1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed touring bicycle. My Peugeot was the same year and model, identical to this one in the photo, in silver-grey, plastered by me with thumbnail-size decals of the 26 cantonal shields of Switzerland. I purchased mine in Morges, taking my time to browse through a large selection at a bicycle shop on one of the main streets, a few doors east of a small department store (Migros, Coop, Innovation?). The sales brochure gave the technical details in French:
Cadre homme/Hauteur 60 cm/Fourche demi-chromée/Guidon dural/Roues de 700 C/Jautes dural/Blocages rapides/Pédalier dural 40 x 50/Pédales dural, cale-pieds, courroies/Roue libre 5 vitesses/Dérailleurs Simplex/Freins dural à tirage central/Garde-boue et porte-bagages AR Esge/Éclairage
The bike came with the accessories of headlight, rear-end reflector, bike pump, tool and tire kit, rear rat trap, and kick stand.
It cost me sFr. 515,00, plus sFr. 10,00 for the annual bicycle licence, and a little credit card-sized aluminum plate in silver and red with “VD” and “1985” in white lettering, numbered “54540”. It is mandatory in this country, canton by canton. I rode home in pouring rain, thoroughly soaked.
Typical Swiss bicycle licence plate. Every Swiss cyclist, in every Canton, had one of these mounted somewhere at the rear of their vélo, usually either on the rear fender or on the tail end of a bike rack. I purchased a licence plate each year just like this one, at a reasonable cost, slightly narrower than a cigarette pack. My moped sported a larger yellow licence plate, for which I had a moped operator’s permit.
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It was the first days of September 1985. Catherine Doucet’s family had a used moped sitting at home up in Mauborget on the Massif du Chasseron in the Jura. They ran the Hôtel de la Croix Fédérale there.
It was a late 1970s Kreidler MF 21 Florett 50-cc, silver and apple green, which we purchased from her brother for sFr. 500,00 with a full tank of gas, new tires (the rear a snow), thorough maintenance and tune-up, the muffler retarded to a maximum of 32 km/h. This became law in 1981 to curb youth injuries and deaths, riding at excessive speeds—making this one also a vélomoteur, necessitating only a yellow Vaudois moped licence, sFr. 50,00, not difficult to obtain in Lausanne with my B.C. Driver’s Licence after writing a small exam. Remove the retarder, get caught, and lose your moped to the metal crusher, sent back as a shoebox-size cube of metal in the mail, billed sFr. 40,00 for the trouble.
I now had an expedient way to get into Perceval for courses and work. I also delivered the monthly allowances to my co-workers and séminaristes in the various group homes, riding from the Morges branch of the UBS (Union Banque Suisse), carrying thousands of Swiss francs every month, on two occasions as much as 60,000 sFr. of annual vacation funds. On occasion Elke Sixt borrowed the Kreidler, too. I frequently drove into Morges, St-Sulpice, and Lausanne on my free days—easy and cheap on gas—and even on occasion ventured further afield into Rolle, Nyon, Genève, and into the villages further inland from the lake—Etoy, Lavigny, Aubonne, Apples, Ballens, Bière, Berolle, Montricher, l’Isle, and Romainmôtier.
I purchased a motorcycle helmet to go with my thick, heavy, genuine black biker’s leather jacket and blue and white Palestinian scarf (foulard)—the latest in moped fashion at the time.
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Late May 1986, we received a lengthy dose of hot, muggy weather. About twice a week the elevated barometer pressure would release with an evening of thunderstorms passing over the Léman region. By morning everything was fresh and wet with a cool breeze, but soon the sunshine hazed over again.
On this weekend du visite, Margit, a young woman from Denmark, Raymond, and myself decided to bike around Lac Léman, about 180 kilometres in two days.
She borrowed a bronze three-speed, Raymond rode his semi-matte black vintage Swiss Army bicycle, and I my trustworthy 1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed. The Swiss Army bike was the MO-05 model, the production year and the Swiss cross stamped on the seatpost lug. These bikes were produced in the country by the renowned top-quality Swiss bicycle manufacturer Condor SA. I seem to recall the year 1938, which does not quite make sense as the bike appears to have been a post-war Militärvelo, judging by the details I noted in the 1980s and list here. Maybe it had been retrofitted by the military at some point in it’s long career. It was a basic model, stripped down of all its non-essential fittings for use as a messenger transport, single-speed with rod-operated front spoon brake, cable-operated rear drum brake on left side, and rear coaster brake, wide leather seat, weighing a hefty 52 lbs.! It had strong, straight rear drop-outs, oversized frame tubes, spokes and front hub nickel plated, the saddle numbered and stamped with the Swiss cross, big, black pedals with big treads. I bought the bike from him the following autumn, using it myself or lending it out, but unfortunate that it was rather impractical and expensive to export home to Canada. At the time the Swiss were more protective of their national icons leaving the country than they are today. I gave it to one of the Byrde family sons, which I now rue as it was then already a cool collector’s item and today it would make an awesome single-speed bike. One day I would love to import a vintage specimen straight from Switzerland. It would cost well over $1,600.00 for purchase and shipping.
We left late Friday afternoon, the route du lac no 1 and sometimes smaller local roads west from St-Prex, cycling through Buchillon on a secondary road, Allaman, Rolle, slight detour through Bursinel and Dully, Prangins, Nyon, then hit by a strong, sudden shower drenching us through before we could pull out some protective wear. But it was still warm from the bouts of mugginess. This alternating weather would continue throughout the two day tour.
About two kilometres past Nyon we pedaled into the TCS (Touring Club Suisse) campground, run by a bilingual Canadian woman from Montréal. We pitched our tents during a short rainless moment and the proprietress let us cook our supper in her kitchen. The tents did their job keeping us dry.
We were on our way just before seven, now having pulled out our rain ponchos, doffing them again around noon when we felt the increasing constriction, sweating with the returning mugginess.
Many other times, riding moped, one of my bikes, or hitchhiking in the other direction, the shoreline west of Nyon that I remember being depicted in Hergé’s The Calculus Affair, when Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy heading for Nyon in a taxi are cut off, forced to swerve, and plunge into the lake.
Our secondary route through Crans was soon behind us, then the pocket of Céligny/GE, Founex, back on the main road with Pré-Claudy, Coppet, “à bientôt” Vaud and “bonjour” Genève with Versoix-la-Ville, Versoix, and Bellevue feeling our rubber, here the route no 1 now known as the Route de Lausanne after merging with the Autoroute N 1.
At the Jardin Botanique and behind it the Palais des Nations on our right, the Avenue de la Paix met us at the Place A. Thomas, the G.A.T.T. on the lake side. Here our road became the Rue de Lausanne with the beautiful grounds of the Parc Villa Barton in La Perle du Lac, the Villa Bartholoni occupied by the Musée des Sciences and the Parc Mon Repos with the Mont aux Morts memorial between us and the lake, then left along the Avenue de France becoming the Quai Woodrow Wilson along the lakeshore and the Quai du Mont-Blanc at the Jetée and Bains des Pâquis, left onto the Pont du Mont-Blanc, here passing a couple in Australian bushman hats walking two tall horses packed with western saddles and side bags going the other way—when I greeted them in English he responded with a “g’day mate!”—the bridge crossing the last tip of the lake rushing into the Rhône at the prow of the little Île J.-J.-Rousseau.
Then across the Place du Port we met the Quai Général Guisan at a 45° angle, bordering the south edge of the Jardin Anglais, then another 45° left along the Quai Gustave Ador and past the causeway to the Jet d’Eau playing in the summer, at up to 150 metres the highest fountain in the world.
At the Place de Traînant, just past the Parc de la Grange and the Parc des Eaux-Vives, the road bent a mild bit to become the Quai de Cologny, passing Genève-Plage, through Cologny, then at Vésenaz leaving the main road for the lakeshore route through Collonge-Bellerive and past Anières.
We were on our way to the border. We entered France at Hermance, the three French officers with just a “Passports, s’il vous plaît” and a quick glance—I asked for and received a stamp in mine for souvenir purposes.
Almost right away you could sense this was not Switzerland. The villages were almost entirely grey, lacking the colour and brightness of painted shutters, window boxes in full bloom, and life outdoors evident on the other side. Here things appeared to be a little forlorn, a little decayed around the edges, an unspoken sadness on the edge of awareness. This feeling I was to have almost every time, wherever and whenever I crossed into rural France during overcast weather. Even in coldest, greyest, windiest winter, Switzerland seemed livelier and brighter. Strange how subtle tugs at the senses could tell of such differences. We were at the same lake, the same silvery-grey and mirror smoothness when hazy and windless, but here it felt like the villages were almost abandoned despite parked cars about and prowling cats. And when we saw two old sidewheelers tied up, rotting on the water, later at Tourronde and Meillerie, the feeling was confirmed—I almost expected spectres to coming sailing in, rising from the lake depths. Despite a green countryside, only Yvoire and Evian-les-Bains appeared to have colour and life.
It was two and a half kilometres along the D 25 to the village of Véreitre, another two to Chens-sur-Léman, three for Messery, and three and a half into the medieval town Yvoire for a somewhat expensive midday dinner in a restaurant near the medieval fortress. Yvoire, sitting at the tip of the Léman peninsula, more or less straight across from Nyon, that delimits the two principal sections of Lake Geneva, the petit lac and the grand lac (small lake and large lake), is deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France. It teems and overflows with bright flowers, the colours sating the senses.
We needed to get some major kilometres behind us, so after a quick half hour walk around after the filling meal, off we were again, three kilometres to Excenevex on the Golfe de Coudrée and another three and a half to join with the main road again, the N 5 at Sciez, and non-stop onward through Jussy and Marclaz into Thonon-les-Bains, with only a quick pause for water from an open public spring in town.
Then Vongy and into Amphion-les-Bains, now the road following the lakeshore, the famous Evian-les-Bains for another spring water drink, then onward through Grande Rive, Maxilly-Petite Rive, Tourronde, Meillerie, Locum, Bret, and suddenly the French-Swiss frontier at St-Gingolph, waved through with barely a second glance and four klicks along the now-named route no 21 for le Bouveret, passing Le Fenalet and La Clesette hugging the shore, the forest leading up to the Pointe de la Chaumeny, 2067,3 metres, and Le Grammont, 2171,8 metres, just behind.
We were back on the cheerier side. At the south end of town we left the main road turning left, passing a campground on the bank of the little Le Tové, crossing it and moments later the rail line and a small canal into the fields of La Praille to cross the Rhône on a foot bridge.
Now it was paths and lanes through the leafy woodlands of the river delta crossing the Vieux Rhône, passing the farmstead Chaux Rossa, a small lake and three small fields, the farm La Praille and over another foot bridge at the Grand Canal.
Here we turned left a short bit and through a tiny wooded area in marshy ground for the shoreline campground at Les Grangettes. It was early evening and we were about two and a half kilometres west of Villeneuve.
Margit and Raymond decided to tent the night here. It was a pleasant site but for some reason I put it in my head that I would continue with quite a few more kilometres and hours back to St-Prex. And I was under the impression those two were a little flirtatious and amorous. I decided to give them their space.
I continued along the shoreline path and a farm road across the Eau Froide into Villeneuve, making Montreux my goal for supper, leaning and locking my bike against the train station railing for a meal in the Restaurant de la Gare—a succulent saucisse aux choux correctly paired as is customary with its distinctly different mate the saucisson de Payerne, washed down with a glass of local red.
Back on the pedals, along the route du lac through La Tour-de-Peilz, Vevey, all the little villages to Lausanne-Ouchy—this route from Villeneuve to St-Prex as familiar cycling territory for me.
Soon the sun was down. On came my headlight powered by a tire-mounted dynamo, growing tired, sore butt and legs, the single goal on my mind—Perceval. St-Sulpice, Morges, and St-Prex, up the narrow, winding road in the dark, so fatigued I was starting to hallucinate, and like a broken record with the mantra, “you’re almost there, you’re almost there!” I was feeling wobbly on the bike, shots of pain from the long hours on the narrow seat. My fingers and hands felt big and fat, my legs like lead.
I arrived a few minutes before midnight and crawled straight to bed.