The Kindness of Strangers: Steampunk Cycling in Nantes

cycle symbol in Nantes

So we made it to Nantes, via four trains and a ferry – with no thanks to Portsmouth’s frankly confusing cycling infrastructure and laissez faire attitude to signposting, but every thanks to the passing cyclist who noticed our bewilderment and guided us safely to the ferry terminal.

bicycle stop light

Once in Nantes, helpful strangers do seem to have been a bit of a theme because, while Nantes has some decent infrastructure (and some frankly bizarre stuff, of which below), the junction treatments tend to be of the ‘head across this road here and the drivers will probably stop for you’ variety which, mostly, they do – French (or at least Nantais) drivers have definitely lived up to their reputation for better behaviour around cyclists than their cousins across the Manche.

nantes cycle crossing

Sometimes the street designers add a bit of discombobulation in with a crazy painted crossing, although to be honest, the standard zebra crossings tend to work equally well (which is to say, it helps to be both confident and apparently oblivious to the approaching traffic*).

painted junction

In places, the tracks are wide enough to reach the international gold standard: being able to park a van on them.

van in bike lane

In others, for reasons nobody has fully explained, the cycle tracks are right down the middle of the road – which is fine (actually it’s kind of fun), until you come to a double roundabout, and then it’s anybody’s guess what you’re supposed to do.

central cycle lane

Chats with a couple of locals – more strangers, who have been kind enough to interrupt their day to chat to a bunch of visitors from Scotland – suggest that Nantes is keen on a bit of experimentation – and in a city with a massive steampunk elephant (and a children’s carousel that’s the stuff of nightmares) – perhaps it’s not surprising the infrastructure tends towards the wacky in places.

nantes elephant

steampunk carousel

On the whole, though, Nantes does feel like a genuine cycling city – there are certainly a huge variety of bikes on the streets (if not many children – possibly too traumatised by the carousel). The city is still investing, and it seems as if the new stuff has dialled down the craziness and taken on board some of the lessons learned from the original cycle tracks. Thanks to the chilled drivers we’ve generally never felt in fear of our lives – despite the fact that we’ve often ended up dithering in mid junction when we realise we have no idea where we’re supposed to go next. Head away from the main cycle routes and there’s not much other than contraflow cycle lanes and paint on the road – but space has been taken away from the cars and returned largely to pedestrians, particularly in the city centre. It helps too that the sun has shone and the weather has been kind and we did manage to get that ice-cream.

Nantes ice cream cones

As we head into winter in Scotland, that’s not just a bonus, it’s positively medicinal.

Paris tomorrow, if we’re spared.

* If this post proves to be the last in this blog then this technique may have let me down.

2 Responses to The Kindness of Strangers: Steampunk Cycling in Nantes

  1. d9015 says:

    My normal practice for first few days advance a droite is to tape a piece of card on the ‘bars with a big arrow pointing right. How have you coped with less defined road space. Main toads usually OK,

  2. disgruntled says:

    I don’t normally find I cycle on the wrong side of the road – but the minute I get off the bike and start walking I can never work out which way to look to cross the road …

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