After having walked more than 15 km yesterday, I realized the pounding my body would accumulate for this entire trip. To walk the 4.2 km to the central area by la Seine takes 53 minutes. Taking 18 minutes, Uber will eliminate this joint impact entirely along with the charm of walking in a beautiful city for €10. Using the Paris Metro would take 34 minutes and only €1.70. The fourth option is to ride a bicycle.
Let me take this paragraph to comment how since I quit my job on Friday, I am averaging nearly 10 km in walking per day. Do you want to know what my average was during a work day? 1.3 km! Most of that distance was spent going up and down the stairs from my work space to retrieve Sun Chips and a Coca-Cola.
I discovered this bike system called vélib’. I think entities should avoid names that end in an apostrophe (‘), but that is neither here nor there. The system has a bike for every 97 residents, marking the highest penetration in the world. Still, fewer than 1% of residents use a bike on any given day.
There are more than 1000 biking stations, usually with more than 10 three-speed bikes available. Another huge positive is that it costs only €8 per week! To cover the route mentioned in -the beginning of this post takes 18 minutes, as fast as an automobile.
Registration and securing a bicycle was easy. The hard part is what is to follow.
Riding a bike is like indenting a paragraph–I almost never do it, but I will, if the occasion calls for it. I can ride a bicycle, and I have never suffered an accident with one. However, my chances of getting into an accident will skyrocket so long as I use this bike-sharing service.
Using a bike greatly relieves the impact of walking everywhere in Paris. In addition, it’s nearly 70% faster than walking. However, I cannot enjoy the sights as much when riding a bike because I am focusing so much on driving straight.
Let me tell you, city biking is dangerous. Earlier, I decided to return to my base as a wave of fatigue hit me. This fatigue immediately dissipated when I got on my vélib’ bicycle, and I was hit with head-spinning adrenaline. French drivers are much better than I would have guessed at giving bicyclists respect. The lanes are marked with the word “BUS” right on top of a universal image of a bicyclist in the same lane. This immediately conjured up an image of a bus running me over. I am guessing the reason for this riding regulation is because buses are less common than cars. And really, does it make that much of a difference whether one is killed by a bus or a car?
Some Parisian sidewalks are the widest you will see anywhere. They are quite charming, especially since I can use them to cheat. Riding a bike along traffic is harrowing. There is nothing quite like a Peugeot whizzing by your left elbow at 50 kph.
By far my biggest problem is riding straight. I never thought I swayed that much, but the presence of so many things to hit is unnerving. In the same way that nervousness can cause a public speaker to stutter or an excited man to suffer erectile dysfunction, the presence of so many speeding cars crowding me exacerbates my already shaky skills. Let me be clear, should I get into an accident, I am 95% sure that it will be 100% my fault.
Only a handful of tourists use these bikes. Almost every user is a
professional local. The skill is not in speed or endurance, essential for the Tour de France. The secret is being impervious to danger and a devil-may-care attitude about one’s own life. Sometimes, I will see a peloton of them and follow them through roads where I would not ride solo, my logic being that a French driver would be much less likely to take out several capable fellow citizens instead of a hapless American. These bikes do not have mirrors, so one is simply trusting that you will not get hit from behind. Most of the time, one rides on the right-hand side, dodging buses that suddenly career into you to make a stop, pedestrians at crosswalks, motorcycles that do whatever the hell they want, and those normal cars that make right-hand turns. On top of all this, you may wonder how I am dealing with the more mundane physical limitations of endurance, anticipation, dexterity, strength, and fatigue. Every time I ride a bicycle in Paris is a battle of life-and-death. It’s a delicate balance between getting to my destination as fast as possible with the constant desire to maximize my lifespan. When one is running for life from a chasing grizzly bear, he does not concern himself with how his feet hurt or how he is tired. He is simply relieved to have escaped the clutches of untimely Death. That is similar to riding a bicycle in Paris.
I have seen some sick moves by bike riders. There is one huge intersection with cars going everywhere, not necessarily in a straight line. I saw a few bicyclists be faithful to their insane bike lane and make this huge turn between these cars. Meanwhile, I meekly stopped and walked my bicycle to the pedestrian crosswalk. I kid you not, the pedestrians gave me such a look of disdain that I would not wish upon any tourist. The look was one of, “What are you doing among the walkers? You have a dedicated lane!” I felt such shame. Even the old grandmothers give sneering laughs at how wobbly my riding is at such slow sidewalk speeds.
Another hair-raising sight was a biker with a baby seat in the back. He was wearing a helmet, which I have not been. There is no accident in which he would require the use of that helmet in which his child would not suffer terrible injuries.
Lastly, while one usually rides on the right-hand side, with the flow of traffic, there are areas where the bike lanes clearly go against traffic. I have always thought should I commit a crime that merits a gunshot execution, I would want to be blindfolded. In a similar vein, I think I prefer driving in the same direction as the cars.