Velo Paris

Like a French poem is life; being only perfect in structure when with the masculine rhymes mingled the feminine are. – H.W. Longfellow

Karen and I traveled to Paris the weekend of July 25th, to celebrate her 39th birthday, and our 26th wedding anniversary.  Yes, we have grown in age, and in our love for each other.  The weather was nearly perfect, the people were friendly, the hotel room quite small, bed hard and too short, the traffic noisy outside our room… We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

We arrived at the Paris-Nord train station after a several hour ride from Aachen to Paris on the Thayles high-speed train.

These trains are a marvel of engineering, gliding smoothly on dedicated precision rails.  Luggage goes in overhead storage, so don’t take too large a bag; I saw one frustrated traveler have leave an over-sized suitcase before being allowed to board.

The trains are much smoother than regular trains.  They have to be.  On good parts of the track they clock in at 300kph; that’s about 186mph, as measured by my bike GPS.  Definitely the fastest I’ve ever gone while still attached to the ground!

Rather than hitting the usual tourist sights, Karen and I enjoyed sitting in Park Monceau, strolling the Champs-Elysées, and enjoying meals in street-side bistros. Of course, I paid particular attention to the bike culture, as it is the focus of this blog.

The first thing you notice is how different the Paris cycling scene is compared to places like The Netherlands.  Unlike the countries to the north, I saw no bike paths, cyclotracks, or sharrows in Paris.  The few cyclist I did see had to summon a near suicidal courage to brave the Parisian traffic. Not much Cycle Chic here!  Before coming to Paris, I had this notion that European cycling culture was universally bike friendly, like the Netherlands.  This is definitely not the case.  Like America, cycling culture in Europe is as diverse as the countries and people that make up the EU.

The bike at left was secured with a hefty U lock, but to no avail.  Stripped to nothing but a frame and cranks, it serves as a warning to all, like a skull on a pike.  I saw other examples of vandalized bikes.  One had the front wheel removed, stomped into a pretzel, then left beside the rest of the bike.  Though friends here dismiss this kind of vandalism as “that’s Paris!”, it’s still kind of a shock after living near The Netherlands.  Like I say, not so different from some cities in America, unfortunately.

In keeping with the trend sweeping the western world, Paris has it’s own fleet of B-cycles.  Like those in Denver, Chicago, and London, the Paris VéliB is a network of 25,000 bikes and 1800 stations where you can rent and drop off a bike anywhere in the city.  The bikes feature clean design, with a front basket, fenders, internally geared hub shifting, enclosed chains, and urban-bike standard upright riding position on a unisex step-through frame.  The French version, as one would expect, has a stylized fairing to hide the cables.

I did see people using the rental bikes, but I have to say that, given the generally unsafe nature of Parisian streets, I seriously doubt the rate of usage will ever reach economic break-even.  That said, VéliB claims more than 80 million rides in three years of existence.  That works out to a little over 63,000 rides every day of the year!  No report on how many of those rides end in a collision with a motor vehicle…

While Parisians may be cool to bicycling, they are nuts about scooters!  The picture at left is representative of the observed ratio of 1 bike per 100 scooters.  The ratio of motorcycles to scooters maybe 5-10 per 100 scooters.  Living in Paris is expensive, and my guess is that many of its residents are attracted to the inherent low cost, ease of parking, and ability to navigate narrow streets of a scooter.

Many, maybe 50%, of the scooters have four-stroke engines.  The most luxurious of the breed is, of course, the BMW C1 at right (did not see any of the new hybrid C1s).  Protected from the elements and the occasional tip over, the BMW looks like a Smart Car cut down the middle.

Another popular choice is the three-wheeled Piaggio MPE, an articulating 3-wheeler that corners like a scooter, but does not tip over at a stop light.

The half of scooters are fast, yet obnoxious two-strokes, often with loud aftermarket mufflers.  These little buzz bombs race around like a swarm of angry hornets at all hours of the day and night.  Quite different from the usual serenade of songbirds that greet us every morning at our home away from home in Susterseel.  Nice as is Paris, glad were we to home return.

Look for a future post on the final stage of the 2010 Tour de France.  Yes, we were there!

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2 Comments

Filed under culture, urban bike

2 responses to “Velo Paris

  1. Pep

    “to celebrate her 39th birthday, and our 26th wedding anniversary”

    I love it.

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