“For me, cycling is really a long story,” says Gaëtan Couffignal, creator of the YouTube channel Cyclo voyage avec Gaëtan, social networks of the same name and cyclovoyage.com. “I already did this when I was little in Tarn, where I was born. Whenever I had some time I would take the bike, ride the streets of my neighborhood and then go further and further away. For example, with my grandparents, in Aveyron.” Little by little, the distances increase, as does the way of pedaling. After a break from studies, he returned to professional life. First on weekends, then on a week, and then on several. “Once you get the taste of traveling by bike, it’s hard to let go. We always want to leave”, he enthuses.
Now he shares his passion on social media, which he feeds with videos of his countless trips: to the Lot valley, along the Seine with his partner, Amsterdam-Paris or even at the foot of the Pyrenees. “One of the last very beautiful trips I was able to take was the Camino de Santiago, between Puy-en-Velay and Fisterra, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. And then this summer we went along the Burgundy canal with my daughter, for her first bike trip.”
Gaëtan has just one rule when it comes to traveling: there are no rules. “It really depends on the trip I’m taking, the duration. Sometimes for a weekend or three days I don’t want to take all my trash back to camp. I will therefore opt for a guest room or a family home. For longer trips, I sometimes take the tent camping, or even bivouac.”
But before you leave, always organize your trip as little as possible, informing yourself about the roads or cycle paths you will take and the places to visit. He then plots his route based on the accommodations he will find along the way, the campsites. “I like to plan, but it’s also good to give yourself a little freedom so as not to be caught off guard and follow something very pre-established in advance. We must leave room, not for the unexpected, but for discovery.”
So when the bike travel expert set out for the first time last summer with Clarisse, his one-year-old daughter, he had to rethink his habits. Mainly in terms of hardware. It was therefore necessary to equip a trailer with shock absorbers to install the little one. “They say that weight is the cyclist’s enemy. In other words, the fewer things you take, the easier the effort will be,” he explains. “But with my daughter, you have to take her toys, her blanket, so she can be comfortable and play on trips.” Ultimately, Gaëtan will have towed between 25 and 30 kg more than when he went out alone. Therefore, it is a different endeavor that you must be prepared for. The stages will not be the same, we will have to be shorter, easier too, avoid areas with a lot of elevation, preferring to go in the summer to be more or less sure of having good weather.
“The big change is also that we don’t control the trip, that is, we have to adapt to the child. He is the one who will dictate the rhythm of the day. He will need to let off steam, go out and play, he can’t stay in a harness all day. Every three-quarters of an hour or an hour, you have to stop and play with him, let him enjoy the bike ride in a different way than in his trailer.”
And then it’s not about camp. The parents really played it safe by booking the accommodation in advance. “We found that it was good for her to have her cocoon at night, to sleep in a travel cot, to be warm, dry, with her own little corner.”
The child sets the pace
A trailer is ideal, according to Gaëtan, for young children. They can therefore sit comfortably, properly secured to the helmet and play securely inside. When they are older, you can opt for the “follow me” bike that you strap behind your own bike to feel like you are joining in on the ride.
All that remains is to prepare the child. “What is important, in my opinion, for a week-long trip is to go for a weekend, but in “travel” conditions, that is, to take what we are thinking of taking for the future trip. And finally, it will be a test, the opportunity to see if we are missing things or if, on the contrary, we took equipment that was not used and, in this case, that will also be useless later.”
In all cases, according to Gaëtan, it is necessary to test, just start. It’s by trying that you learn. But it’s also good to introduce children as early as possible so that they get into the habit of traveling by bicycle. “I hope they want to come back later and we can go on trips together as a family. I would be quite proud if that were the case,” he laughs.
Encouraging prospects for Gaëtan, convinced of the virtues of cycling. “When you’re traveling by bike, the timer stays at home. There is no performance. It’s the opposite. We let ourselves be carried away, it is the compliment of slowness. We enjoy every moment, we don’t just go from point A to point B, it’s the path, the road that is the journey in itself.” Traveling in this way is a way, according to him, of reconnecting with simple things, of rediscovering smells, sounds, noises that we don’t hear in everyday life. It also offers the freedom to stop wherever you want, sleep wherever you want.
Gaëtan shares his passion as well as his advice and tips through his YouTube channel. “The goal is to inspire desire, to show that everyone can do it, that it’s not that complicated, that it’s just a matter of getting started.” His latest film, “Le Tarn à vélo”, in which he followed the river from its source in Lozère to its confluence in Tarn-et-Garonne, was selected to be shown during the 37th International Bicycle Travel Festival. International Cycling Camping which will take place on February 24th and 25th in Le Mans. The film can also be seen on the Cyclo voyage avec Gaëtan channel on YouTube.