After Valence we had a short cycle to Eurre, where one of the most exciting part of the tour was awaiting us: We were planning to join AlterTour for three days, a Biketour similar to ours that happens every year since 2008 in France. It is the first time (at least in the last couple of years) that we meet another organised Biketour on the way, and we were very excited to find out what they are doing and how they are different from us.
The first night we spent with them in l’Oasis de Serendip in Eurre, a collective living and farming project. AlterTour has a very fixed daily schedule, they cycle all together in the morning and then have a full programme in the afternoon. We joined them in the afternoon where they had lunch, an informational circle (“briefing”), a tour around the project, and help with some construction and farming work. In the evening, we cooked and ate together and there was a full programme of different artists performing some music. AlterTour itself are around 60 people, and on the same day apart from us, another branch of them of around 20 people and another Biketour that sings on the way of another 25 people joined, so in the end we were 4 Biketours together and more than 100 cyclists. Additionally, there were some groups of scouts staying in the place and local people joined for the concerts, so even more people were hanging out in the place.
On the second day, we cycled 10 kilometers together to Crest, where we visited the Au Tour Du Cycle collective bike workshop and then had lunch at a collective art space called l’Usine Vivante. After that we cycled 15 kilometers together to Saillans, where a presentation and discussion about the theory of a new geological age influenced by climate change called Anthropocene happened.
The next day was a rest day for AlterTour and we stayed with them camping on the communal stadium of Saillans. In the morning, there was a long presentation by the people of Saillans about how they managed to become the first self-managed village in France. Unhappy with the maire of the town and his plans to construct a huge shopping mall, the citizens self-organised and managed to win the elections with a group of people that would not make the decisions about the village on their own, but instead try to involve the whole village by having regular assemblies. They even set up an independent committee that would make sure that hierarchies in the village stay flat and not some people are taking over the power.
AlterTour continued to have some workshops and discussions during the day, and we used the time to have a rest, visit the town, swim in the river, and visit some waterfalls. In the afternoon we all gathered to have an exchange between the two Biketours. We split up into small groups that would talk about how we organise different topics on each tour, and then came back to present each others tours in the big circle.
The main differences between AlterTour and Ecotopia Biketour are:
- AlterTour has two support vehicles, one truck that carries the food, toilets, showers and luggage and one van that can carry people and has a trailer that can carry bikes. Most people cycle without luggage. People can join without a bike, because they have some spare bikes on the trailer. Since 2016, there is a separate branch of AlterTour called Echapée Belle, which sometimes cycles on the same route and sometimes on a separate one without support vehicles. On Ecotopia, we carry everything on bikes, and people who join need to either bring a bike or get one when they join.
- AlterTour has a very fixed schedule. Everyone cycles together, the distances are kept around 30 km per day and there is a full programme in the afternoon. Every 5 days, there is a rest day. There is a sleeping place organised for every night, and the whole route is fixed and tested in advance. On Ecotopia, some people mark the way early in the day and everyone can sleep as long as they want and cycle as slowly as they want. Distances are normally 50–70 km, so there is almost no time for a programme on cycling days. We wild-camp in between projects, but stay in projects for multiple days.
- AlterTour has a much bigger budget than Ecotopia. To join, you have to pay between 18 and 42 € per day, depending on your income, and if you join for more than 10 days, you have to play at least 32 € per day. They use the money to pay for the van, to pay the travel costs of around 10 organisers to visit around 12 physical meetings, to pay a half-time job of one coordinator all year round, to buy organic food from farms and organic shops for everyone, and sometimes to pay for sleeping places. On Ecotopia, the the recommended contribution is 3–5 € per day, but it is anonymous and not compulsory. We try to get as much food as possible for free (from the trash or by asking), don’t pay for sleeping places, don’t pay any coordinators, don’t have any cars, and have only 2 physical meetings.
- AlterTour is very inclusive for people of all ages and people who are very unfamiliar with the idea of travelling by bike. They have a special page about how to join AlterTour with children, people don’t need to carry their luggage, don’t even have to have an own bike, distances are short, and when people get tired, they can go with the van. The majority of participants don’t use a bicycle outside of the tour. Ecotopia on the other hand is more inclusive for people who have little or no money.
- AlterTour is an association and has to take legal responsibility for its actions. That’s why they follow the rules of traffic and helmets are obligatory for children below 12 years. On Ecotopia, everyone is legally responsible for themselves and it’s people’s own choices if they want to break the law.
- AlterTour always cycles in France, speaks French, and is thus very known in France. Sometimes they don’t have to ask projects if they can visit, but projects invite them to come. They are usually 60 people and set this number as a limit, so no people can join spontaneously. Ecotopia cycles in different countries every year and likes to cycle in countries that it hasn’t visited for a while, so is usually not so much known by the local population. In practice, usually 20–30 people are on the tour at the same time, and there is no fixed limit so people can join spontaneously. Ecotopia is multilingual, but in practice English is used as the common language most of the time.
The exchange with the AlterTour was made a bit difficult by the language barrier. All of their programme is in French, and many of them don’t speak English or are not comfortable with it. For most common activities we managed to organise translation for us, but in the daily life it was difficult to get to hang out together and get to know each other.
Nonetheless, it was very interesting to meet them. We got a different perspective, saw some things that we can improve about ourselves, and most importantly understood better what we are actually doing.
Toby & Dominique – “a pedal disscusion”
During the cycling day, spontaneously I (Toby) had the chance to talk with Dominique, an old lady from Bruxelles who already participated in few cycling tours in Belgium and Germany in the past, so she was so curious about how ecotopia works. During our discussion, we had the chance to share informations about the two biketours and find out that we will visit two projects, where they already visited, more than that Dominique gave us the contact of two others projects that we can visit on our way to Spain. Beside that we talk about the wellfare state policies from Romania and Belgium and I had the chance to practice my french vocabulary.