Cycling in France (Dave B.)



Chers amis,

C’est certain. J’ai de la chance. Apres 23 ans,J’ai eu l’occasion de rentrer à la France. Je dit “rentrer” parce que J’ai passé un an à Aix-en-Provence entre 1989 et 1990 quand J’était étudiant à l’Institute d’Etudes Politiques. En mars, cependant, j’ai voyagé avec un group d’élèves pendant deux semaines. On a commencé le tour à Paris pendant cinq jours et puis on est descendu à Avignon pour un peu plus q’une semaine. Sans doute, on a visité tous les monuments, on a mangé beaucoup de la nourriture française et on a, simplement, essayé de participer dans la vie française.

Par maintenant, vous savez bien que j’aime faire la bicyclete ici à Appleton. J’utilise mon vélo pour aller au travail, au magasin et pour faire des petits tours pendant le weekend. Il était évident en France que la plupart des français acceptent les vélos et on ne voit pas la tension entre les voitures et les vélos. A Paris et Avignon par example, ils ont crée une systeme où les cyclistes peuvent aller presque n’importe où sans difficulté. Comme on voit à Madison et des autres plus grandes villes, on peut louer un vélo avec une carte de crédit. C’est simple et efficace. Alors, J’ai loué un vélo à Avignon et J’ai fait un tour de la ville. Nous avons traversé l’Rhône par bateau et puis nous sommes montés à Fort Saint-André pour l’aprés midi. C’etait très amusant. Puis, après tout cela, Je suis rentré au centre ville où J’ai laissé mon vélo à la station de location de vélo et Je suis arreté pour le déjeuner avec quel ques amis et puis on a fait un peu du shopping. C’était un jour très, très agréable.

Dear friends,

As many of you may know, I had a wonderful opportunity to return to France this spring 23 years after having lived in Aix-en-Provence as a student at the Institute d’Etudes Politiques. I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to do this and I will cherish the memories for a long time to come. As a part time bike commuter and recreational rider, I was struck by the extensive bike related infrastructure and the amount of cycling found throughout France.
As Americans we may associate France with the Tour de France, but it is safe to say, cycling in France is as diverse as its “gastronomie.”

Upon arriving in Paris, it became clear that the Parisians have developed an extensive system of bike routes and lanes that allow cyclists to travel throughout the city feeling safe and confident. In many parts of the city, cyclists have clearly marked and well defined lanes and pedestrians enjoy wide sidewalks as well. Just two blocks from the Hotel de Ville and the Centre Pompidou in the heart of the city, I found this route clearly marked along a cobble stone street. Clearly, Parisians see the bicycle as a means of transportation and have afforded it an equal place on their streets. Bikes in all shapes and sizes serve locals and tourists alike in one of the most congested cities in Europe.

Once in Avignon, I found an equally welcoming environment for biking. Road cyclists were busy climbing the hills of the Luberon while students, tourists and shoppers rode through the streets of this old, walled city as if the bicycle had existed since its first days. In Avignon, like Paris, a credit card allows you to rent a bike from “Velo Pop”. You can pick up a comfortable bike, ride it around town and then return it to any station found throughout the city. The bikes were easy to pedal, comfortable and came with a roomy basket to hold your umbrella (after all it is spring in France) a shopping bag or of course, a baguette. Another nice feature of these bikes was the fact that they didn’t have a chain. Riders could pedal comfortably knowing they didn’t have to worry about getting their clothes dirty as the bike had a drive shaft mechanism eliminating the need for a chain guard or leg strap. This rental station was located right outside the door of my hotel which made it especially convenient and easy to see the city and neighboring 13th century fort by bike. To get to the fort we simply pedaled to the nearest “gate” in the wall around the city and then made our way to the Pont d’Avignon where we found a ferry boat that carried us and our bikes over the Rhone River free of charge.
While Appleton and the surrounding Fox Cities certainly are not major metropolitan areas like Paris or other large cities, we can take a page from their playbook. Parisians have found a way to make it quite easy to move from one part of the city to another. Avignon, which is a city of approximately 94,000 people, has successfully implemented a bike sharing program. In each case motorists and cyclists move alongside one another to reach their respective destinations. The bicycle is an accepted mode of transportation and is not perceived as something that should be relegated to the sidewalk or even as a hindrance. Bikes have their “place” but their place is clearly defined and allows the cyclist to move around the city with relative ease inevitably making the commute easier and safer for all involved.

I am excited to see the increased interest and attention paid to cycling in the Fox Valley. Whether it takes the shape of a road biker, a commuter headed to work or even the grocery story, we have an excellent opportunity to serve as positive ambassadors for our chosen sport, means of transportation or activity. Some day, with a little hard work and maybe a little luck, we too can enjoy a well defined and organized system of lanes and routes to help us reach our respective destinations safely and easily as do our cycling friends in “la belle France”. Bonne journée!


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