August in Paris

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On a recent trip to Paris I was pleased to see that more people now seem to be cycling than was the case a few years ago.

There are public hired bicycles (the famous Velib’), tour groups on bikes, commuters on bikes, bikes parked on top of bikes, hobos on bikes, artist installations on bikes, recumbents, “col de cygne” (swan-neck) town bicycles, foldable bicycles, hipsters on fixies, bikes being reclaimed by nature, bikes with motors (the humble Solex…), bikes with batteries, goods delivery bicycles, bicycle taxis, weekend racer carbon aero bicycles, fully suspended mountain bikes, supermarket bikes, expensive bikes, cheap bikes, old bikes, new bikes, nice bikes and not so nice bikes. Even some tandems too.

Now all of this is not new for Paris. There always were a fair amount of bicycles, and France has a huge cycling heritage, but there are definitely more cyclists now. I’m not sure what’s driving this, but guess it could be: a desire for a more sustainable lifestyle? fashion? fitness? economic austerity? a combination of the above?

Cycling infrastructure, however, does not seem to have developed much. Sure there’s a few “cycle lanes” painted on some roads (often contraflow to traffic – delivery van drivers love that on narrow lanes…), and some separated from road traffic (but shared with buses, taxis and some of the maddest scooter riders on earth), but there is very little provision for public (or private) cycle parking whatsoever. I did see a few more dedicated cycle lanes than previously, but there is quite a way to go before cyclists are safe and respected road users here. That said, many cities do not have the level of infrastructure provided here, and it is clearly not putting people off pedalling…

One other great event which is still running is the “Paris Rando Velo”. This is a group ride around central Paris, leaving from Place de l’Hôtel de Ville every Friday night from 10pm until midnight or so, organised by volunteers who come up with a different route each week.

While riding in Parisian traffic may be hair-raising for the unaccustomed, the volunteers provide a very effective cordon around the group, ensuring it is never troubled by scooters, drivers, pedestrians etc., and that no-one can get lost. Usually the arrival of the group is well noticed as (apart from consisting of a large number of bicycles…) it is always accompanied by a chap pulling a trailer with a light and sound system, usually playing eclectic things like Abba or Michael Jackson. My hat goes off to him for pulling heavy car batteries around Paris every Friday night! The pace is usually relatively slow, which makes the ride manageable for all. Also, there’s a pause halfway round, at which people might share a granola bar, or a cup of cognac. Most people ride their own bikes, but many use the rented Velibs. It is free to participate, and you can peel off at any time if tired.

I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to enjoy Paris in a different and quirky way, or discover bits of it you never knew. Riding across the Seine at sunset, in a bicycle convoy led by a man pulling a trailer blasting out Kylie Minogue is pretty unconventional, and will make for a good story. Check out their website: Paris Rando Velo

My friend and I opted to do our own little Paris tour this time. You can check it out here.

Paris is as charming and quirky as ever. Next time you visit, see it by bike!

PS. if you’d like to follow any of my rides, feel free to follow me on Strava.

Velib's by night

Velib’s by night

Bush or bicycle?

Bush or bicycle?

Nature reclaiming parked bikes

Nature reclaiming parked bikes

Another bike taxi

Another bike taxi

Bikes chained to bikes

Bikes chained to bikes

Covered bike taxi

Covered bike taxi

The Velib'

The Velib’

A full bike rack

A full bike rack

 

 

More full bike racks

More full bike racks

Tour des Trois 2014 (TD3-14)

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As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently came across an interesting event in Switzerland, the Tour des Trois.

In a nutshell, the principle is to gather a group of cyclists, with a passion for vintage bicycles, and riding, and ride together through three countries, in a single day, in a matching historical cycling outfit.

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The ride covers c.130kms and 1,900m total elevation, with one long, steep climb of 400m close to the start, at Gempen in Switzerland. The ride begins in Leymen, France in Alsace (Haut Rhin), proceeds east into Switzerland into the canton of Solothurn, swings north through canton Basel, across the Rhine into Germany (Baden-Württemburg), before crossing the Rhine again back into Alsace, and looping south back to Leymen.
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For my part, I had never done such a long group ride before, or put so many kms on any of my old bikes, nor strained them with any heavy climbs, so was unsure as to whether it would be possible without mishap. But to spoil the plot early on…. It is entirely possible, and everyone of the 50 or so riders finished with beaming smiles and nothing worse than a few punctures.

I had intended to complete the ride with my 70s Mercier (which has not yet featured on the blog), but the combination of heavy forecast rain, weak Mafac brakes, steep descents, tubular tyres and a high proportion of unsurfaced gravel track on the route pushed me to make a last minute switch to my more modern (yet still “vintage”) bike, the Fuji Del Rey (1983). 2014-06-29 06.36.26

The weather forecast up to a week before the ride was for constant rain and thunderstorms all day, and the forecast worsened the closer the day came. The night before the ride, after some last minute preparations to the Fuji, I could hear the rain lashing down and could only imagine what it might be like to ride 130kms in constant rain, with or without a rain jacket, in 15°C… (esp. after being used to riding for the last 3 years in Singapore between 28-32°C!).

Weather-wise, the day went like this: Got up fairly early (rain), drove to Basel (in the rain), got out of the car (rain stopped…), sun shone more or less all day, finished the ride, drank a beer, said goodbyes, got in the car (rain restarted immediately…). The timing of the weather was so freakishly perfect, literally to the minute, that I’m not sure who bribed the clouds but am eternally grateful for it!

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While the Fuji had better brakes, better derailleurs, better shifters, better tyres, and a generally more modern, comfortable and planted feel than the Mercier, it also happens to have much higher gearing (to which I hadn’t previously paid any attention… not sure if the freewheel/cassette is original). As a result, the ride up to Gempen was a punishing slog, and I’m not entirely sure how I did it. But I did! This gearing would also explain why I had previously struggled to make much progress with the Fuji in the Alps. I am pleased to now be able to blame my corncob freewheel for my poor climbing instead of my weak thigh muscles =), and from now on will pay more attention to counting teeth…

The Fuji was one of the least glamorous bikes of the day, and there was a fantastic display of bicycles from 1953 onwards. Italian, French, Austrian, German, Swiss and British bikes were all ridden, mostly steel, but some nice early lugged aluminium frames too (e.g. Alan). IMG_1194 IMG_1079

The best thing for me was to see such beautiful bikes being ridden. Properly ridden. Not just on roads, but through mud, tree roots and over gravel, through puddles, pot-holes and up big hills, even though most of them have tubular tyres.

It is a real pleasure to see museum pieces being used, not just kept for show like china dolls, by individuals who both appreciate their beauty, engineering and historical significance, but aren’t afraid to get them muddy, risk a crash or a failed and difficult to replace component.

The TD3 is organised by a great team of guys, mostly based in the Basel area, and has now run for 7 years or so. Flash provides friendly tech support, and takes some great photos, in his fantastic red VW combi van. Many of the pics in this post are his, and you can see much more interesting information about Hetchins bikes on his great website. There are a number of pitstops around the route for food/coffee/fruit/granola bars etc., and the event manages to be casual, yet very well organised in a seemingly effortless manner (which hides significant preparations on behalf of Stefan and his team).

The ride is open to all, subject to application, and using a pre ’85 bike with matching outfit, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Many of the participants travelled from far afield to join the ride, e.g. from Berlin, or Austria, so while the number of participants is relatively small, it’s a dedicated and friendly group of guys.

Check out the TD3 website for application opening for the TD3 15. I hope to meet you there. With a nicer bike than mine.

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Tour des Trois

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At the end of the month I’m participating in a historical bike ride of c.130km through France, Switzerland and Germany (tour des trois).

I plan to ride my late 70s/early 80s Mercier (which has not been featured on the blog before! Though it has made a guest appearance in the blog logo…..) with tubular tyres and all French components. A restoration post will follow shortly!

130km is a long ride by any standards, let alone on a 40 year old bike. Wish me luck! I’m not sure which will fail first, me or the bike… Here’s hoping I finish.

Also, while participants are to ride pre ’85 bikes, they must also be dressed in vintage (or replica vintage) cycling gear. I’ve got the bike, but didn’t have the clothing!

Thankfully ebay came to the rescue. I not only found a vintage cycling top, but one from a cycling club in the very city where I grew up, Newcastle upon Tyne! This seems to be from the Tyne Electric CC cycling club. Anyone know anything about it or a bit about the club?

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I also found and old pair of cycling gloves from when I was a teenager. They’re horribly coloured so should be suitable as early 1980s…! However, they seem to have mud on them.

Possibly a stupid question, but does anyone know the best way to clean them? Just pop them in the machine on a gentle wash??

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First ride in Switzerland

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So we moved from Singapore to Switzerland. Gone are the early morning bike rides in hot darkness and the occasional monitor lizard and macaque. In exchange we have fresh (cold!) air, wine terraces, snow capped mountains and sunshine!

This is also the first time I’ve tried Strava, so I’ll share my first ride below. My cycle computer broke some time ago so it’s interesting to see the distance travelled and average speed. I did wonder if not seeing my speed would result in a gradual slowdown, but I guess not?

A poor photo of the Lemond in its new surroundings too. It survived the trip via Turkish Airlines!

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Lemond Chambery (2005)

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Ok, it’s not a vintage bike, (yet) and it doesn’t need restoring, but I love it anyway!

This is my weekend ride in Singapore. You don’t see many like it out here. I’ve only seen another 3 in the last 2 years.

In fact, I like it so much that I’m taking it back to Europe with me!

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(I know… photos aren’t great, sorry…)