Cycling has become very trendy also in Paris, and I’m proud to have acquired my first Parisian bike over ten years ago – a rusty second hand Peugeot (as seen on Google Street View!) to survive during a long public transports strike. I still remember the lock costing nearly as much as the bike itself – a worthy investment since nobody’s stolen it.
Why is everyone so keen on cycling then?
Besides the rapturous feeling of freedom when passing all the traffic jams with a wide smile on your face, no need to worry about finding a parking lot or about the Paris tube strikes. A dream come true: keeping fit while saving the planet!
In our family, no question of vacations without bikes: in Finland there’s a gorgeous new bicycle path right in front of our house and going all the way to the Päijänne national park, and despite the exceptional heatwave, this summer was no exception for riding our local devices.
Our next destination was La Rochelle; a picturesque city north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic seaside that can boast about being a true pioneer in the bicycle sharing system. They introduced the famous free yellow bikes Yélo (vélo, meaning bicycle + yellow) back in 1976 along with other programs to reduce carbon footprint and traffic within the city. Compared to cycling in Paris where drivers are aggressive and constantly in a hurry, it’s a pleasure to stroll in the old town without fearing for one’s health.
Our favourite spot is the island just opposite to the city, Ile de Ré. A very expensive bridge toll for cars and the green consciousness pushes more and more people to do like us and to cycle over the bridge.
The island is a paradise for bicycles and competes with Holland with inventive installations for trailing along the kids. Sometimes there are even traffic jams on the cycling tracks!
Paris has also had its bicycle sharing system called Vélib since July 2007 ; a portmanteau word blending vélo + liberté (bicycle + freedom). Having my very own bicycle I must admit I snobbed them a little and only tried out one this summer with some cheerful colleagues on our way to the Finnish restaurant of Paris, Les Mille Lacs. It turned out to be very solid and easy to use, however a little heavy. Subscribing took a bit of guidance to get the codes and everything right, but it’s always interesting to see how the other half of Parisian cyclists feel like. Now I know why they pedal like crazy: there are only three gears.
The positive side of having more and more bicycles in the streets of the city is that cars can no longer ignore us. Faced to half a dozen bikes at every red light, drivers have to pay attention and they tend to be more conscious of the fragile elements amongst the traffic – often faster than the cars. The downside being that even the bicycle paths get jammed, and between hesitant beginners doing dangerous things and unconscious stuntmen ruining the reputation of all cyclists there are days I wish there weren’t so many bikes around. Especially when there’s no place left to attach my bike…
The last stop this summer was Les Landes, further down on the Atlantic seaside towards the Basque country. Not only a surfers’ paradise, the area is known for its bicycle paths and bike rental boutiques are just as common as boulangeries and surf shops.
So France may still be far behind the Netherlands and the Nordic countries in terms of bicycle culture, but they are certainly catching up fast!
Written by Maurelita. Maurelita is Skimbaco European Lifestyle Expert and a Bicycle Reporter in Paris, she is a Finnish redhead living in Paris with two kids and a French gentleman biker husband. Maurelita started blogging in Finnish in 2004 and soon got happed into writing bilingual blog posts also in French about education, social media, going out in Paris, sustainability and shopping… and now she is sharing her travels and life in Europe with Skimbaco readers.