A Journey of a Lifetime Cycling Through Merced

Francois Hennebert is a bicyclist from France who takes his recreational activities seriously.  

 Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert is a long way from his native France, but he’s enjoying California and the western states as he travels from Mexico to Canada on his bicycle.  Photo: Steve Newvine

François has cycled all over the globe and is currently on a four-month, twenty-five hundred mile journey that started in Guadalupe, Mexico in March and is expected to end in Vancouver, British Columbia in July.

 François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

François enjoyed his repair pit stop at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

One way to get from Mexico to Canada is to cycle through the Golden State.    The trip has already taken him through the desert of Death Valley and to the high peaks at Yosemite National Park.

He encountered a tire and wheel problem while in Yosemite, so he sought out the help of a professional.

 Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Francois inspects the tire that was damaged on his bicycle.  His tire and wheel were fixed at Kevin’s Bikes in Merced and he was on his way after a couple of hours.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

His bicycle wear and tear problem led him to Kevin’s Bikes in the Save Mart Plaza at Olive and G Streets in Merced.

For the better part of an afternoon in the week before Memorial Day, Francois watched as the staff at Kevin’s Bikes repaired the wheel and got the bike back in tip-top shape.

The staff at Kevin’s Bikes understood the problem and knew immediately what needed to be done.  While the staff worked on the bike, Francois kept everyone entertained with his stories and his personality.

I would have missed the story entirely had I not run into an associate who was leaving the shop with his own repaired bike.  As he relayed the story to me, I was hooked. I went inside to meet Francois Hennebert.

 Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

Francois Hennebert estimates he has put over forty-five thousand miles on his bicycle.  His current trip from Mexico to Canada will add another twenty-five hundred miles, and probably many more miles as he takes various detours to see the western United States.  He’s shown here with Kevin from Kevin’s Bikes. Photo: Steve Newvine

He spoke hardly any English, but he was able to understand some of my questions.  He wrote his name on the paper I was using to make notes. He also provided a web address where he maintains a site dedicated to telling the stories of his worldwide bicycling adventures.

In 2008, Francois and a group of one-hundred people cycled from Paris to Beijing China.  That trip took one-hundred, forty days with all but twenty of those days spent on a bike seat.  

That trip is five-thousand, one-hundred miles (or eight-thousand, two-hundred kilometers).

In 2010, he bicycled in South America.  That trip started in Buena Aires, Argentina.  

Anyone who understands French can read about it at his website velo.hennebert.fz  

 Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Francois at the Great Wall of China during his 2008 trip with one-hundred other bicyclists that took them from Paris to Beijing.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

The Mexico to Canada trip has been a dream come true for Francois, who is seventy-two years old.  So far, he has seen the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Park.

During these trips, he tries not to bike every day.  If he’s on schedule, he’ll take time to enjoy the vistas, meet people, and rest.  

Usually, he camps in a small tent. He lives his bicycling life on the road with backpacks and saddlebags carrying all he needs.  He’s prepared for just about any emergency. A highway map is with him at all times.

  This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

 This is the luggage Francois carries with him on his bike as he travels all over the globe.  Photo: Steve Newvine.

Whether it was the universal language of bicyclists, or just the common decency of being a good neighbor, anyone who stopped in Kevin’s Bikes that spring afternoon enjoyed the company of Merced’s international visitor.  

Francois guesses that he’s put about seventy-three thousand kilometers (or forty-five thousand miles) on his bicycle.  

With all those miles, repairs are just part of what most cyclists expect as they put their bikes through some of the toughest tests imaginable.  

 This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

This is Francois’ bike loaded with his travel bags.  This picture was taken from a South American journey in 2010.  Photo: velo.hennebert.fz

Upon arrival later in the year in Vancouver, Francois will fly back to France and get to work on planning his next bicycling adventure.

“Thailand and Laos,” he told me when I finally phrased the question about his future travels in a way he could understand.   

And after a slight pause, and a smile, he was quick to add, “Maybe.”

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

His new book California Back Roads is available at Lulu.com