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Two Girls and Two Bikes in the City of Light!

Salut les Bike Commuters! Mir.I.Am is fresh off the jet from France and ready to report on the lovely life on two wheels from the City of Light – Paris.  I just spent several weeks in France (oui, oui, depending on your point of view, cue a “scowl of disgust” or “sigh of extreme jealousy,” dear readers).  Ever since investigating the bike share options in Paris and Bordeaux last year, I’ve been anxious to see Paris from a bike’s eye view.

From the Bike's Eye View in Paris

Two Girls – one with a Backache. My Parisienne friend was incapable of taking the Metro around the city.  Thanks to a chronic back injury, she was on intense medication with doctor’s orders claiming no standing on her feet for more than two minutes at a time. Walking was out of the question and the Velib bikes near her house were always checked out, since she lives on the top of a hill.  Lucky for us, the two bikes in her garage were the perfect option for two girls touring around the City of Light!  We packed up our locks, bags, and water for the road, and set off for a day of errands and sight-seeing rolled into one!

Marion on her B*Twin step through, with my pink bag in the basket.

Two M’s: Marion & Mir.I.Am. Just like Task Force Chicago, we played follow the leader, with Marion as the leader and me the tourist sheep on two wheels.  It’s so stress free to follow a seasoned local bike commuter when you’re brain is in vacation mode, no need to tape maps to handlebars or plan out routes!  A bike commuting tip from Marion: make sure to loop part of your bag over your handlebars if your bag is in the front basket since bags are easily snatched at red lights or while biking through slow traffic in Paris.

My Parisian ride was the silver "Le Super"

An atypical bike commute for me, I was without helmet (don’t judge), blessed with a slow-leaking back tire, riding a single speed (by default due to broken cables), with a busted built-in generator headlight, but hey – Le Super bike was $free.99 with legit street cred.  I mean, look at the thing!  I climbed aboard with enthusiasm and a smile, as we pedaled through Paris running errands with plenty of scenic architecture along the way like the Paris Opera.

Flowers in your back rack!

Everywhere you look, bikes in the street.

Strangely enough, I noticed that bike lanes and routes were often in the opposite direction of traffic on One-Way streets.  We navigated several roundabouts, green painted bike lanes, bike boxes, sandy paths in parks, and construction zones.  The two girls on two bikes snaked through the city, avoid congested boulevards in favor of smaller back alleys.  Marion explained to me that we give right of way to the traffic coming from the right (at least this is what I think she said in French), and that there were several laws we were breaking but she’s never been caught!  Welp, no time to ask questions, so we ride on and do as the locals do.  Off to run our errands: picking up some new duds for me and maybe some bling bling.

First errand - pick up a new outfit for me, just my size!

Off to the next destination!

Second errand, pick up my necklace from the jewelers...

Two hours of Biking = What an appetite! All smiles and a light sweat later, with errands under way… time for a tasty lunch in a car free zone at Rue Montorgueil!  Merci to Marion for taking me to another great local spot.  There were tons of bikes shackled up against the fences, and the pedestrian quarter was short but sweet.  Sunshine, cigarettes, and salad at a tiny table and chairs at an outdoor cafe was exactly what we needed to recharge.  Bon appetit, mes Bike Commuters.

Getting hungry after a few hours of running errands, off to find FOOD!

The best parking spots - for BIKES only in the pedestrian quarter!

Nom, nom. Salad time.

Two Bikes round up the Sites. We ended our day (a total of 6 hours of girly fun bike time) by taking the scenic route home, through Pere Lachaise Cemetery.  In all my visits to Paris, I had never been to this famous cemetary.  We rolled up to the automobile entry and were halted by the lady at the guardshack.  To our surprise, she told us it was interdit to bring bikes into the cemetary!  We expalined to her that we fully intended to walk our bikes through, as it is pretty steep, bumpy with cobble stones, and I was riding Le Super default single-speed.  But, there was no reasoning with the law, she said we would have to lock our velos outside the cemetery and walk around inside without them.  We left the auto entry and turned the corner, where we decided to sneak in via the pedestrian entry and carry our bikes up the staircase.  I went up first with Le Super to check for a guard, so Marion wouldn’t have to carry the B*Twin up the steps if we were going to get caught.  Lucky for us, a group of 30 middle schoolers were at the top of the staircase, creating a perfect diversion for us to sneak past…  Merveilleuses Marion and Mir.I.Am made it into Pere Lachaise!

Well worth the effort of sneaking in with our bikes!

The cemetery is enormous, like a mini-neighborhood

The Bike’s Eye View is the BEST Eye View of  Paris. So touring about Paris from the saddle of a junky old bike, I decided I liked what I saw.  Two girls playing follow the leader on two bikes in the City of Light was the best way to get around Paris in the summer.  Imagine all the things we would’ve missed in the Metro!  Imagine how sweaty we would be if we had to hoof it around the city instead.  It was so fast to get around by bike that it made the big city feel small.  Enjoy your summer, and enjoy your vacation commutes, Cycle Ladies and Gents!

A little Bike Love from France!

Bike Share in Fwance – “But I am Le Tired!”

Bonjour Bike Commuters!  Have I got a tasty post-Halloween PG treat for you.  Put down your slice o’ wonder bread and pick up your baguettes, because France is killing it on the bike share scene with these two amazing programs:  Velib in Paris and Vcub (V3) in Bordeaux.  I just returned from a jaunt in Europe and was swooned by the cities after stepping off the train and encountering bike share stations at every turn.  Both Velib and V3 are sponsored by the local governments and offer budget-friendly rates with plenty of stations around town that make renting the bikes a convenient and competitive option for commuting and running errands!  The heavy bikes have three speeds, fenders, front baskets, generator-powered lights, chainguard, kickstand, and a bell.  Similar programs are offered in the U.S. of Americans, like Hawaii’s own pilot project of B-Cycle in Kailua. 

Girl on Velib in Paris, courtesy of Lezarderose on Flickr

I couldn’t believe my four eyes as we power-walked the streets of Paris in a mad hunt for signs of the Da Vinci Code, the Velib bikes were EVERYWHERE!  It was a Velib Bike Zombie attack: there were more Velib bike commuters than Parisians on their personal bikes!  This article from the Scientific American (whose author was trolling the streets the same time we visited) gives a logical explanation: 

Vélib’ is utterly inescapable, which is what makes it work so well. Paris has 20,000 shared bikes at its 1,800 stands…spaced about 300 meters apart. The system’s density is so great that a novice does not need any help in finding bikes. Even without a map or a smartphone, my friend and I rarely failed to find a stand of gray cruisers standing at the ready, just by walking a few blocks while keeping an eye out for the glowing LEDs of the bike stands. 

Clever move, la France: bombard your citizens with bikes every 300 meters and there is no excuse not to try one! 

Fire Ze Missiles! Then have a bike.

In Bordeaux the V3 program rents their bikes for free for the first 30 minutes and charges 2 euros for each hour therafter.  A monthly or annual pre-paid subscription reduces the rate to 1 euro an hour.   And – hold on to your butts for this one, loud engrish Americans – the website actually encourages riders to switch bikes every half hour should they need it longer, in order to avoid paying for usage at all.  This puts my capitalist knickers in a twist, but hey, I’m down for some PG-rated V3 bike action.  Bike availability by station can be accessed via the web, and stations are paired with the brand-new bus and transit lines, so it’s easy to switch from bike to bus or bike to tram if needed.  And now for graphic indulgence: 

A cheeky V3 on a sunny Sunday in Bordeaux. Courtesy of Oncle Tom via Flickr.

In Paris, the Velib is only 1.70 euros for the whole day.  My French girlfriends rolled up to the bar on Velibs, and took them to the train station each day for their out-of-town work meetings.  Taking the Velib for a downhill ride is always a Parisian favorite, as the trucks cart them back up the hills and refill stations on a daily basis.  After seeing the popularity of this program in Paris, I am crossing fingers that B-Cycle in Hawaii explodes and takes over like weevils in my oatmeal… With a wimpy 12 bikes and two stations available in Kailua, the one-year pilot is targeted more at B&B tourists exploring Kailua Beach.  (Boo! sad face.)  See this article from the Honolulu Magazine for more deets.  Bike share lust abounded for me in the city of tongue-kissing and croissants! 

I said BRRRR!

Back in Bordeaux, to top it all off like a glass of champagne, I came across this mysterious bike habitat, closed on a Sunday: 

The window showcases piles of bikes... must be source of French Bike Zombie outbreak.

After a bazillionth of a second Google search, I used my high-school French translation skills to decipher that this is a bike library of sorts, sponsored by the City of Bordeaux.  The Maison du Velo’s slogan is:  Ici, le velo est roi, or “Here, the bike is king.”  (Double swoon!)  With 48 bikes to check out for free, an open shop, and classes on safety and maintenance, it is the ultimate stop for new Bordelais riders interested in bike commuting.  Riders must undergo safety training prior to receiving a bike and have the option to check out accessories, helmets, and even baby carts!  So jealous.  Imagine how easy it would be to convince your friends to ride bikes to work with you if there were free bikes available!  A surefire cure for the self-proclaimed members of broke phi broke – who’ve got no extra cash in this down economy to spring for a bike.  Sign me up for socialism and foie gras! 

And for you curious and scrutinous clever BikeCommuters readers, segregated bike lanes in Paris and Bordeaux.  J’adore!  The French bike-share riders don’t seem too keen on helmets, but I suppose you could always bring your own.  

From the Cycling is Good for You blog to you...

Anyone else tried out any bike share programs out there?