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  • Mark Smith

Geometry by Bike

Think of Paris as a wheel. It’s not hard to do since it’s pretty round, its border defined by the “périphérique” ring road that pulses with several lanes of dense traffic day and night, an incessantly roaring barrier between the city’s charming cobbles and its lesser known and usually less deserving suburbs. Start at the center of the wheel, defined by French geological standard as Notre Dame Cathedral, and draw spokes straight out through the wheel’s rim and 50 kilometers into the countryside. Some 20kms from its starting point, one of these spokes, heading almost directly west, bisects the Palace of Versailles and continues over hill and dale to the postcard village of Monfort l’Amaury. That is the first segment of what I call “The Triangle.” Segment number two follows a slightly more southerly tangent from Notre Dame to Etampes, a city of 26,000 souls and bedraggled aspect—victim to the strip-mall virus that has infected la Route Nationale 20 or RN20 trunk road in recent decades.

Connect these two segments with a third and you have the Triangle—the area in which many if not most Paris-based cyclists ride when the weekend rolls around and country roads beckon. There are green spaces in other segments outside Paris, but no other consistently green area of comparable size can be found in such close proximity to the city. The Triangle is king, home to dense forests, fine pastures and sprawling farmland—all punctuated by occasional stone villages of no little attraction.

At the heart of the Triangle is a cycling gold nugget called the Forêt naturel regional de la Vallée de Chevreuse, or just la Vallée de Chevreuse, which encompasses a large forest of considerable renown among cyclists and nature lovers. Even non-cyclists know the Vallée de Chevreuse as a magnet for weekend wheelmen and women. As bees swarm from the hive on sunny days, so do Paris pedalers converge in the Vallée de Chevreuse, challenging themselves and each other on a number of well-known hill climbs and forest roads. As luck would have it, I live at the eastern intersection of the Triangle’s first two segments, on the southwestern edge of Paris, right near the Porte de Chatillon. From my door it’s a mere 12 kilometers to the first sign of countryside—a short but steep-sided valley called la Vallée de la Bièvre. At least six of those 12 kilometers can be traveled in forested areas or on park roads, which makes the ride from Paris to the countryside one of the shortest if not the shortest of any large metropolis in the world. So there you have it. If you’re in the circle and want to explore a sylvan playground for 50, 100 or even 200 kilometers, the Triangle is the thing. I’ll be discussing more specific routes within the Triangle in coming posts.

Monfort l’Amaury, west country capital of Paris’ chic set, and a beautiful village it is, too.

Follow the Seine from the town of Issy-les-Moulineaux, on Paris’ western fringe, to Sèvres, where you turn left to Versailles. This is what you see along the way.

It is down this road, Versailles’ Avenue de Paris, that Greg Lemond bolted on the final time trial of the 1989 Tour de France to beat France’s Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds. It’s also a good wide road to the countryside out of Paris.

Once you’ve sped through the park of the chateau de Versailles and climbed up through the town of St. Cyr l’Ecole, it’s good to catch this bike path—on the left side of the road as you exit town.

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