Biking in Paris
Here’s the thing about riding a bicycle in new places: it’s like learning how to ride a bike all over again. No matter how used to the bicycle you are – at home in Portland I don’t even own a car – discovering a new city on two wheels makes you fall in love with cycling all over again. It’s a challenge. Navigating streets you have never walked down before, learning the ins and outs of local bike culture, figuring out how traffic works. There’s a flow to cycling, and each city has its own variation.
Paris is no different, and a few days into taking the metro I knew that underground transportation wasn’t going to be a sustainable option for me. Cram yourself into a few too many metro cars during rush hour traffic and you’ll be sprinting for an above ground office as well. Biking is a welcome solution.
Fortunately, Paris is equipped with the Vélib system, a well designed, and much talked about, bike-share system that boasts over 20,000 bikes around the city. Launched in 2007, the Paris Vélib system is the largest bike-share system in the world, used by tourists and locals alike.
Admittedly, I was slightly nervous and a little scared, so my first foray into the world of Vélib was with a friend.
“Just make sure you tell me where to turn!” The worst part about biking in a new city is your lack of navigation skills. I trust my ability to keep an eye out for cars and scooters, but trying to identify the names on the blue signs on the corner of every old Parisian building is something else entirely.
But then it occurred to me: cycling, much like traveling in general, is about giving up control. Accepting the fact that you will get lost, and that that’s OK. In fact, there is beauty in those moments when you find yourself in a place you hadn’t planned on being, and there’s a pure sense of accomplishment when you miraculously end up at your final destination with no help but from anyone other than yourself.
So I went alone, mapping out my route before I left, but remaining open to a bit of serendipity. Those first few pedals were freeing. I have been cycling since before I can remember, but this was different – a new feeling. I was learning how to ride all over again, and the thrill of it was impressive.