Cycling in Montpellier


I’ve been spending some time in Montpellier, and what a beautiful city it is. At its heart is a wonderful historic centre that’s really worth the visit. You could spend days walking its winding streets and squares filled with stylish cafes and restaurants, cool shops and trendy bars. It’s a city of real style and character, and its beautiful limestone architecture is something to behold. Montpellier has a Mediterranean vibe that is different from other French cities, it’s hard to describe but it”s a place where you can find excitement and fun, yet it is also chilled and feels easy going. Its people are stylish and friendly and the city thrives on tourism. There’s nothing better than discovering it by bike, bathed as it is for most of the year in the warm glow of the Mediterranean sun.


Image of Tour de France toy peloton

The Car is not King


Like the city of Rouen, there is thriving scene of two-wheeled transportation in Montpellier. Many of its historic streets are paved in limestone, some have shiny veneers that feel like you are walking on a marble floor. The central city streets are pedestrianised, so it’s so nice to walk in a city that isn’t dominated by cars. It sounds perfect, but wait; you may be free of the dreaded four wheel vehicle, but you’ll soon encounter its substitutes for getting around: electric scooters, mopeds, electric bikes and pushbikes will whizz pass you as walk along the old streets as if they have the perfect right to share every inch of space.


Cycling in Montpellier_Image of Helyett bike

Cycling in Montpellier: image of Vincent Bike


Image of vintage Vincent bike on street

Do Androids Dream of Electric Bikes?


Montpellier is quite hilly at its heart, but it’s not that bad. I wouldn’t say its gradients justify the teeming amount of electric bikes that sally through its narrow streets. Most people, it seems these days, are choosing electric bikes over traditional ones, and I guess they’re here to stay. The perfectly engineered and simple push bike has now been superseded by something more complicated, something to reflect our modern day values and desires. Why ride under your own power when you can just press a button? Why have less technology, when you can have much more? The electric bike and scooter revolution is quite remarkable: for every one traditional bike I see in the city, there must be ten electric bikes.


Cycling in Montpellier_image of parked bike

Image of Michenon bike

Some great Vintage Finds


I saw some lovely vintage bikes parked randomly in Montpellier, so I took some photos of my most interesting finds. An Halyett; an Alanand a very nice example of a Vincent; also I came across a Michenon, which is still in business at Nancy, a brand I’d never seen before. With no cars to contend with, riding a bike makes sense in the old town, though pedestrians are, no doubt, are the biggest danger to cyclists. The city seems to encourage, however, the sense that bikes and pedestrians can share the space and I noticed how tolerant people are of cyclists, even when they are competing for space in the narrow lanes. The joy of cycling can be found everywhere, none more so than in the city’s playful street art: look up and you can find bikes sticking out of walls in random parts of the old town.


Cycling in Montpellier_image of bike on wall

Montpellier and the British Connection


British rider Barry Hoban won a stage of the Tour in 1974 in Montpellier, which is an amazing achievement when you consider how few British riders at the time had won stages at any of the Grand Tours. Tom Simpson was an exceptional talent, one of only two British cyclists in the twentieth century ( along with Robert Millar ) who were competing for the yellow jersey in the Grand Tours, but Barry also won eight stages at the Tour and that is a pretty incredible feat. It would not be until 2011 that another British rider crossed the line in first place at a stage at Montpellier, when Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory.


Image of Barry Hoban winning stage


Image of Alan bike in Montpellier

Cycling in Montpellier_image of Alan bike

A Final Word on the Electric Revolution


Electric bikes also don’t just do the work for you, they also look different; they are bigger, heavier, bulkier, have extra gadgets and gear because they can, by the fact that you are not pedalling the weight of the thing yourself. Keeping the weight of your bike down was a fundamental necessity for a cyclist. Now we’ve entered a different era; I see electric bikes that are fully loaded to complement this gear-driven appetite for machines and gismos. It’s what many people want these days. Some of these bikes are so beefy looking that, to my unschooled eye, they look like motorbikes. These newfangled, fat-tyred subversions of the glorious bicycle have taken over, and probably for good.



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