bikebritain Says May 3, 2012

Cycling around Senlis (Part One of Some)

On Monday night a man was spotted riding a Specialized Allez Elite near the small market town of Senlis (north of Paris) dressed in full cycling attire but oddly, wearing a pair of trainers. The man was English and he was me. 

Having travelled to the small market town of Senlis on behalf of my 'proper' job for the past 12 years, it finally occurred to me I should pack my bike and go for a cycle after work. Other than go to and from the channel tunnel to the hotel to work, I had not explored the surrounding countryside at all, let alone on a bike. With the need to (unfortunately) travel on a Sunday, I decided this would be a good time to include the bike. 

The journey was uneventful, though I arrived about an hour later than I had planned. It was 20.30 and although it was still light, there was no more than an hour left. I put the bike together and quickly changed. There was something nagging me at the back of my mind. What was it? Where were my shoes? Oh that's right, I'd forgotten to pack them. They were still in the cupboard at home. What a drongo. SPD SL pedals and trainers. This didn't look good. I buzzed round the car park cursing, telling myself (not for the first time) that I was an idiot. I decided I would at least have a go using trainer/SPD SL combination since I'd managed to remember everything else. 

It was a bit awkward as only about 20% of my foot fit on the pedal, but I quickly got the hang of it and headed off in the vague direction of a town called Creil. I say vague deliberately because I went in completely the wrong direction. I realised that when I saw signs for Paris (heading south) when really I should have seen signs for Arras (going north). Instead I circumnavigated most of Senlis, finding amongst other things the allotments, the children's playground and more evidence of the walls around the town. Oh yes, plus some cobbled streets. By the time I did actually locate a signpost for Creil the light was beginning to properly fail and I elected to head for home. Not the most satisfying of rides, but there was little point getting lost in the dark. I had managed that in the light without even leaving the town! I would make a better effort the following day I told myself.

With pre-flight checks completed for Ride Two, I headed off again. Better start this time. I found a signpost for Creil immediately and to my surprise, joined quite a busy road. I thought I was going to be treated to endless miles of straight, deserted roman road. That's what the map inferred anyway. Finding my rhythm with the trainers I sped along at a healthy lick. Behind me were the cathedral spires in Senlis. In the foreground were fields and fields of oilseed rape. It looked like someone had thrown a yellow blanket across the land. Shortly afterwards I spotted a military base to my right. More to the point, I spied a first generation single seat French fighter jet, a Dassault Mystere, which definitely needed photographing. Trouble was it was on a military base. Still, no harm in asking.........

Given that I'd formally stopped learning French when I was 13, the phrase "Can I photograph your first generation jet gate guardian" wasn't immediately to hand. (Consider also that this particular cyclist is looking slightly unhinged wearing trainers). I did what Mrs.Bradshaw (my old French teacher) would have expected. "Do you speak English?" I asked. "A bit" replied the young man. He looked half my age and probably was. "Errrrr, can I photograph your plane?" I said, helpfully pointing at it. "No" he replied, "This is a military base". I did contemplate about arguing over the relative merits of being allowed to a photograph of (a) an aircraft that was in excess of 60 years old and (b) one that was clearly a gate guardian, but I played safe and cycle off. Besides, I hadn't upset the police yet.

Creil was close by and when I crossed the river, I realised I was going the wrong way (again). Turning round I went through an extraordinary junction where it looked like the town planners had gone out of their way to create a road system whose primary purpose was to cause an accident. Back up the hill I had just joyously descended, I found the road to Chantilly. I'd been to Chantilly a while ago and stayed at the chateaux there, which sounds very grand and on the outside it does look amazing. As a hotel though, it's lousy. Heading towards the town I found myself on a stretch of ‘semi’ dual carriageway. It didn't particularly bother me since there are more alarming roads around home. However this wasn't a view shared by the van full of Gendarmes that overtook me. In fact one officer of the French law shook his fist at me, mouthing something (probably not English, nor polite) and vigorously pointed at the side of the road. I was confused. I guessed it wasn't trainer related. Maybe he found the clash between my red water bottle and blue frame offensive? What precisely did he expect me to do? And more to the point what was the matter? I still had to get home. Perturbed and confused in equal measure, I cycled on.

Chantilly is a very pretty place. I entered the town and immediately turned left, heading for a place called La Chapelle-en-Serval. That was a mistake. I've got two hyphenated words for you. Cobble-stones. Or here's an unhyphenated one; horrific. Even a pedestrian who was passing by laughed at me going Urghhhh! All I could think about where my lovely wheels getting battered by these utterly bone-shaking cobbles. Force and Attack had their work cut out. I rode very slowly for about 200 meters doing my upmost to avoid the cobbles with the largest carbon wheel killing gaps between them. It was no use. I had to get off and push; I simply wasn't risking it any longer. At least it put the trainers to good use. I walked past the chateaux and searched for another signpost. Paris. That would do. The clouds were building and it looked like rain was due. I metaphorically crossed my fingers hoping this wasn't the case as I wasn't appropriately dressed for showers. 

I cycled past a signpost for Pontarme and thought it looked like a nice quiet road. A quick look at the phone later I saw the road was actually a worm hole to where I needed to get to. Spinning round, I took the right turn. I wonder who agreed it would be a good idea to put a band of cobbles about 60cm wide across the junction. Why would you do that, especially when you're potentially turning into a corner? I took it gently but if it was wet that would have had 'front wheel disappearing from under me' written all over it. 

It was a short blast to Pontarme, a village where other than the ice cream van being in attendance, not much was happening. There was moisture in the air; rain was coming. With Senlis 6km away I was nearly home. I was on another 'D' road with the locals doing their best to break the speed limit. The Gendarmes would not have been happy. I made it to the Senlis town limits before the heavens opened. I would have been even quicker had it not been for the random red traffic lights that were inconveniently located along my route. 

It had been an eventful ride; this all happened in the space of just 40km. I'm hoping that the plague of locusts, snow and punctures don't appear on my next trip in June. I might just brush up on my French Highway Code as well.......

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