Riding my Vintage Bike through Normandy


If you’ve visited this blog before, you may well get the impression that I’ve moved around a lot. In the last ten years I’ve lived in the UK, the US and most recently, France. I’ve travelled all over France and have lived in many of its different regions, but I’ve spent most time in Normandy, in the north west. Very recently I managed to rent a house near the Voie Verte, a dedicated bike trail that used to be an old railway line, a route that travels from Vire to the sea where sits the staggeringly beautiful island of Mont St Michel. It really gives me a chance to ride through the villages and countryside of Normandy, steeped in history and culture.


image of riding my vintage bike on Normandy map

The Voie Verte is in green


What Bike to Ride?


My recent Stronglight Altec acquisition came out of the blue, and it has turned out to be one of the best bikes I’ve ever owned. I wasn’t looking for one at the time, in fact I didn’t even know that the Stronglight brand ever put their name on a frame. Altecs are rare and haut de gamme, of superior quality, comparable to the renowned Alan brand of bikes that were made with the same anodised aluminium tubes. Some are of the opinion that Altec frames are even superior to its Alan and Vitus rivals, but without doubt they are rarer. This Altec isn’t adorned with Campagnolo components, Mavic 851 derailleurs or such like; its original owner built up this bike with the more functional but efficient Shimano 600 Tricolour transmission and brakes. nothing fancy, but what a ride!


Image of riding my vintage bike Stronglight Altec on trail


Gravel, Seeds and Twigs


The Voie Verte is well shaded so it’s great for riding in the summer, as the trail is mostly cool because it is shaded by trees. Now and again the trail breaks out from its green cover and all of a sudden you will see views of the soft, rolling hills and big skies. However, the canopy of trees along the route does mean that there is a fair amount of fallen twigs and seeds that mingle with the gravel track. The gravel isn’t thick enough to prevent road bikes from using the trail, but I do think tougher tyres are needed to cope with the nature of this route. My Altec has 700 x 25 tubular tyres which are quite old, perhaps 15 years or more, and riding on this crunchy road is certainly a risk for me, but so far the tyres have coped really well.


Image of riding my vintage bike through the trees on Voie Verte

8 Speed, not 9!


I sometimes forget that I replaced the rather worn Shimano 600 shifters on this bike with the next generation of Ultegra 9 speeds. It was a practical and economic choice as I couldn’t find a replacement set of 600’s for less than 100 Euros! This does mean that I do have a redundant gear shift, which isn’t ideal and does, now and again, cause me a bit of confusion. The Ultegras are better shifters though, and for me their introduction in 1997 was a ground-breaking moment in cycling technology. From this point gear shifting became “stress-free” and the newer models we have today are just more precise and efficient version of these innovative 9 speeds.



Image of Le Neufbourg station in the war

Le Neufbourg Station 1944

Le Neufbourg station today image

Le Neufbourg Station today

A Journey Through World War 2 Sites


I started my ride from the small town of Mortain, the site of an important WW2 battle in 1944 in which the Allies went on the offensive against the Germans and seized the town. Normandy was a key battleground in the war and many soldiers died in the area that the Voie Vert winds through; quiet, tranquil woods that are silent and peaceful today, once resonated with guns and bombs not so long ago. The farmland and fields are so different today. In all of these small Normandy villages and towns you will find commemorations to the men who fought so valiantly in what was a brutal and deadly environment. It seems strange to think of such terrible death and suffering when stopped at a peaceful place, to rest your bike and look across a site of terrible human and animal suffering. The wounds of such affliction can never be fully healed, even though the place is so lovely today.



Image of war commemoration

Image of Vire signpost on Voie Verte

image of Normandy trail area map

The Ride is Worth it


I would recommend anyone who loves cycling to take this Voie Vert and ride all the way from Vire to Mont Saint Michel. It is generally flat, so it’s easy to ride, though you do have parts of the route that are inclined, but it’s never a sharp elevation or steep hill. It would be perfect for me if the trail was tarmac but the gravel is manageable, even on a road bike. You cannot really ride above 20mph because of the surface and maybe that’s a good thing, it keeps people from going like the clappers on the trail and cuts down the chance of an accident. There are many stop-off areas to have a rest and there a towns to visit every twenty kilometres or so, giving you plenty of opportunity to visit these communities. It really is a perfect way to spend a weekend in beautiful and historic part of France.


Image of bridge on Voie Verte

Image of riding my vintage bike Altec on trail

Image of riding my vintage bike, an Altec, at Sourdeval

At Sourdeval

Addendum: Punctured!


I took my 1964 Peugeot PX10 for a ride on the trail last week, knowingly riding on very old tubular tyres that were in their final stages of life. Yes, it was pretty stupid of me to chance it, riding on this surface on such tyres, but I was emboldened by my enthusiasm and sense of adventure. Six miles into my ride, near the town of Sourdeval, I was happily riding along when all of a sudden – bang! – my real tyre exploded. 100 psi vanished instantly and the explosion was so intense I felt the rush of air through my hair. There are no bike shops in the towns of Mortain or Sourdeval, so I was resigned to rather ruefully walk back home. I have to say that two kind riders stopped when they saw me walking my bike, they tried to help me but realised my tyre was totally shot. I’d like to say a thank you to them, it’s always great to find such camaraderie on the road.



Image on punctured PX10 rear tyre

image of riding my vintage bike, a Peugeot PX10, on the trail




Pin It on Pinterest

Share This