This is my route to “Hyper-U”, a typical French monster-market which sells everything from fresh (still alive) crabs to bicycles and ride-on lawnmowers via swimming-pool chemicals. At circa 11km it is a shade outside the sort of range envisaged by most cycle-friendly transport planners and theorists, but it is doable in about 35-40 minutes each way which is not really so much longer than the drive. Which I confess is easy to give way to, especially this week, which has been fine and sunny here, but effing cold. And of course most daily needs can be met in the village boulangerie, the "Huit à Huit" (Seven Eleven to you) with fresh fish sold direct from the "factory" gate of the Conchiliculteurs (mussel and oyster farmers) in the nearby Zone Artisanale.
View St Jacut - Plancoet in a larger map
Why so long? Basically, because I follow the “Route Verte” which takes me as far as Crehen. This is a combination of quiet road and off-road track but the off-road bits are unpaved and quite slow going on a roadster.
This is fairly typical of rural cycle provision in France. This area is peppered with Routes Vertes which mainly attract visitors. It is, frankly, better than most of what I see in the UK but it leaves a lot to be desired both in terms of quality and of addressing a need which is not purely recreational.
|One aspect of a Route Verte - a quiet lane where motorists
are asked to share nicely. Note the little green bike arrow.
|Leaving the Route Partagé, an off-road path - firm and level,
not prone to mud in winter, but stony
|Getting a bit more like an MTB trail here - still manageable on
my roadster, but slow going if you don't want a bruised bum!
|Slightly better here, on the "Allee O'Murphy" - some Celtic
solidarity. Note the no motors sign, "sauf riverains" (except residents)
|Another Celtic connection. This one-way street is not formally
a contraflow for bikes - but in true Gallic style no-one observes
|Crehen, a typical Breton village - a church, a war memorial and a bar!
Cyclists on rural roads are not such a rare sight in France as they are in the UK. By that I don’t mean simply sports cyclists – although in this land of the TdF it is also true that adult males puffing away on road bikes dressed in canary yellow Spandex, often in quite sizeable pelotons, is a routine sight and is simply accepted as part of the landscape. You also see more people just riding a bike to go somewhere, like work, the cafe/bar, school, the boulangerie.
The French seem to have a healthier attitude to the car than the Brits. It is not quite such a symbol of member-size what car you drive, or whether you change it every three years. Cars seem to be kept longer – and certainly they retain their second hand value much better – and tend to be smaller on average. It is far, far more common to see people on scooters and mopeds, especially the young and the late middle-aged. This is even true in northern France where you can’t say the weather is much better than in the UK.
French drivers also seem to be more careful generally around cyclists, perhaps because they see so many more of them, perhaps because more of them are, or are related to, keen cyclists themselves. Perhaps, even, because France has a Strict Liability rule for civil claims against motorists and a fairly unforgiving criminal justice system where dangerous driving is concerned.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they can’t be every bit as aggressive, in a small proportion of cases, as British drivers, indeed I think they can be worse. Certainly France has overall quite a lot worse road crash record than the UK, even if they are less likely to involve cyclists or pedestrians. In fact things have got so bad with speeding and drink driving that, despite the same sort of howls of protest that you would get in the UK, Nicolas Sarkozy no less (which shows this is not a political issue in France) moved to disguise most speed cameras so motorists couldn’t slam on the anchors the minute they saw warning signs or bright yellow splashes. He also introduced an obligation for all motorists to carry a breathalyser of approved design in their car at all times.
And finally, of course, the sort of segregated provision common in Dutch or Danish cities, and hopefully soon in London, is a rarity in France outside a handful of big cities like Strasbourg and Nice. I don’t know whether there is an “Ambassade cycliste de France”, but they could do with one!