I forgot to mention this, and seeing as how there’s a NYT story about it today, I guess I should.
My old editor Carolyn chimed in a few posts back and recommended a particular bike tour, and the next-to-last night we were in Paris, we decided to give it a try, signing up for the night ride. Nights are arriving earlier, and it sounded cool, seeing the city of lights when they were turned on. We’d start at the company’s offices near the Eiffel Tower, cruise here and there, get ice cream on the Ile St. Louis, pull off for a one-hour boat tour and then ride back to the offices by 10:15 p.m. or so. A three (and a half) hour tour, a three-hour toooour.
And it was fine, although man — it was a hair-raiser for part of it.
As we were assembling for the heading-out briefing, the guide asked if anyone had experience with group rides. I raised my hand, expecting to be one of eight or so. But I was the only hand raised. So all of a sudden, I was made the sweep, i.e., the person who rides at the back of the pack and makes sure no one gets left behind. OK, no biggie, I can handle that. However, I quickly realized, our party included a couple of older women, who’d been talked into this by the daughter of one, who was middle-aged herself. The least-experienced of the two admitted she hadn’t been on a bike in years. She didn’t understand gears. She didn’t understand hand brakes. “How do I stop this thing,” she trilled as we headed to our first turn. Hoo-boy this will be fun, I thought.
But they don’t say “it’s like riding a bike” for nothing, and Gail was a gamer. She did fine, once she figured out the brakes. I advised her to stick closer to the curb side of the bike lane (she wobbled left) and to keep her foot on the raised pedal at stops, the better to push off easily. We were following hand signals from the guide, indicating single-file, double-file or “domination,” i.e. a tight pack to assert our right to be wherever we were. (Inexperienced cyclists sometimes don’t understand that you’re safer when you claim the lane, so to speak. That’s what domination is all about.)
Anyhoo, we hadn’t gone far when we joined a bike lane along the Seine, well past what I’d consider rush hour, absolutely packed but still moving. And because of the different aims of all the two-wheelers there, it was like driving in, oh, Miami, maybe, where Dave Barry once observed the great South Florida melting pot of drivers each follows the laws of the country they immigrated from. There were cycling commuters. There were cycling tourists. There were Uber Eats riders hellbent for the next fare, and all the similar services. There was a messenger on a Euro-style cargo bike, so tatted and muscled he looked like a member of another species. There were pedicabs. And there were those fucking electric scooters, just to put the turd olive on the shit sandwich. It was utter madness, with buses and cars gridlocked on the quai road and the bike lane moving like anarchy. I saw the fall before it happened, as Gail put her leg out to push away from a bollard and went down in slow motion.
But she was fine! She scrambled up, at least as quickly as a Minnesota senior lady who hasn’t ridden in years can, and remounted. Our peloton of 15 or so stopped far ahead for us to catch up. By this point all I could think was lord give me strength, but She did, and we finally made it to the Ile for our ice cream. The guide confessed he had excised the Louvre courtyard stop, due to the bike-lane insanity. Apparently the 2015 terror trial is going on now, and the commute is even more fraught than usual. But inexperienced riders in the mix was like putting a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit on the Dan Ryan Expressway not precisely at rush hour, but close enough to it that traffic gets the way it gets – bumper-to-bumper at 70 miles per hour and you just best keep your shit together.
The NYT story is about how (allegedly) the French spirit of liberté precludes Parisian riders from following rules:
Probably the biggest challenge, though, is that Paris doesn’t yet have an ingrained cycling culture.
In Paris, parts of the 1,000-kilometer citywide cycling network (about 620 miles) can steer bikers into hazardous interactions with cars, pedestrians and other cyclists. At the Bastille, a once-enormous traffic circle that was partly appropriated from cars, a tangle of bike lanes weave through traffic. Cyclists who respect signals can take up to four minutes to cross.
“Paris has the right ideas and they’re absolutely the main city to watch on the planet, because no one is near them for their general urban transformation visions,” said Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Copenhagen-based urban designer who advises cities on integrating cycling into urban transport.
Hmm, I dunno. Funny how drivers aren’t really mentioned in this piece. And I don’t speak French, so I’m wary of making too many assumptions, but while we were riding I heard a single cyclist shouting in what sounded like very angry French at a pedicab conveying a tourist couple in the bike lane. The pedicab was electric-assisted, and nearly as wide as a Smart car, which made its presence on a stretch of pavement reserved for cyclists problematic.
It all turned out well in the end. We got our ice cream, we had our boat ride, we opened a few bottles along the way, the guide told us about Academie Francaise, where scholars gather to decide all matters pertaining to the language. Make a note of it: “Covid” is a masculine noun. And our boat passed one of those river cruise vessels, and we caught a glimpse of one man sitting up in bed, in his PJs.
Our final stop was the Eiffel Tower, lit up and glorious. “Just a three-minute ride to the end,” the guide called as we pushed off from there. At the final turn, Gail’s friend, as old as she was, wobbled and tipped over, too. But like Gail, she popped up and said it was all her fault.
For my service as sweeper, I was awarded a T-shirt. I think I earned it. And I hope your Thursday was as much fun.
My view, heading out:
Was it worth it? Oh yeah: