the Avenue Verte only starts again on the outskirts. There are some signs but they are not clear and the road that goes out from centre of Dieppe, to the re start of Avenue Verte, looks like a road on to an industrial estate. Once again using a GPS made it straight forward. I suggest you have a route planned and mapped to get through Dieppe quickly.

There are then a few miles on the road before you come to a fantastic 28 mile stretch of uninterrupted, flat and tarmaced cycle path. There are toilets, water stops and picnic benches along the path. Take care as the path crosses lots of little roads and you may be speeding along and not want to slow down. These junctions are well marked with barriers but I don't think we actually had to stop for a car.

The path continues past your exit as you have to take the turn off to Forges-les-Eaux so be careful not to miss it (we did).

You are now in typical Normandy country and the next few miles are over rolling hills. We stayed near Dampierre en Bray at Chambres d'hôtes "La Brayonne" (www.chambresdhoteslabrayonne.com). 

I haven't included the 3 mile route from Seaford to the ferry as it is straight along the seafront cycle path and you can't miss it if you keep the sea on your left.

Route from Dieppe to Dampierre en Bray
Click link to download London to Paris day 2 route GPX file for your GPS

Day 3 Dampierre en Bray to Mery-Sur-Oise (see blog post London to Paris day 3)
This was our longest day at over 100 miles. The route continues over the hills for sometime until you reach Saint-Germer-de-Fly where the Avenue Verte splits into an East or shorter West route. We took the East way. I believe an off road section is being planned to run in the valley and avoid this hilly, although very picturesque, section. After the split the route continues in the same way going through a number of villages until it reaches the city of Beauvais. Although progress is quite slow it is still a nice peaceful ride. Beauvais itself is fairly big and there are lots of cafes and shops (as well as a decent tourist info place) you can refuel at.
Beauvais Cathedral
The next stage goes through Bresles to Clermont. Both of these are on hills but there are some good stretches of cycle path along side the main roads to get you there safely. We stopped at Clermont for our lunch were there were lots of shops, bars etc to choose from.
Clermont
From Clermont the route is a bit disappointing as it weaves in and out of some towns and villages on roads until you get through Pont St Maxence. After here there is a particularly good part where you join Euro Velo route 3, which goes from Norway to Spain, for a few miles. On this section you go up the steepest hill on the route and once at the top you join a long off road section which goes through Hatatte Forest which is extremely pleasant. This section ends in Senlis where we stopped for a coffee. It is a nice town for a stop.
Top of steep hill before wooded section
From here it is again a selection of nice off road bits and some not so good on road bits. The route goes past the impressive Chateau de Chantilly and Chantilly race course and from here there is a lot of on road sections which are all rather dull. After a few miles of this the route inexplicitly turns off into a field with a narrow muddy track. It continues like this before reaching the river Oise where it continues on a very poor track for some time. Progress along this section is very slow.
Route goes off road on some very poor muddy sections.
You then pick up some roads again that take you to Mery-Sur-Oise where we spent the night. We rode 106 miles that day and it took us just under 12 hours. 

Route from Dampierre en Bray to Mery-sur-Oise.

Click link to download London to Paris day 3 route GPX file for your GPS

Day 4 Mery-Sur-Oise to Paris (see blog post London to Paris Day 4 )
Our final day took us to Paris. The route starts off going up through the side roads of Mery- Sur-Oise but then follows the river with some lovely off road and on road sections. The route then cuts through the Forest St- Germain-en-Laye on nice off road tracks, although on a Sunday morning it was packed with joggers and other cyclists. This takes you to the river Seine which you cycle alongside for several miles, again trying to avoid the joggers. This is one of the best parts of the route.
Cycling along river Oise

When you turn away from the River you head for Saint Denis on the out skirts of Paris and things start to slow down. You start by following the tramway into Northern Paris and then weave along the side of the canals until a final road stretch in the heart of Paris.Throughout this final few miles the Avenue Verte signs seem to disappear and the ride becomes very stop start. On a Sunday morning there was not much traffic but I imagine it could be really busy on other days. This makes progress mighty slow but eventually you reach Notre Dame and your journey is complete. 

Click link to download London to Paris day 4 route GPX file for your GPS

We then cycled up to Gare du Nord, which is about 3 miles away to catch the Eurostar back to London.
Gare du Nord
Top tips from my experience if you are attempting the route.

Bikes
Although the route is mainly on good surfaces there is enough of it on bumpy cycle paths and some completely off road. I wouldn't attempt the ride on a normal road bike with slick tyres but any other type of bike would be fine on most sections. I took my cross cycle bike and Big George his Cannodale road bike. However we fitted some hybrid type tyres (Schwalbe Marathon Tyre: 700c x 25mm Reflex Wired) which were great and we only suffered a single puncture between us.

My bike had holes in the frame to enable a pannier rack to be fitted. George got a pannier rack that fits to the seat post but this type only takes a few kilograms. If you are planning to spend more time doing the route and therefore need more stuff I think you would need a proper touring bike that could take the weight.

Navigation
First of all I suggest you try not to loose your guide book, like I did, as it is useful to read about the terrain coming up, where the next village or town is etc. 

I put the routes on to my Garmin etrex by plotting a route on the Garmin mapsource software. I use the free Garmin compatible open source maps which are very detailed. You can down load OSM maps here.

You can also down load the GPX files I loaded on to my Garmin at the bottom of each route map.

I would recommend using a bike GPS if you can as it avoids the possibility of getting very lost or having to back track etc. However the sign posts are very good so if combined with a map you should have no problem. The 3 places to have a route plotted are leaving London, leaving Dieppe and getting into Paris where the signs are poor or non existent.

Equipment
Apart from the basics like puncture kit, pump, inner tubes, bike multi tool etc I would always recommend taking a roll of duct or gaffer tape as it got us out of trouble a couple of times. 

If you are planning to do a lot of miles in a day I also suggest you have some bike lights as we twice ended up cycling when it was starting to get dark and we needed them.

Misc
All the hotels we stayed at had somewhere secure for our bikes so we didn't need locks but it is worth checking with the hotels before hand.
If you are travelling on Eurostar note that your bike needs to be with them 90 minutes before departure to guarantee being on the same train as you.
Finally make sure you leave enough time for each section as we underestimated the speed you could go. The table below may help with your planning.

Route Statistics

Miles
Average moving speed (MPH)
Average overall speed (MPH)
Moving time (Hrs)
Stopped (Hrs)
Total miles
Liverpool street station to Wandsworth premier inn
10.1
9.1
7.5
01:06
00:14
10.1
Wandsworth to Seaford
96
10.7
8.3
08:56
02:36
106.13
Seaford to Newhaven ferry
4.54
8.6
4.2
00:31
00:33
110.68
Dieppe to Dampierre en Bray
46.5
14.4
13
03:14
00:20
157.16
Dampierre en Bray to meet sur Ouse
105
11.7
8.7
08:58
02:45
262.43
Mery sur Oise to Notre Dame
47.4
9.8
8.1
04:51
00:59
309.79
Notre Dame to Gare du Nord
2.05
8.2
5.7
00:15
00:06
311.85