Northern France – Great Biking Country

This part of France seems to be wonderful cycling country. And if that sounds a little hesitant, it’s only because being a recent recruit to the cycling cause I can’t claim to have a great deal of knowledge about the cycle-friendliness of all of the countryside in the whole of the region.

I was recently persuaded back onto a bike again after many years of not owning one. My last bike was stolen in London in 1980. I had only had it for a year or so and used it occasionally for fine weather commuting from Clapham Common to Fleet Street, but otherwise it only emerged for gentle Sunday rides with my 7 year-old son around the paths of the Common.

Anyway, to get back to the point, friends from Montreuil persuaded me to go on some gentle rides around the countryside. What a revelation! Once you’re away from the roads and on the country cart tracks and lanes, you could be 100 miles from traffic, houses and other people. From Montreuil you will encounter some fairly steep hills in whichever direction you go, but if you want to ride on the flat, there’s plenty of signposted rides on the coastal plain anywhere between Etaples and Le Crotoy. My cycling friends tell me that you can take your bike on the local trains for free, too, which means you could choose a nice downhill route for your first long ride, and then take the train back!

The Nord region, too, looks to have plenty of flat countryside, perfect for gentle cycling, and although you might not think it very interesting when seen from a car, you’ll be truly surprised to find how much more there is to see and appreciate when you’re on a bike. Somehow, lunch always tastes a lot better, too, whether at a humble friterie or a restaurant, if you’ve earned it by pedalling to get there.

On our first ride my biking friends broke me in gently. We covered about 12 kilometres of delightful country before stopping at an excellent restaurant for lunch. I could take a lot of this sort of exercise I thought. After lunch we pedalled on for another 18 km or so before splitting up – they were riding back to Montreuil while I had a short ride home. On subsequent outings they stepped up the distance and soon had me used to 40km or so with a more modest pizzeria or cafe lunch stop.

Don’t go without a map, though. My experienced biking friends don’t, and once when I ventured out on my own I found out why not. Can you be lost when you’re only 3 miles from home? Well I found lots of lanes that ended in ploughed fields or farmyards. Eventually I was forced to take to the roads. I had ridden 10 miles before finally reaching home.

So, I bought a new bike. Not too flashy, but made of aluminium and with plenty of gears. I rode it back from the shop, too. So far the saddle doesn’t seem too uncomfortable. And this brings me to the only downside I have discovered to biking, so far – has anyone ever invented a really comfortable saddle?