People move to France for many different reasons – retirement, to work, to play, to follow a dream… Steve Sykes’ move to France from the UK follows the latter path. A keen cyclist for many years he decided to take his passion to France, to the lovely area of Midi-Pyrénées.
Steve and his partner Jill moved from Hampshire at the end of January to La Fouillade in the heart of the Aveyron Valley. They live in a renovated barn with stunning valley views in a village and region that has welcomed them in. Steve describes the area as “traffic free roads, lush valley lanes, designated purpose built mountain bike tracks, safe cycling….all of this the perfect recipe for the cyclist”. He knew that this would be the perfect opportunity for setting up a cycle hire business and although as he says, that was not without its challenges he still found it fun. Steve’s mantra is “Life does not start until you leave your comfort zone and I have had to do that many times during my life!”
We asked Steve why France is such a great place for cycling and what setting up a business in France is like…
TGLF: What was the life path that brought you to France?
Wow, where do I start! In my younger days I did a gap year in Southern Africa and it was this that gave me the dreaded travel bug, which you just never ever get rid of! Work wise, well I was in the Police for a long time before the specialised work I was doing got the better of me and I had to retire on medical grounds.
And so began a very long rebuilding of life programme for me.
My passion for cycling has been with me throughout my life, from the days of attaching a playing card and peg to make your bike sound so cool, through the early Raleigh choppers, progressing into racers with 5 gears, onto 10 gears, then along came mountain bikes……so I had to have one of each!
I have cycled in many different countries, from South America to Europe, Australia to Portsmouth, in all sorts of weather and various conditions and it is a dream come true to make living from my passion. They always say if you want to make a small fortune in bikes, start with a big one! But I suppose my previous career and subsequent illness had taught me that quality of life is so important.
When we arrived at our new home in January it was the coldest winter in living memory and we had a huge deluge of snow!
I can remember my first cycle ride after I arrived here, I struggled in wind chill temperatures of –17°C and realised that the Midi-Pyrenees is named that for a reason….the hills.
I ventured into the village on my bike during the snow to go to the boulangerie. There were no cars about, in fact nothing but me on the road and I was riding on snow and ice covered roads! There was a small queue for the fresh cooked baguettes, everyone turned their eyes on this strange English guy wrapped up in cycling gear. ‘Monsieur , sur le velo?’ came the murmur from the queue…..’Ah oui.’ came the response ‘Je suis Anglais!’. Thus I had broken the ice with many in the village and I do believe they were amazed that anyone could be foolish enough to ride in such conditions!
TGLF: Why is France such a great place for cyclists?
France is cycle friendly. I never get the feeling that I am in the way of a motorist, an inconvenience. Motorists in France actually give you space, unlike many times in the UK where people are so in a rush that you can end up sitting on their wing mirrors they pass. Cycle tracks are built off road; people are encouraged to use bikes.
TGLF: What is it about Midi-Pyrénées that you find particularly great for cycling?
The Midi-Pyrénées region is simply absolutely stunning. Hilltop towns, lush valleys and historical architecture, we have many of the most beautiful villages in France (as voted), surrounded by some incredible countryside. Centrally located in the south it is easy to travel further afield from here if you want to explore France further or foray into Spain or Italy. The people of the region are some of the most welcoming I have ever met, greeting you with a smile and politeness wherever you go. The bike is a wonderful conversation breaker with them and they show a great interest in people who are riding, offering a variety of tips and advice! Believe me the roads are traffic free in comparison to the UK. Yes the towns can get relatively busy at times, but get out onto the country roads and you will find total freedom. Local tourist areas have designed and built mountain bike tracks for all abilities and with great transport links, the area is so easy to get to and any cyclist, whatever age or ability, would find it heaven!
TGLF: What is your cycling background?
I’ve cycled all my life! Never made it to the Tour or Giro, never got to cycle with Indurain or Armstrong, never been a great fan of lycra… but always loved bikes and cycling. I have taken part in triathlons, charity cycle rides and cycling holidays in some amazing places in both western and third world areas. Although I never really settled on one style of bike, I mainly use a mountain bike these days – including road cycling. My philosophy behind that is that if I train and use a mountain bike then when I get on the road bike I should fly!
TGLF: Was it difficult to set up your business in France? Do you have any tips for anyone wanting to set up a business in France?
You know it really is not that difficult to set up the business, if you account for the French bureaucracy and systems of taxation etc. I decided to do it slowly and just take the time. I took advice from other bike hire companies in France, visited various bike dealers and sent lots of emails to find the best way to set up the business. It is still in its infancy but it is really important to go at it slowly and not run before walking. This is really important given it is a foreign country with different rules and regulations. My advice whatever business you set up is to take advice, don’t try and beat the system and do take it slowly. Whatever you do, don’t shy away from it because it may be a bit challenging… it really can be done!