I’d known that I would need a full set of new tyres soon after arriving in France. Proper winter tyres are essential up here in the mountains. But I hadn’t expected to go through six of them.
I’d done the research before leaving Australia. The Peugeot 2008 grip edition we would be leasing comes with snow and mud tyres. And here lay the riddle: “When are snow-and-mud tyres not winter tyres?” The answer: “when you need as much cold weather traction as possible.” With a mechanical engineer dad to help me decode the research, I learned that snow and mud tyres are a hybrid between true winter tyres, with their high profile but faster wearing tread, and all season tyres that wear slower but slip when it’s cold. In the alpine temperatures we’re going to experience, I’d predicted we’d need the ultimate traction of a true winter tyre, and the locals had agreed.
So last Thursday, down we went to the Peugeot dealership at Saint Amarin. The very kind lady holding the fort that day listened to my story of our three month stay in Geishouse and immediately exclaimed:
“But such expense to buy four new tyres for just three months! I know someone who has a second-hand set, used just one season, who doesn’t need them this year. Let me see if they’re happy to sell.”
It had all worked out and we were booked in for tyre changeover the following Thursday.
Even with winter tyres, though, there are some mountain roads here you can’t drive on in winter. So I decided to take on one of these that weekend – the spectacular ridge-hugging Route des Crêtes. I’d spied a back road from Geishouse that would pop us out a little way along the route, saving us a backtrack along a road that was already becoming very familiar to us from our school route. So off we went, early in the morning, with the sun just slipping between the mountain line and a low bank of clouds.
The road was winding, as I’d known it would be. But it was also riddled with potholes. “Good thing we have an SUV,” I thought somewhat complacently. Then there was a bang. And a pop. I noticed the steering was becoming increasingly heavy and the car was no longer accelerating well. We limped the remaining 100m up the road to the auberge (mountain inn) that I had spied with relief when the reality rapidly dawned upon me. I got out of the car, and my suspicion was confirmed. The front right-hand tyre was completely flat.
I tried my phone. No reception. I went to the front door of the auberge and knocked. It was blowing a gale. Nothing. I walked away. Not yet panicked but with mounting concern.
It was 8am on a Saturday morning. There wasn’t a car on the road.
“Bonjour ?” A voice behind me. I turned. A friendly woman’s face. When I explained our situation, she immediately called for assistance from inside. Out come two men brandishing a sturdy jack. They whipped off the wheel, put the spare in its place, lugged the dead wheel back to the boot and then waved us off as if all they’d done was point the way.
We precariously made our way back down the mountain on our little “doughnut.” Whilst rejoicing at our luck at having been saved by guardian Alsaciens, I was also conscious our chances of finding a Peugeot garage open on a Saturday were going to be slim. My fears looked to be confirmed when the Peugeot centre in Thann was open for sales but not for service. I returned home feeling a little devastated. With our doughnut, I couldn’t go more than 80km per hour and I also wasn’t sure how safe we were driving up our windy mountain road. I called the Peugeot assistance number again. Luck! The helpful call centre person found us a Peugeot dealer in Mulhouse who was prepared to stay past his noon closing time if we could come right away
Quick! Everyone to the toilet, everyone shoes on, everyone out the door!
We trundled along as fast as our 80km/hour tyre would allow. Monsieur Hoff welcomed us with a smile as we pulled into his Peugeot garage and bushed off my effervescent thanks. He didn’t have the same tyre in stock, so he set us up with a pair of second-hand tyres he had lying around to see us through the weekend. He’d order our replacement tyre on Monday and it would be ready for him to install on Tuesday. I didn’t think I’d mention that we’d then we taking them all off again just two days later to have our winter tyres installed.
Within half an hour, we were back on the road again. I was so relieved to know that my children were now in a functioning car.
The next day, when we finally did do that Route des Crêtes drive, I thought I’d check to see how much tread the loaner tyres had. I squatted down and read the words on the side. A wry smile dawned. They were winter tyres.