His second car? Alexandre has not yet taken the step of reselling it. However, for the past two years, he has hardly used it. To reach his office in Luxembourg, this 32-year-old accountant, based in Volmerange-les-Mines (Moselle), covers 20 km every morning on the handlebars of his bike. And do it again in the evening. Don’t talk to him about courage. “It takes more to get behind the wheel during rush hour,” he smiles. With the variable traffic jams and accidents, you never know in advance what time you will arrive. » Of course, by bike, you have to adapt the logistics a little. “When I take my daughters to daycare and school, I have to hook up the trailer and drop it off at home before going to work,” he explains. But if I had to borrow the car, it would take twice as long. » After having taken major French cities by storm, is the bicycle also making its way into rural areas?
The trend is still timid, but it is there. According to the barometer of cycling cities, cycling, outside urban areas, saw its modal share increase by 17% between 2019 and 2021 before stabilizing. If it still remains mainly dedicated to tourism and leisure use, it is gaining more and more fans for everyday travel. David Badard, head of the Altisports 43 store in Saint-Didier-en-Velay, in Haute-Loire, can attest to this. In four years, its sales have jumped by more than 10%. “A lot more people go to work by bike,” he notes. Even old people get involved. »
Long live electric
A VAE effect, he assures. Understand electric-assisted bicycle. “According to INSEE, the home-work distance, in 2019, was 6.1 km in urban areas and more than double in rural areas,” recalls Sébastien Marrec, doctoral researcher in geography and spatial planning at the Rennes 2 University. “Electrification has made it possible to remove the barrier of distance, but also those of height difference and age. We can now ride further, more often, without getting tired. » The aid put in place by the State for the purchase of a mechanical or pedal-assisted cycle did the rest.
Christine, 69, is about to take the plunge. “In the countryside, we are in direct contact with nature,” she emphasizes. We therefore see much more of the consequences of the climate crisis. If we do not want to leave an unlivable planet to our grandchildren, we know that we must change our lifestyles. Cycling is a good way to start taking action to pollute less. »
Preserving the environment, reducing stress linked to traffic jams, maintaining good physical shape… Everyone has their own motivations for getting (back) in the saddle. For Étienne Demur, the choice was firstly financial. In order to afford a better quality of life, this 37-year-old central engineer decided, five years ago, to leave Marne to settle in Aigues-Mortes (Gard). But the sun comes at a cost. To pay a little more for rent, Étienne has found a solution: he only travels by electric cargo bike. Including to get to work, at the Royal Canin factory in Aimargues, 20 km from his home. A way to save €150 on gas every month. And that’s far from being the only benefit that Étienne gets from cycling. “I love living outside in the fresh air,” he confides. Crossing the fields and marshes of the Petite Camargue every day, admiring the sunrises over the lagoons, you can’t imagine how it recharges my batteries! »
More than an object, cycling in the countryside is above all a state of mind. “It’s a way of being in industrial society while distancing yourself from it,” notes sociologist Philippe Gaboriau. We refuse to be trapped in traffic jams. We want to take the time to slow down and reclaim our own time. » To bring together people who share the same state of mind, Étienne created in 2020 the Aigues-Mortes/Le Grau-du-Roi/La Grande-Motte à vélo association, affiliated with the French Federation of Bicycle Users . Citizen groups of the same type are popping up all over the country to promote the daily practice of cycling in rural areas.
However, there remains a big black point: security. According to the report from the National Interministerial Road Safety Observatory published last May, 135 cyclists were killed outside urban areas in 2022 compared to 109 in urban areas. Enough to push local communities to mobilize. They have everything to gain from it. “If we chose to live in the countryside, it’s for peace and quiet, not for the main roads with two lanes,” quips Aveyron native Hélène Jacquemin, co-founder of the In’VD association and referent in rural mobility. .
Bike plans and gentle ride
The Ille-et-Vilaine department understands this well. “To respond to the State’s low-carbon strategy, we wanted to give residents the means to travel other than by car,” explains Schirel Lemonne, departmental councilor in charge of the bicycle plan and green links. Twenty-four new cycle paths with a high level of service, on their own site and in two directions, must be developed by the end of the mandate, in March 2028. Overall cost of the operation: 70 million euros. A financial effort that not all communities are ready to make. “There is not always a need for outrageously expensive arrangements,” reassures Hélène Jacquemin. Sometimes a demarcation line on the roadway or blocks can be enough. » At least initially.
But to initiate real change, we will have to go further: lower the speed, signpost small paths that can be cycled, acculturate residents to sharing space and using bicycles… Market gardening in Thorigny, a small town Vendée near La Roche-sur-Yon, Jonathan begins to work there with his 8-year-old stepdaughter, Lia. As part of the “Ride very gently” operation organized a few weeks ago in his town, he decided to favor cycling over cars for home-school journeys. He bought yellow vests, some lighting and “roll my chicken”! After fifteen days of practice, the results are more than positive. “The journey is a real time spent sharing with Lia,” he confides. We talk, we laugh. And Lia is much calmer when she arrives home. » He therefore hopes to be able to discipline himself to perpetuate this ritual during the winter season. “In the countryside,” he recalls, “taking the car is almost a reflex. »
A farmer on two wheels
Too bad if he comes across as a weirdo. “That’s the price to pay when you’re a pioneer,” smiles mischievously Julien Sales, 33 years old. Newly established as a farmer in the Millau region (Aveyron), this former teacher uses neither tractor nor thermal van. He only travels by bike, as his grandfather from the countryside did: a way of freeing himself “from these immense machines that run on oil”. He still had the luxury of electric assistance. “That way, I can’t hide behind the excuse of fatigue,” he emphasizes. If he needs tools, he carries them in a backpack. Period.
Beyond the ecological and economic interest, Julien also sees a human asset. “By being locked in our cars, we have lost contact with the people around us,” he regrets. When you don’t have a car, it’s much easier to stop and say hello to your neighbor who is cultivating his field. »