Travellers' Tales: All fixed for France

When in ‘Rome’…the pique-nique was invented in France.
Lack of gears wasn’t going to keep James Palmer from his French tour.

Problem: I'd been invited to stay with French friends on the Île de Noirmoutier in late August but had no touring bike. The alternatives were a road bike plus tiny rucksack or a fixie with panniers, lights, and mudguards.

No contest. I had doubts about my fitness but thought brains might triumph over brawn. Using Michelin’s yellow 200-series maps alongside the application on my aging iPhone, I plotted a course using routes departmentales (‘D’ roads), and voies communales (‘V’ or ‘C’ roads) and avoided crossing river valleys. I was concerned about my 50:17 gearing but decided that if it got too steep, I’d swallow my pride and walk.

Other than a light but persistent headwind, only the 36°C heat cycling to Noirmoutier and the long descents posed problems. The Passage du Gois was bumpy but cut a few kilometres on the second day, and six days spent on the island were delightful, pottering around the salt marshes with my French ‘family’.

Returning home after over 500 miles and 6,000ft of climbing, the striking aspects of UK were the terrible road surfaces and the litter, both absent in France. Did I have to walk any hills? Yes, two – both within ten miles of home!