As an avid cyclist and a female trip leader for In Situ, I’m convinced that cycling in France is the thing to do if you want to feel like a pro, or at least a local hero. The French like to cheer on anyone brave enough to attack the huge cols of the Pyrenees and the Alps, but if you’re a woman, they pull out all the stops. It’s seriously like having your very own fan club.
This kind of convivial camaraderie shared through cycling is something uniquely French and is linked to the French “joie de vivre” or “joy of life.” Through regular greetings and niceties, total strangers start to feel like acquaintances and distant acquaintances start to feel like close friends. It doesn’t matter whether you enter a shop, hotel breakfast salon or café, and you’ll always be greeted with a “bonjour!” by proprietors, staff and clients alike. Drivers in passing vehicles wave when passing on narrow roads to say “merci” for pulling over and locals nod hello when passing you in a narrow alleyway. It’s really quite heartwarming.
Anyways, back to my French fan club. As I was mentioning, the French take their greetings to a whole new level when they see a woman powering up a hill on her bike. While doing an evening ride up the Pont d’Espagne the other day, I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I noticed that not a single car passed by without some kind of encouragement. People waved, smiled and cheered. There was the couple who banged on the roof of their car and the van load of cyclists waving and hammering on the windows. A family of hikers cheered me on from the roadside and a descending cyclist yelled out, “courage!”, the French way of saying, “you can do it!” I have to say that this encouragement is contagious, and I frequently find myself yelling out “allez! allez!” (go! go!) when driving past cyclists on steep climbs to cheer them on as well.
The sheer number of secluded roads and major climbs make cycling in the French Pyrenees or Alps a biker’s paradise, and the camaraderie makes you feel as if you were almost a local, which is the very essence of our bike tours at In Situ Travel. Allez! Bon courage!