Véloville!

velo, seine, notre dame
Here you are, with your trusty vélo.
All you need is the picnic part.

Ecoloville, Greenville and Rollerville Too

Paris:- Wednesday, 20. May 1998:- My main means of locomotion for about five or seven years was a bicycle, but that was a long time ago. I had a 'street bike' in Hamburg, where it is pretty flat, but I have never ridden a bike in Paris.

I have never forgotten what bike riding was like, because when I really did it, I almost lived on the bike. Bikes were speed. Walking was creeping. Then I became a teenager, and walked in the time between bike riding and having a car to ride in. Cars were faster and dryer than bikes, and quite a bit more comfortable. In those days, cars didn't cost as much as they do now.

A couple of years ago I got a new used-bike. It had only been ridden once, in winter mud, by the owner's son. He didn't bother cleaning it afterwards. It still has some of the same mud on it. It is a good bike; very nervous - good for the hills I have around here, and the trails in the forest. This is what it is for, in fact. It is not really a 'street bike.'

I am a 'street person' and I spend a lot of time on Paris streets. The stuff I do, doesn't allow me to mind a bike at the same time, and this is the same reason I don't use a car. When I am not in Paris, I have lots of other things to do, so I only ride my fairly new bike about three hours a year; in fifteen-minute sessions.

This makes me remember that I do not 'live on a bike' anymore. I regret this but this is the way it is. Meanwhile, in Paris, the cars are a plague. Although they move people around, they do not do it with much efficiency; and they are a nuisance and they cause a lot of pollution.

Paris is going 'green.' It gets a bit greener every year. A couple of years ago the city experimented with a couple of bike lanes on a couple of streets. These allowed Parisians to use bikes for commuting, with aparis a velo, bastille certain degree of safety. Since the first experimental bike lanes, these have grown into a network which totals over 100 kilometres.

The home of Paris à Vélo. Nomades is next door, to the left.

Basically, the existing routes are from east to west and north to south, with a left bank loop through Montparnasse. In the planning stage are three new routes - a right bank loop from Etoile to the quai de Loire, another from there to just beyond Nation, and a third that looks as if it follows the boulevards Maréchaux, all around Paris, just inside the péripherique.

There is some invention going on here, because some of the bike lanes are not on the street. They are adjacent to the sidewalk, and some of these are two-way affairs. Also, the lanes on some one-way streets, allow going against the direction of motorized traffic.

'La RATP aime le vélo parce qu'elle aime la ville qui va avec,' is a curious phrase from a new RATP brochure. I wonder if it means the RATP loves Amsterdam more than Paris? Probably just some over-imaginative copywriter. The service is called 'Roue Libre,' or 'Free Wheeling.'

The purpose of the brochure is to point out that the RATP is now renting bicycles at five locations in the city. Um, not quite all in the city. One place is near the RER station exit at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and another is at the carrefour des Cascades, just into the bois de Boulogne from the métro stop at Ranelagh. Another, in the east, 'almost out of town' location is at the porte Dorée, just beyond the museum there.

That leaves exactly two places inside Paris where the RATP rents bicycles. One is on the Champ de Mars, at the round place between the Tour Eiffel and the Ecole Militaire. The other is at the avenue Victoria side of the square Saint-Jacques, at the place du Châtelet. There are 60 bikes available in each location.

Last year a private firm got some good press with its slogan, 'Paris à Vélo C'est Sympa,' because it offered guided tours in addition to renting unguided bicycles. Their shop is locatedbike on ile st louis at Bastille, at 37. boulevard Bourdon, on the west side of the Arsenal basin.

I am supposed to be 'doing' marchés today but the weather is just too good for it, and I've switched the idea to picnics instead. You can get the ingredients for a picnic at a marché of course, and you can go to your picnic on a bike. So I am on foot and thinking about these two things.

If you can't chain the bike to something, keep more than your eye on it.

This takes me from Paris à Vélo at Bastille, along the quai Henri IV, over the pont de Sully, and along the rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, across the pont Saint-Louis to the Ile de la Cité and from there via the Petit Pont to the left bank, where I find another rental firm, 'Bike 'n Roller' in the rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre.

I am not sure the boss and his union employee are renting bikes or selling ice cream - because they have both. The beauty of this place is that it has a direct view of Notre Dame, so it is very close to the centre of things.

Both boss and union employee are temporarily absent when an Italian looks at the ice cream cooler. He leaves before they return and it might mean the loss of a profit for the day.

Three other gents come along and discover a portable heating radiator abandoned on the sidewalk. They examine it carefully, before carting it 15 metres to the entrance of the Hotel Esmeralda, which is next door to the bike shop.

When the boss comes back I tell him about the displaced radiator and when we look in the lobby of the hotel, it is sitting by the reception. Maybe it works? Maybe the three gents are expecting cooler temperatures? Castiron stuff left on the street, is usually waiting for the special garbagemen.

I have to call him 'the boss' because I forget to ask his name. He tells me that 'rollers' - as the inline skates are called - are getting more attention than bikes.

There is a shop called 'Nomades' next to Paris à Vélo at Bastille, which rents rollers, as does Bike 'n Rollers. I went into Nomades out of curiosity, because I thought I'd seen them at the Salon des Jeux - and saw some big guys putting on some really huge-looking rollers. I mean, they look like the monster ski boots, but with these wheels on them.

At the times of day when I am doing my excursions I do see a lot of bikes, both chained to railings and on the streets, but I do not see many people skating. But, from seeing the weekend demo list in Le Parisien, I know there is some sort of organized racing - or whatever they do - in the 13th arrondissement every weekend.

There are usually some kids doing rollers at La Défense when I go through there on Wednesdays; but right now some monster sports organization is going on there, building a huge something with has something to do with a 'manifestation sportive' which will be happening from Saturday, 8. June until Sunday, 12. July. That's all the sign says. Whatever it is, it has shut down the roller activity though.

While the greenies and the ecolos are trying to sign up members so they can make more leaflets promoting motorless locomotion, to lobby city hall to turn the city over to walkers, bikers and rollers - along come the European Day of the Bicycle - on Saturday, 6. June. Paris times for this are from 14:00 to 17:00, but I don't know where.

If you intend to take part in this, I suggest you reserve a bike or rollers, or a stroller, or get a new pair of shoes for it.

The cost of bike rental for a day is least with the RATP's Roue Libre program, and its rate is 70 francs. Paris à Vélo charges 80 francs for 9:00 to 19:00, or 105 francs for 24 hours. Bike 'n Rollerbike and roller charges 90 francs a day, and their 'days' are from 10:00 to 19:30, except on Sundays, when they are from 9:00 to 20:00.

The 'boss' in front of the world headquarters of 'Bike 'n Roller' in the Latin Quarter.

The rates for both the RATP's and Paris à Vélo's guided tours do not seem to be comparable, because they have differing programs and options. In general, the RATP seems to charge slightly less, and gives discounts to holders of the Orange Card. I have heard good things about the Paris à Vélo tours - they have evening trips, and their guides speak a total of seven languages.

The RATP has a lot of financial muscle to throw around here; and I wonder if they may not be getting close to unfair competition because they already have a monopoly on Paris public transport. Last week the RATP also launched a sightseeing tour-bus service - with public transport ticket-discounts - which is a direct competitor with private outfits that cannot offer these discounts.

With the rollers, the rates are also hard to compare. Bike 'n Roller has a daily rate of 75 francs and Nomades has a daily rate of 50 francs, plus ten more for the 'protection' gear, but Nomades' weekend rates are higher, while Bike 'n Roller may have no change.

The SNCF Gets Into the Act Too

Acting in concert with the city of Paris, the Ile-de-France section of the SNCF put out a brochure last year outlining its 20 bike-rental locations at its stations in and around Paris. I have enquired several times whether the plan will be repeated this year and have been assured it will be, so the following is a repeat of last year's information.

At the stations, the bikes on offer are either the VTT or VTC types - all-terrain or all-comfort. The rates seem to vary from 50 to 75 francs for a half-day, with 80 or 90 francs for a whole day. The bikes belong to regular bike-rental firms, so you don't have to worry about them being kept in condition by locomotive engineers. Also at the stations, the SNCF has made maps available for the locality, and these have been prepared by the IGN - the map people.

You should also note that taking a bike on a train is free; if say, youratp bike brochure rent one in Paris and want to ride around Fountainbleau for example. There are some rush-hour and other restrictions for taking bikes on RER trains, but otherwise it looks very handy. For long-distance trains, look for the 'bike' symbol in the timetable.

The RATP shares the cost of its brochure with the famous 'Hollywood' chewing gum.

The SNCF also has about 30 stations around France which rent bikes. Their daily rates are either 44 or 55 francs, with discounts for multiple-day rentals, starting from the third day. For these, a security-deposit of 1000 francs is required plus an identity paper. For the rental itself, you pay when you return the bike, and the SNCF accepts Visa, Master and Access cards.

Finally, you can reserve rental bikes. If you are in Paris, ask for the SNCF brochure 'Vélo Eté 1998 Location + Circuits.' It may be available any day now.

The Darned Deposit

A reminder: a security-deposit is usually required, plus a piece of paper with a name on it, for all rentals of anything.

The amount for bikes can vary widely - from Bike 'n Roller's 1000 franc deposit to Paris à Vélo's 2500 francs. Rollers are expensive too, and the deposit can climb up to the 1500 franc range.

The deposit works about the same way as it does for renting a car; you use a cheque or a piece of plastic. When you return the item, you get the deposit back.

Basically, the purpose of this information is to save you from bringing your own rollers or bicycle with you on a visit to Paris. And if you'd rather drive a car in any case, check out the latest offers for the new electric cars. If you take one, don't forget the map that shows where the Electricité de France's electro stations are located.

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