The Pie Ride

After months of lockdown, easing restrictions are seeing many cyclists taking their tentative first steps back into the world of bikepacking. Sophie Gateau, a film director and photographer based in Paris, made the most of easing lockdown restrictions in France by riding the biggest circle possible around the city, in keeping with local restrictions.

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A cyclist heads toward a viaduct on a quiet road, with bikepacking bags on her bike and a camera over her shoulder


After two months of very strict confinement, on the evening of the 11th of May, our President announced that French people were now allowed to travel up to 100 kilometres from home – and for an indefinite period of time. After spending eight weeks locked in, with only 1 hour of outside exercise authorized per day and limited to 1 km at most from home, the announcement felt like a true relief.

With lockdown effectively over and all the events we were supposed to take part in this summer cancelled or postponed, we were craving an escape from the city and its’ anxiety-inducing character. We needed some nature and to spend time in the countryside. Riding our bikes, being together and enjoying the green surroundings felt irrevocably like true freedom.

On to the drawing table to decide how to make the most of our newfound freedom… or on to a digital route planning application, to be precise!

Geometrically speaking, the longest ride allowed within the 100 kilometres constraint is a circle with a 200-kilometre diameter. Applying the formula for the circumference of a circle (π*2*100 km + twists and turns), the mapped route was 765 km long.

I had only one other rule – I wanted to ride only on the smallest roads. After two months locked indoors in a suddenly silent city with no traffic at all, I was not willing to share the roads with multiple cars and trucks.

Cyclists on bikes covered in bikepacking equipment ride along a quiet road under a wide open sky

2πr; The Pie Ride

Our tour was called the ‘Pie Ride’, per its shape, but also as it may be the only food we would find – as all cafés and restaurants were still closed. Boulangeries and pizza delivery places, here we come! Croissants, sandwiches and calzones would be our fuel.

The landscapes are quite different on a 765km journey, even on a circular one. Over our adventure, we would pass through forests, fields, hills, cliffs, vineyards, plains, and plateaus. We took the train to Noyon, a small city located at 1 o’clock on our map-clock, the 7 of us, eager cyclists, wearing masks and social distancing.

The plan was to ride anti-clockwise and to wild camp, as we didn’t know what awaited us after two months of lockdown. The first quarter of the pie led us to Normandie, where we had our first outdoor pizza party. Everything was still closed, everybody was staying home, the streets were empty and we felt quite lonely and out of place eating our takeaway “nutritious” meal on those two benches in front of the tourist office of the largest town around: Forges-les-Eaux.

A group of cyclists meet at the start of their ride, maintaining social distance

Cyclists set up camp in the grounds of a church

Two of our teammates headed back to Paris while the rest of us found a bivouac spot. Two members of our remaining crew had never wild-camped while on a bike trip, so it was a perfect occasion to try, test and exchange some tips for future long-distance excursions.

Our campsite in a beautiful small village was perfect. Top ranking in the book of the best bivouacs places; a freshly mowed comfortable lawn located on the other side of the wall of a small cemetery (which means water for a quick sponge down and free refill on beverages). The locations of the second and third nights were quite different. It seems that after two months locked inside, I lost my skills to detect the best bivouac places.

On the second evening, only two of us were left. Cycling past the 8 o’clock position on our circle, we enjoyed the usual lonely pizza dinner on the stairs of the church of Illiers-Combray – the village where the writer Marcel Proust grew up – while we contemplated the local youngster riding his noisy motorbike in a circle. A much smaller one than ours.

We settled near a charming small river and set up a tiny one-person tarp to protect against the forecast rain, trying to squeeze in together as the frogs gave us a croaking night-concerto. I guess that’s life in the countryside!

A bike covered in bikepacking bags leans against a signpost at the side of an empty road

Two cyclists huddle under a single tarp in sleeping bags

The third time is supposed to be a charm, right? Well, the last bivouac started nicely as we settled outside a small empty building used by the local soccer club… Only to later discover it was used as a nocturnal meeting point for unofficial business, with cars stopping, doors being slammed and motors roaring all night long.

With not enough sleep, we set off for the last day of our circular journey. We rode the South-East section near Provins – a major city in the Middle-Ages, surrounded by hilly fields invaded by wildflowers to the North-East and the region of Champagne, a steep landform where grow the famous vines. We finished our journey as we started, taking our time, appreciating those places we usually never stopped by, rediscovering a large part of our country by connecting the dots, now being able to put images to regions we had heard of but had no idea what they looked like.

A single glance at the train timetables to Paris gave us no option other than to shorten our tour to be able to go home. The last 1/8 slice is missing; our pie metamorphosed into a Pac-Man.