jeudi 29 mai 2008

Riding Bikes

Remember when you were a kid and discovered that riding your bike meant that you could see a whole lot more of your town than ever before? Suddenly, you could take your allowance and ride your bike to the nearest pizza parlor and order food in a restaurant like a real adult. Well, much the same thing happens here in Paris. Since the city is physically not very big, a bike can really take you places.

Of course, as with many things, the French don’t ride bikes the way Americans do.

In the US, when people ride their bikes, they put on helmets, athletic clothing, and are all geared out with water bottles, clip-on shoes, and bike repair kits. Here, riding a bike is just another mode of transport. And similar to how people in the US do all sorts of things in their cars, people here do all sorts of things on their bikes. I've seen people on their bikes:

(1) talk on the cell phone,
(2) write text messages,
(3) listen to their ipod,
(4) eat a sandwich or an ice cream,
(5) read a map,
(6) haul around large, bulky items, like paint buckets, potted flowers, and toys, and
(7) smoke a cigarette
(8) do two or more of the above at the same time

Here’s an example:

Although I’ve had the camera with me on many occasions, I rarely get to take the pictures of these daring riders, usually because I am on a bike myself. And unlike the French, I have a hard time riding a bike and doing something else at the same time.

The Velib system is amazing, too. Basically, 29 euros a year lets me use any a velib for ½ hour at a time without getting charged. It’s a great way to get to work, especially if you live on top of a big hill like we do, and only really care to ride downhill. Sadly, lots of people have this idea, and getting a bike in the mornings – especially on sunny days – is not always easy.

On the whole, though, I love riding my bike here in a way I didn’t in DC. I’m no longer afraid of cars, since most streets have bike lanes and cars generally know how to behave around cyclists. I no longer bemoan having to wear a hot, sweaty helmet, since I just don’t wear one. And I no longer worry about not being athletic enough to ride a bike, since it’s not really a sporty activity here. Basically, I feel like a kid on a bike, which feels as wonderfully freeing at the age of 34 as it did at the age of 12.

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