Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Je Fais de Velo (I do the bicycle)

One of my personal goals while in France was to explore the countryside on my bicycle. I pictured myself riding a vintage (second-hand) Getane or Motobecane road bike through classic French scenery that you see during the coverage of the Tour de France. It turns out that bicycling in France is not what I envisioned. Fortunately, I asked for advice before I bought a bike. 

One thing that I've learned is that the French love to be asked to render their expert opinion ... about anything and everything. All of the "experts" told me that I would be crazy to purchase a road bike unless I planned to enter races. I now have a German-made hybrid bike with semi-fat tires. 

The entry to our garden from Rue de Harpe
The "experts" told me that the roads are too rough and the bike trails are too soft for a road bike with skinny tires ... and they were right. I find that I am mostly riding on unpaved bike trails and when I do ride on the roads, they threaten to knock the fillings out of my teeth. Having a wider tire improves the ride and reduces the chance that my wheel will get caught by the cobblestones or streetcar tracks.
Many of the streets in Angers are cobblestones, including the street in front of our house. When it is dry, it is a very bumpy ride.  Bronwyn's bike seat has springs and a suspension and sometimes I find myself envying her comfort. When it is wet, the cobblestones are as slippery as ice. To further complicate things, many of the urban streets have rails for the street car. 

Outside of the old part of the city, there are lots of excellent bike paths following the multitude of former towpaths along the many rivers, but many of these paths quickly turn into muddy rutted bike trails. Not a good place for a road bike with skinny tires.

Of course, there are also some glorious bike trails that appear to be the remains of ancient roads and tow paths. Within a three blocks of our house I can hop onto a bike path that parallels the Maine River. If I follow the path south, after about 20 km it connects with a network of bike trails along the Loire River. 

Former railroad bridge (the only bridge over the river not destroyed during WWII) enables bikes and pedestrians to cross the river and return on the opposite side of the river.

If I follow the bike path north from Angers, the path repeatedly splits to follow the many rivers feeding the Maine River. Although the bike trails are not always well marked, fortunately the French put signage for boats along the rivers like highways so you can figure out where you are by reading the signs for the boats.

The best part about riding along the bicycle paths, other than the beauty of the scenery, is that you see all kinds of things that you would never see from the road, 
such as a team of military engineers erecting a pontoon bridge (south of Angers) and all types of "houseboats" semi-permanently moored to the shore. 

Van with washer and dryer
Along the river on the north side of town, there are a series of what appear to be camps of Roma or other traveling people (generally known in French as "Tsiganes"). When I rode by the camps in the morning, young girls were retrieving buckets of water from the steaming river (at the time I was too surprised by the sight to take pictures).  Later, I observed all kinds of ingenious adaptations to a nomadic, tribal lifestyle including communal generators, large tents for meetings, and a van that was outfitted with a washer and dryer.  Apparently French law requires that cities provide a place for Tsiganes to camp that is separate from the campgrounds provided for tourists.  A couple of days after I took these pictures, all of the trailers were gone and the only trace was one broken lawn chair and a lot of muddy tire tracks.

Bicycling in France is not what I expected, but it is certainly interesting. If I can just learn to speak a little bit better maybe I can start having real conversations with the people I meet while cycling.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, interesting riding. Something new and interesting every time. Where could I see a picture of your bike on line? Bill White