14 May 2008
Joie de Vivre Avec Vélo Libre
Riding Vélib bikes - shouldn't we just call it Vélib'ing? - around Paris is a breeze. I'm sure that to some the above photo, however, looks a trifle perilous.
Not to worry, though. Busses in Paris have frequent stops so you can usually stay
ahead of them. If you find yourself next to one at a light, they provide ample room for cyclists and, most importantly, they know the cyclists are there. Wifealiciousness and I were overtaken by busses a few times, but they drove slowly and gave us a wide berth.
Taxis in Paris use the bus/bike lanes, too, but even on speedier stretches along the Seine or Rue du Rivoli, taxis slow when overtaking bikes. Brilliant.
There is a sincere sense of 'joie de vivre' present in Paris these days, thanks to the bicycles. The system itself is so easy to use and the massive number of bike racks means that you're always within spitting distance of a Vélib. As the map below shows, Vélibs are widely available :-)
One thing that we noticed was that with the Vélib you get to see parts of Paris you would normally zip past on a Metro deep underground.
One evening we rode up to Sacre Coeur. It's a long climb up the mountain, especially the last stretch, with all the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix combined with a Haute Categorie climb in the Pyranees. The Vélib bikes have three gears, like most normal bikes in European cities, and while getting up the mountain required a bit of muscle, it was no problem. The real hell was all the tourists up at Sacre Coeur, but we were the only ones on Vélibs, which was quite cool.
We didn't fancy running the gauntlet of tourists to get back down so we merely followed the road that cars take, down the backside of the mountain. We realised that neither of us had ever been on the other side. Who has? Millions of tourists climb up the front and back down again, like so many camera-toting Dukes of York. We discovered a hidden corner of Paris that we would never have visited without the Vélib.
The whole time we rode down streets we've never seen before, discovered cool shops previously unknown to us and generally experienced a whole new Paris.
Joie de vivre, indeed.