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.