Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Tour de Paris

Hot and sticky and with aching muscles, the cyclist swings around the corner to the cheers of an elderly couple standing by the roadside. "C'est le maillot jaune! Vous avez gagné!" cheers the man. And I put on the brakes and stop for a bit of banter about doping and hairpin bends, because this is not actually the Tour de France, just me on a Vélib in the Bois de Vincennes.

As a Paris intra-muros newbie, I'm only just discovering the joy of the Vélib. You probably already know how the system works: pay 30 euros (for the year!) to add a subscription to your Navigo pass, and all you have to do is beep the card to borrow a bike from any of the numerous stations for free. The big problem, of course, is when the station doesn't have any bikes left, or even worse, when you have the bike already but there is no place to put it back. To solve that one, you also need one of the smartphone apps that tells you how many bikes and spaces are available at each station. I find the official one tends not to work very well, but Trouver un Vélib has been pretty reliable so far. (We are also lucky enough to have a station right outside the front door, so a quick look out of the window also works for me!)

I've never been a huge fan of cycling, but the Vélibs might just have converted me. They're heavy and only have three gears, 2 of which are so low as to be practically useless unless you're cycling up the Butte Montmartre, but I find them really comfortable to ride and I love the convenience of being able to just leave the bike at the nearest station and, if I want to, being able to take the metro home. I'm also impressed by the number of cycle lanes that have been added, many of which are completely separate from the road (which is just as well, because Vélibs don't come with helmets!).

More than anything, though, I love the fact that vélib-ing seems to bring out the best in people. As well as the chat with the couple in the forest the other day, someone stopped to help me out when I had trouble adjusting my saddle the other day, and when I've to other cyclists at the Vélib stations, they've always responded with a smile rather than the usual Parisian look of suspicion and mistrust.   It feels as good as winning the Tour de France itself.

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