Vélo means bicycle.
One month after we arrived and settled into our new place in La Garde, I was ready to get a bicycle. The previous occupants of our townhouse, an American family from Maine, had offered to sell us their little French car. The family was here on a one year sabbatical, and returning home so the wife could resume teaching at Bowdoin. I didn’t want a car, didn’t need a car, and if I got a car, it would have to be bigger than what they had, so I declined.
I did buy from the family two bicycles and accessories: an adult medium sized town bike and children’s bike, plus helmets, pumps, and some tools. The town bike is from the local Carrefours (the Costco of France), weighs about sixty pounds, and is too small for me. Catherine tears it up around town with the kid’s bike.
I like living in a small town but one of the disadvantages of La Garde is there is no year round pool. There is, however, a wonderful outdoor, fifty-meter pool in Hyeres. Unlike the pools in Marseille, the pool in Hyeres is open at reasonable and predictable hours, and wonder of wonders, they permit you to use swim gear such as fins, paddles, and pull buoys. The problem was how to get to Hyeres: the bus ride is lengthy and indirect, and trains run infrequently.
I decided to get a bike. I could use the leg exercise of the bike to balance out the swim work out. And, of course I could use the bike to explore around La Garde: it’s quite nice, rural, and only a fifteen minute ride to the beach. I looked online for a used bike, but it was impossible to find one in my size. Also, the French usually respond to email in one to three weeks, or never, so a store and a new bike were my only route.
After consulting with one of our neighbors, a retired French naval officer, about the local bike shops, I chose a non-chain store in the next town over, Le Pradet. Annie went with me to the store, Planete Cycles. I looked at some models, test rode a few, and decided on an Orbea Carpe H-50, in grey. Orbeas are made in Spain, and after consulting with a friend in California, programmer – swimmer – cyclist Steve, I decided it was a good buy. The store would have to order the bike because they did not have one in my size, sixty centimeters. I give them a deposit of two hundred euros, and they said they’ll call when it arrived, but it should only take a of couple weeks to get in.
Of course, this is not a new story. You know what’s coming.
After three weeks we had not heard anything, so I asked Annie to call the store. She called, and said they will call the factory to find out the status of my order, and then call us back. The store never called us back.
One week later we repeat the drill with the same results. Three days after that another call, the same promise and no return call. Just for my own amusement I sent them an email (my text courtesy of Google translate). No response to my email.
Finally, in the seventh week and no bike, I go to the the store. The guy at Planete Cycle got a kind of panicked look when I walked in, then said he’ll call right now to see what is going on. My guess was that was the first time he actually made that call. After a fifteen minute conversation, he told me there is good news and bad news. The factory had the frame, but the vendor who supplied the front forks has gone out of business (Spain, you may have heard, is having some financial problems), and the factory did not have another vendor lined up.
I thanked them and got my deposit refunded. The guy at Planete Cycle said he will still see about getting the bike in, and he has new forks he can put on. I wished him a good afternoon.
The next week Annie and I went to Toulon for a couple of errands. It’s a five minute train ride from La Garde. I stopped by a bike store, Bouticycle of Toulon. After a long talk with the owner, he said he can get me an Orbea, but not in the model I wanted. To get a bike in my size I’d have to get another model, which turned out to be cheaper. I liked the lines on the Orbea I originally ordered, but decided that something was better than nothing. I gave them a deposit for an Orbea Travel Sport A30, color anthracite.
Three days later the store emailed me saying they had the bike. I have it now. See the photo below.
Two days after I brought home the bike, Planete Cycle called to say they had the bike for me. Annie took the call, and told them I already bought one. C’est la vie.
I did have some ambivalence about buying the bike – it’s my second bike purchase in five years. A few years ago I bought a Trek Soho from Chain Reaction in Redwood City. I kept it at the offices of Playlist then Auctionomics, and rode it most days to the noon time swim work out at Menlo Masters – oh how good I had it! With the Trek in storage in the United States, it seemed a bit extravagant to buy a bike again. But now I can get to the pool.
Below are a few photos of life in La Garde.
Damn, the baguettes here are good.