Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lune de Miel

So, here's a story of the bicycling part of a bicycling honeymoon. My new bride Constance (she was so brave!) and I hired bikes to do an unguided multi-day tour through the Loire river valley in France (I recommend such an adventure for everyone, although not necessarily on a honeymoon. Let things settle a bit first.) We rented a couple of matching beat-up Raleighs from a sleazy sort of shop in the south of Paris. They had racks and fenders, but were not what you'd call in great shape. I was dubious of mine in particular, as the frame was really too small for me, and didn't have an extra-long seatpost. The proprietaire of the shop assured me everything would be fine -- he of course wanted to make the sale.

Well, things were pretty good. The frame was a little short for me and I couldn't get full extension when pedaling, but I have to say, the countryside was fabulous. We cycled to the Abbaye de Solesmes, where the monks were doing Gregorian chants at eventide. I remember ferrets looping across the road as we cycled along (they run wild in France.) We saw many really fabulous chateaux (here I must recommend Chenonceau, for many reaons, but especially for its sconces) and managed to keep it together with the general exertion and the too-short bike.

There was one time we encountered a group of club riders, and one of the riders admonished me, «Attention! Votre cadre, c'est trop court! Vous devenerez fatigué!» ("Watch out, you're riding a frame too short for you, and you'll get tired!") I remember muttering to myself, "Tell me about it." I was embarrassed, because back home, I had a very respectable full-on custom touring bike that I rode almost every day, and this cheesy rental bike put me in a state of severe bike humiliation.

Eventually, one of my tires gave way -- it was just worn out, and I was pissed at myself for not rejecting it at the bike rental place. But it was OK. We were in a small town, and back then, even very small towns in France had bike shops for at least basic repair. (In my heart of hearts, I hope this is true even today.) I was able to purchase a replacement tire, and on a hunch, instead of tossing the old tire, I folded it up and put it in some spare space in a pannier. It took up space, but not too much, and I thought it might come in handy later.

We had met up with our friends Bill and Jan (who themselves had only been married for only a couple of years) as part of this tour, and had many excellent meals with great wine ordered by Bill, who gave glimmerings of the oenophile he was to become. As I say, I highly recommend the Bike Tour of the Val de Loire as something to put on your bucket list.

My new wife Constance fared really well, considering she was not an experienced cyclist at the time. She was indeed courageous to agree to this adventure, and managed well for the multi-day experience. (We rode a lot as a couple our first year of marriage, and on our first anniversary did a three-day tour from our home in Austin, TX to Blanco, notorious Luckenback, and Fredericksberg. Soon thereafter we had our two daughters, and cycling took a back seat for both of us.)

We got back to Paris and returned the bikes to the rental shop. I requested reimbursement for the tire that I had had to purchase in the Loire valley from the old dirt-bag who ran the rental agency. He, of course, was having none of it. At this point, I had one of my rare moments of inspiration-while-speaking-a-foreign-language: I replied to the owner, «C'est rien, alor je vais remplacer l'originale,» ("It's OK, I'll just put the old one back on,") and I proceeded to get out my tire spoons to do the swap. When the proprietaire saw what I was up to, he stopped me and said, «D'Accord.» Whereupon I whipped out the receipt from the bike shop where I got the tire, and he deducted it from my account. As I recall, he was none too happy about having to pay retail for a tire.

Like many Americans who have lived in France at some time in their lives, I have a love-hate relationship with the French, and I have met many who are truly lovely, lovely people. But I can't remember another commercial transaction in France that gave me anywhere near the satisfaction compared to the final reckoning at the bike rental shop.


Laura said...


Did you ever see the bike shop on the Quai de Seine near Crimée called "Vélo et Chocolat"? I haven't been inside but my impression, based on the name, is that they sell hot chocolate and bikes. There's no telling if they'd have a seatpost long enough for you, but it seems that either way it might be worth a visit.

Robert Anderson said...

Yeah, I thought "Vélo et Chocolat" was a great concept. Good location, being right on the canal like that. I didn't look too closely at the bikes they had. As I recall, it looked to be a full bicycle shop. I wonder how "V e C" has fared in the time of Vélib.