Roger Dungan is a Kiwi living and working in Paris, who writes about his experiences cycling on the roads of France at his blog Thousandth Fastest. We’re delighted to share his most recent blog post, on the surprising joys of city biking…. 

Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, with a twist (image via Spinlister)
Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, with a twist (image via Spinlister)

We need a cycling revolution.

A gentle one, not an angry one. But a revolution nonetheless.

There’s a limit to how interesting my tales of my half-arsed cycling efforts can be. Even for me. So I’ll be saying a bit about some other things from time to time as well.  This is one of those times. This is still bike related (the maxim ‘write what you know’ still applies), but it’s not about how I’m not going to be the thousandth-fastest all time rider up the Alpe d’Huez.

Despite all my trash-talk about bike racing, most of the riding that I do these days is commuting. When we were living back in New Zealand, my morning commute was a handy 25km jaunt around Wellington Harbour – well worth strapping on the lycra and giving it a crack. It was fun, scenic, and allowed me to pretend that I was still a ‘real’ cyclist, and treat my commute as training. It was never clear what I was ‘training’ for, but I was living the dream.

These days, though, it’s all about the Vélib’; Paris’ city-wide bike share scheme. I’ll probably say more about that and how great it is another time. But I use it a lot: to get to and from work meetings, to run errands, and to get home safe and sound at the end of the day. I wouldn’t want to over-sell its impact, but it has made a big difference to the way I feel about Paris, and how I get around town. It’s also gotten me thinking.

KirstenParistramvelib
A la mode, all the modes! Parisian tram passing a Velib’ station (Image: Kirsten Shouler)

Paris doesn’t have a reputation as a particularly bike-friendly city, and most people would say you’d take to the roads on two wheels with a bit of a death wish. But it’s not as bad as that, and there’s a general tolerance for bikes and cyclists that is refreshing to someone like me who’s used to city biking in NZ. As a result, cycling seems to be a ‘normal’ part of the city’s transport infrastructure, and is one that the city is pushing hard.

I see a wide range of people biking to and fro on my ride to work. No-one’s wearing lycra or more ‘traditional’ bike kit, and people are choosing to ride to work or study. There are a good number of suit-wearing professionals, and people are schlepping all manner of shopping and luggage around the city. Heaps of people are riding e-bikes, and only maybe 10% of people are wearing helmets or hi-viz vests.

They’re clearly going about whatever it is they’re doing on the day without too much regard for going fast (although even then, most of them are quicker than me…). They’re using a variety of biking infrastructure, from completely separate bike lanes, lanes with a bit of physical separation, and painted lanes that seem to fade in and out pretty randomly.

Velib Cycle Hire Scheme
A glimpse of the increasing variety in Paris’s bike style… (image: Kirsten Shouler)

And this gets to the ‘revolution’. We need to see cycling as less about recreation, and more about transport: less about the lycra, more about the schlepping.

That’s a subtle but important shift which, when I see it written down, feels a bit like stating the obvious. But it’s something we need to keep reminding ourselves of.  My focus has, for most of the time I’ve been riding, has squarely been on the ‘recreation’.  Commuting has been an opportunity to keep my fitness up so that the few and far between weekend rides aren’t such a slog. But here, it’s more about enjoying the fact that I can get to work by bike cheaply, safely, and more quickly than the other public transport options that are in the mix.  And I don’t need to change my pants to do it.  That’s a refreshing change.  It’s now less about getting around quickly, and more about getting around easily.

Paris_Love&Bike
Always time to stop and greet a friend. (Image: Kirsten Shouler)

I don’t know what that feels like such a revolutionary shift for me, but it is. And I can see that that sort of change in thinking needs to be felt more widely.

I think that most transport planners get it, but a lot of the rest of us don’t really. Proposals for cycling infrastructure in NZ cities get a surprising amount of negative reaction, and it seems always to spark comments that have an element of batting back annoying swarms of lycra-clad weekend warriors like me.

But a revolutionary shift that focusses more on riding from A to B safely and conveniently, and encouraging more people of all types to do so, is what’s needed.  It needs to allow for a range of transport modes, so the weekend warriors need to be as much a part of the mix as the suit-wearing professional.

I don’t have the answer to how we achieve that. But if there’s a gentle revolution on the cards, sign me up.

–Roger Dungan, ThousandthFastest.wordpress.com 

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