The Bridge of Saint Nazaire spans the estuary where the Loire meets the Atlantic. If you’ve cycled the whole of the Loire, it seems like the perfect finish: an impressive bridge next to the sea. It’s a colossal 3356m long (yep, that’s over 3 kilometres of bridge), with a significant amount of uphill on the way. From a distance, it looks rather like a tame sort of rollercoaster.
Fact: You can cycle over the bridge at Saint Nazaire.
There is even a bike path. I have cycled over it. But the internet seems to be full of people telling you not to and here’s why.
What to Consider About Crossing
- The Wind
Let’s think now, we’re right out on the coast. What’s the seaside famous for? Yes, it’s windy. Some days it’s alright, but when it’s gusting 80mph, you’re going to get buffeted about in the crosswind. Particularly on a…
…really busy road. The bridge is designed for cars. It has three lanes of traffic: one each way with an overtaking lane in the middle. This is the only bridge across the Loire for about 50km (which is probably why you want to cross it too) so it gets busy, particularly in the summer.
- Narrow Cycle Lane
In some countries you get a whole lane of your own to cycle in. The cycle lane on the bridge to Saint Nazaire is more of an afterthought. It is a dotted line, the width of a bike from the pavement, out in the main road. Not a lot of wiggle room.
If you’re cycling over the bridge on a windy day, you’re being buffeted from one side, forcing you randomly out of the tiny cycle lane, with a queue of angry drivers behind you. Maybe.
During my time cycling in Europe, I noticed that actually most drivers will give you a lot of room when overtaking. The two times we were cut up the closest were British drivers. Thanks guys. Other reviews talk about having to be a seriously experienced cyclist to get across, but if you’ve made it the whole length of the Loire, you’ll probably be fine. I might think twice about doing it with young children, or people with a nervous disposition, but if you’re comfortable cycling on a road with traffic, it’ll be okay.
Do be sensible about the weather conditions. If it’s very windy, it’s probably not a good idea. Don’t forget that the first half of the bridge is uphill, which means you’ll be on the breaks for the last 1.5km. It’s not a good place to loose control of the bike.
My Experience of Cycling the Bridge
When I cycled across the bridge at Saint Nazaire on a tandem, it was gusting 50mph. How did I manage it? Simple. They shut the lane whilst I was going over. This is actually quite common for large groups of cyclists on an organised trip or event. They shut the bridge for the Tour de France in 2011. They also shut it for a group of ladies who’d beaten breast cancer and cycled the length of the Loire to prove it. We were lucky enough to meet them on our trip and see them finish at the end. With the extra room and the space to stop at the top, it was a wonderful end to the Loire cycle route.
If You Decide Cycling the Bridge at Saint Nazaire is Not For You
Then there’s always a bus or a ferry.
- Bus: The Loire cycle route recommend taking the bus from Saint-Brevin-les-Pins to Saint Nazaire. Only a few cyclists are allowed on the Number 17 bus and you have to book in advance on 02 40 21 50 87 (use French extension code). The bus timetable is available here: http://sedeplacer.loire-atlantique.fr
- Ferry: Not at Saint Nazaire, but still West of Nantes. There is a free ferry at Le Pellerin: http://www.northferriby-lepellerin.co.uk/le-pellerin
Have you ever cycled across the bridge at Saint Nazaire? What was your experience like?