A Trip to France

A Trip to France

Going to France was a treat. Not just because PBP is a wonderful adventure, but because I love visiting France. In August, Paris loses some of its urban edge, and people become more relaxed. The city organizes Paris Plages (“Beach in Paris”): For a few weeks, sand is trucked in, and a freeway along the Seine are transformed into a beach. The square in front of the Hôtel de Ville (courthouse) becomes another beach with volleyball nets. It’s a lovely way to celebrate summer!

Another major change in Paris has been the Velib bike rental program. With more than 20,000 bicycles available at over 1000 stations, it has revolutionized how Parisiens get around. The operation is impressive. It includes mechanics who make rounds and fix bikes that need repairs.

After Paris-Brest-Paris, we had a get-together of Bicycle Quarterly readers and others at the historic starting place of PBP, the café Aux Trois Obus. It was nice to meet readers from all over the world in person, and go for a ride to the Alex Singer shop afterward.

Then I spent a week in France to visit friends and to research upcoming articles for Bicycle Quarterly. For these trips, I combined the TGV high-speed trains with the leisurely pace of my bike.
Riding in France is a different experience from the U.S. Thousands of years of human history are evident in the landscape. As I left Viviers, my friend Richard pointed out the Roman bridge at the edge of town, which dates to the 3rd century A.D. The bridge still is used to get to the fields on the other side of the river.

If you plan your trip with the help of the excellent Michelin 1:200,000 maps, you can cross most of France on little roads with almost no traffic. I rode 190 km in one day across the Ardèche and Cevennes Mountains. During this time, I cycled less than 15 km on roads that had a white centerline. Most roads looked like this:

These roads lead to quaint villages, with cobbled streets and beautiful buildings. Little restaurants tempted me to stop, and fortunately I was not in a rush. Ordering a crèpe at lunch-time took 20 minutes, but the food was so good that it was worth the wait.

Just before returning to Seattle, I was able to realize my long-held dream of riding the Raid Pyrénéen, a 720 km Randonée Permanente from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, via the great cols (mountain passes) of the Pyrenees. It was a true adventure! I will publish a full report soon in Bicycle Quarterly.

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Comments (19)

  • Andy

    Those roads and paths look great. As a “road collector” myself, I’ve been having a harder time finding new roads near home that offer something special. At least in central NY, it seems that the landscape was filled in with wide straight roads, especially between towns. If I choose roads that don’t lead between towns, I can find a few better ones sometimes. At least we do have dozens of state forests in reach, and I’ve been exploring those this year. Zero traffic, typically unpaved but suitable on the right bike, and enough elevation to keep things from getting monotonous.

    September 21, 2011 at 6:52 am
  • Paul Germain

    Thank you Jan. I feel as though I were there myself! I love this wonderful “supplement” to the magazine.
    Paul Germain

    September 21, 2011 at 9:42 am
  • Brian Campbell

    Is that a big dent in the rear fender?

    September 21, 2011 at 11:15 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes. The crash in PBP (when another rider moved 5 feet to the left and took my front wheel with him) left a few traces. The Brooks Titanium saddle broke, too. One rail no longer is attached to the rear frame. It’s still rideable, but it isn’t tensioned as it should… Overall, the bike has been great during the 2500+ km I put on it in France, with no maintenance at all except a chain replacement at km 1700. And once, I put air in the tires…

      September 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm
      • Lovely Bicycle!

        I am glad to hear that these were the only damages to your new bike. A fender and saddle can be replaced. (Actually, can the fender be successfully “hammered out?”)

        September 22, 2011 at 12:52 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The nice thing about hammered fenders is that small dings and scratches are almost invisible. Yes, the fender will provide many more years of service.

          September 22, 2011 at 5:42 am
  • Pierre

    Greetings from BQ reader in Pau! Col d’Aubisque is my weekend playground. Looking forward to the full report.
    There is a lot of what we called “cyclo-muletiers” in the surroundings areas, a network of dirt roads and mountain passes (for your next trip to France maybe).
    This is something I started to do explore more actively recently after reading your inspiring “WE Adventure in the Cascades” article. I thank you for that.

    September 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm
  • dave

    What kind of pedal you got there?

    September 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Shimano PD-A520. Great foot support, but lousy bearings. There is an Ultegra-level version that I may try next.

      September 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm
      • nellegreen

        The Ultegra version has grey anodizing that scratches easily. Mine look two years old after only one 1200km ride.

        September 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm
      • Matthew Joly

        Won’t work with cleats, but the MKS Custom Pro quill pedals have amazing bearings.
        Looking forward to your account of riding in the Cevennes. A beautiful area with a lot of history that for France anyway remains off the beaten path.

        September 22, 2011 at 5:30 am
  • steve

    perhaps a bit off-topic, but I notice you have your edelux mounted on the non-drive side. any particular reason for this choice? thanks!

    September 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, there is a reason: I tend to ride just to the left of the white line when riding on U.S. highways at night and there is no traffic. On my Singer, the light is mounted on the right, and thus shines straight onto the white line, which is reflective. I have to move over another foot to prevent getting blinded. With the light on the left, I hope to avoid that issue.
      Before somebody complains that mounting the Edelux upside doesn’t work – this is a special model made by Schmidt for upside-down mounting…

      September 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm
      • steve

        interesting — makes sense.
        oh, and the shimano A600 pedals are excellent. I have been riding them for a few months now and I recommend them.

        September 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm
  • Jan-Olov Jansson

    Hi Jan
    It was nice to see you in Paris, and also see your bike.
    As prep for my PBP I did Raid Pyreneen Toruriste this year, ten days riding with camping gear with two fo my friends. Plus one day from Bayonne to Hendaye. We also had secret control at the foot of Col d’Aubisque.
    Four years ago I did Raid Pyreneen Randonneé, before my PBP. So now I have both of the Diplom and the medallions.
    I look forward as useful to read your magazine, and your stories.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:26 am
  • Lovely Bicycle!

    Really neat to see the city beaches. Last time I was in Paris was July 2008 and it was so stuffy and hot!
    Looking forward to reading about the Raid Pyrénéen journey, photo looks unbelievable.

    September 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm
  • Dan

    What a wonderful trip and adventures. One question, when stopping at a cafe or to visit a museum or other places of interest did you lock up your bike?

    September 24, 2011 at 8:19 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      In France, I didn’t have a lock with me, but I stopped only in small villages where I wasn’t concerned about the bike. In Paris, I borrowed a lock… but even then, I didn’t leave my bike unattended for very long. When visiting museums, I left my bike in my hotel room and walked to the museums. (The center of Paris is relatively small.)

      September 27, 2011 at 7:29 am
  • Leaf Slayer

    Jan, I’m very much looking forward to your write up about Raid Pyreneen. Sounds like an incredible and challenging ride. Just reading this brief write-up gets the wheels in my head spinning to go out and do my own kind of challenge whether an official CM challenge or even just an adventurous ride with friends.

    September 25, 2011 at 9:51 am

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