This is the start of the Pyrenees Multisport cycling blog and the best starting point for this regular publication or the “Grand Départ” is a few notes on what to expect when you first ride on the roads of rural France.
Cycling Etiquette in France
It can be a shock to the system when cars pass you slowly and with a wide gap – it may be hard to change the way your hand will react to them, your first reaction being a waving fist or even worse but when in France you can return a happy wave and a smile. When we first arrived in Luscan in 2004 and I cycled out with my French neighbour on the local country roads of the Comminges. A car came up steady behind us and “beeped” the horn. I gave the normal UK/US/Aussie response (see above) to the shock of my riding partner. “Vat are you doing?” he says (in a very convincing “allo allo” accent)…. it is the law that they “beep” before passing so you know they are coming. That was when I knew cycling in France was going to be an enjoyable experience and you do not have to worry about making it to the end of the ride. Partageons La Route – it is the law that they “beep” before passing
You still need to be aware of other road users though, that is a given. In France you can can ride two abreast with no problem but if you there are only two of you then it is always a good idea to pull back into single file, it allows the vehicles to pass more easily and hopefully builds the trust between the car and the bike “Partageons la Route”. Although, when I am in the car, I have been driving along and there have been three cyclists riding next to each other, just chatting and not moving over at all. That is when I am in my cyclist / driver dilemma – a short “beep”, a friendly “beep” and they pull over and wave. But I can understand a non cyclist being slightly frustrated if the cyclists refuse to pull over when safe.
You will always get the one driver that is nasty and probably what you are used to back at home. These are rare but also a shock when they whiz past you. I have learnt just to take a deep breath and ignore – it is far to nice riding here to ruin it by getting mad.
Riding on the climbs
I always tell people that the only reason the climb is there if for the cyclist (that is why they put cyclist kilometre markers on the side of the road) and you take as much road as you need to get up there. Now when I say that I do mean SAFELY and always stay on your own side of the road, again common sense – but it does not mean you have to hug the gutter, ride over fallen rocks and debris, just because you hear a car behind you. You keep your line, the drivers will ease off and pass when it is safe. If you pull over as soon as you hear a sound, the driver will feel obliged to pass and the next thing another car or even worse another cyclist will be coming head on towards them, he will swerve into you and you will truly be in the gutter.
Only wave a car on if you can see there is absolutely nothing coming which is very rare on the hairpins of the mountains – you may hear oncoming vehicles but descending cyclists are silent, so be careful, I would advise never to wave on another vehicle but again it is common sense.
On the descents I do not think about anything else other than the descent. You have too much to worry about what is coming up in front of you than to think about cars behind you – 90% of the time you are travelling as fast or faster than descending vehicles so take up the road where you need it but keep in to the right on the straights as again, you don’t want cars passing you close at speed. This will only happen on the larger climbs such as the Col du Tourmalet.
To Pass or not to Pass
This is the question…… but if you have to question it, then DO NOT PASS! From time to time you will find yourself behind a slower vehicle on the descents. If it is a car, they will probably not see you for some time and you will start getting twitching, then they look in their rear view mirror – they will be startled and may brake suddenly and then indicate you to pass, swerving to the right. Je dépasse – seen widely across France to remind drivers of the passing distance
Make sure it is safe to pass looking way ahead of the car – remember when you were riding up weaving across the road, well there could be another you just round the corner. When you do pass, just ease off your brakes and pedal smoothly pulling in front as soon as you can, don’t stand up and sprint as the worse thing will happen and your shoe will unclip – best not to wave thanks at this point either.
The vehicles that will not let you past are the campers and trucks. These guys never look in their rear view mirrors and will never know you are there. They will also be braking erratically, sudden and more often as they meet oncoming traffic, goats, cows or horses. So hang back and be patient – there is always another descent to enjoy. Don’t risk trying to squeeze past as they might just be about to overtake something or just cut the apex and you are toast!
One quick story was a client of our cycling up the Col d’Aspin. It was spring and she was wearing a Gilet (vest) and it was undone, it can be hot riding up hill. A very slow camper was behind her and I could see they were getting frustrated as they start to weave, accelerate, brake, crunch gears etc etc. The cyclist was only half a metre from the edge riding steadily as she had heard the vehicle. The camper starts to overtake but does not give her any room whatsoever, so much so that his side mirror (which are large on these vehicles) hooked onto the open Gilet blowing in the wind and dragged her along as he passed. I could not believe what I was seeing. There was a lot of shouting and eventually the camper stopped. But to my shock and horror and even more for the cyclist, the driver came out shouting and hollering that it was her fault and hope she hadn’t damaged his camper. That is the mentality of the some drivers and there is absolutely no reasoning with them.
Enjoy your riding in France but remember when you return home to switch back to your normal defensive mode.