Down with the velib

Article published on May 22, 2008
Article published on May 22, 2008
If life in Paris suddenly starts to seem dull, there is always a way to spice it up with a near-death experience: a velib. When you take a look at the Parisian traffic and especially the chaotic roundabouts of Bastille or Arc de Triomphe, to hop on a bike and mix in with the motor runners is not the first thing to come up to your mind.
Nevertheless, one sunny day I tried my luck with the new Parisian city bikes. These velibs have been nerving the car drivers since July last year and seem to become more and more popular. They (comes from the words velo and liberté) weigh a good 25 kilos and do not particularly please the eye, apparently the choice of design was made to keep away the long fingered and less honest fellow citizens.

No pain, no gain

Velib is certainly not for the nervous, it takes you all the courage and the cool headedness to dive into the traffic among the unpredictable Frenchmen. Cars are actually not that much of a problem since Parisian roads are only wide enough for one car on both sides. This leaves a good metre for a biker to explore, IF there weren’t the motorcyclists.

Roadies, the motorcyclists, are a special type of nutcases who think they enjoy the same status as everyone else on two tyres since they are just as small and mobile. Note: Mobile with a motor that makes all the difference. Compared to these roaring monsters you feel you are sitting on an eggshell that will crack even with the smallest push. These buffalos neither have sense nor soul, they will brutally cut in front and when the red turns to yellow, they will speed up and shoot all the way till the next red just to leave you choking with their exhaust fumes.

Motorcyclists are not the only thing to watch out, also the Parisians en pied cause certain problems. The unwritten rule in Paris is that you cross the street wherever you like and by no means should you look if there are any vehicles coming. Of course the more suddenly and unpredictably you do it, the better.

But it is worth it!

But velib is like a drug, once you have done it, you want more. You become addicted to the thrill of dodging the motor and human objects and to the challenge of staying focus with the multitude of traffic lights and signs of all sizes and colours. Compared to the extreme sport of velib riding even the toughest videogame seems like a child’s play.

Unfortunately, half of the time my athletic impulses are cut down because of technical problems; my credit card doesn’t work or I don’t get a receipt. Another problem is that velib addiction seems to have spread like a disease through out the whole Paris. So, if the sun is shining, you maybe certain not to find any bikes around, despite the 20 000 examples that are supposed to circulate around the city. But when you do find yourself on a bike, it is fantastic: you discover Paris in all its variety with a nice summer breeze sweeping your hair and life is beautiful.