Bonjour mes petits, and welcome back for another French Friday! In honor of Le Tour de France, I’m devoting this week’s post to le velo (the bicycle). Let me start by saying, if you’ll be in Paris this Sunday, do yourself a favor and see the finale of Le Tour de France. The world’s most prestigious bike race is quite a spectacle (complete with a parade, before the riders arrive on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees for the big finish, featuring novelty sized shopping carts). It’s a unique piece of French culture, a fascinating, now international competition that has been going strong for decades, and it’s free.
Now unless you’re a rabid cycling fan you probably don’t want to set up camp on the Champs-Elysees at 10 AM (and good luck finding a bathroom if you do go that early – believe me, everyone else is thinking of heading for McDonald’s and Quick) in anticipation of the 4-ish arrival of the peloton. So … enjoy your day, keeping an eye on the overhead boards in the metro stations that will advise you which stops are ferme (closed), then head for the Tuileries gardens mid-afternoon. There is plenty of decent viewing to be had, since the pack passes along the rue de Rivoli before it heads up the Champs for the finish. Or go to the avenue, and take your chances – since the peloton makes multiple runs along the road, the crowd thins out after the pack has made four or five trips up the street.
But what if you don’t care about watching others bike, and you’re more interested in taking to two wheels yourself? You’ve heard about the thousands of taupe bicycles that can be found throughout the city as part of Paris Velib, where you can rent a bike for a fee and return it to any Velib stand. You envision yourself whizzing past the monuments, your scarf flying behind you a la Isadora Duncan.
Really? I know people are going to disagree with me, but like the slogan commands, “just say no”. If I had a euro for every horror story I’ve heard about what happens when fast cars, narrow roads, and big bikes attempt to co-exist…. Put it this way: would you let your child bike around Manhattan at mid-day on a Monday? Why is Paris any different? Do yourself a favor, and take the metro or the bus, or, better yet, walk.
Except on Sunday, when wharf-side roads on the right bank are closed so that those on two wheels (be they scooter, skate, or bike) can enjoy a traffic-free ride. That is the only time and place I’d advocate riding a bike in Paris.
So what do you think? Have you/would you rent a bike while on a city vacation? Do you know of another novel mode of transportation for sightseeing?