Paris. An empty day. Two wheels. Ahead only joy. Time to indulge, a cycleur with a city to discover, unknown streets to aimlessly meander by bike. Turn left or maybe right, whimsy my guide, seeking new sights and sounds and smells, new moments that will form long standing memories and will come to define the city.
“To err is human. To loaf is Parisian.”
Which way? You can’t get lost if you’ve nowhere to go and you can’t be late if you’ve no place to be. Time is unimportant, so too location, for everything is about the here and the now.
No matter which way I travel the city’s landmarks draw me back, lighthouses in a darkening city calling me to familiar ports. I watch others from afar, a fleeting glimpse as I ride silently by, trespassing unannounced through their moments. Shoppers seeking, families ambling, youths loitering, homeless pleading.
Sometimes there’s only so much humanity I can take. Time for refuge. A park, an empty square, an entire boulevard reserved just for me. Free, unencumbered by others, little halts the progress of the velo.
The sky the dictionary definition of misery, the city is smothered by a thick grey blanket, cold and damp, wet roads shining, street lights reflected. People cold and hurried, heads down, lurching through the day, their intent purpose not pleasure. On I ride. New views of famous landmarks, dark alleys and seedy corners discovered.
Smells tempt and tease your nostrils, your belly. Sweet pancakes, hot chestnuts and charred meats of such vagueness you’d struggle to name the origin of the species. Street vendors litter the pavements, some filling holes in walls their grandparents tended, others huddled over makeshift barbecues, an old oil drum filled with coals and balanced precariously in a shopping trolley, mobile, ready to move on should they be hustled.
Paris is a small, pocket sized city and the streets quickly give way to new arrondissements, one moment the bright lights and glitz and glamour of Dior, Chanel, and Dolce Gabbana, brands whose prices, like their perfumes, choke. Turn left, right, right, ah, is this the same town? Destitution and hunger, a family shivering beneath damp blankets, their open hands all that’s visible, the street their captor, their only hope.
Paris, city of light, Paris, city of blight.
Paris. Cobbled streets, brash boulevards and a plethora of lost alleys. Flat but for the mount to the Sacre-Coer. One of the first cities to introduce a city-wide cycle hire scheme and yet a cycling paradise this is not.
The streets do not hum with the rubber of two wheels, even on a Sunday morning while the city sleeps and many streets are closed to traffic. After almost four hours of pedalling, the city all but covered north, east, south and west, I saw barely a velo, a few Vélib‘ bikes here and there, the obligatory food delivery bikes recklessly weaving their way to an ever so slightly bigger pay check. Less than a dozen riders in total. No road bikers, no children or families.
Perhaps it was the weather, which was akin to a Zola novel, bleak and unforgiving. The Vélib‘ cycle hire seems to be very popular, people jump on bikes without a thought, a journey by bike as simple as by foot. It is perhaps a measure of how far my home city has come, aka the London cycling revolution, that I travel to Paris and wonder where all of the cyclists are. For London swarms with velo machines, Paris less so.
The French capital is a joy to cycle. Empty roads await the savvy navigator, segregated cycle and bus lanes aplenty. Veer astray however and you can find yourself amidst the mayhem of many lanes, cars everywhere, a cacophony of horns, motors roaring, wheels swerving.
The latter is fun and a challenge to an experienced and slightly crazy cyclist like me, less so to others. I enjoyed filtering down the traffic choked Champs-Elysee or sprinting through thin gaps on the many laned roundabouts. Paris ride on Strava.
On encountering the weather
Riding a bike all year, I rarely notice the weather. Sure, it’s there, but rarely does it impede or cause consternation. On I ride through wind and rain and frost, always comfortable for since I’ve finally become an experienced cyclist, I’ve learnt to layer up and anticipate four seasons in one day.
I’ve been riding through chilly morns aplenty and multi-coloured trees for a couple of months, yet the weather has not touched me. The weather rarely stops a cyclist. When cold we pedal harder to generate heat, in the fire of a hot summer’s day our movement attracts a cooling breeze. Sure a headwind slows us but it merely delays the inevitable.
Off the bike there is no escape. The weather pokes and jabs at us, constantly reminding us of its presence like an unruly child. We know, oh boy do we know. A weekend walking the Parisian streets and I’m uncomfortable, cold to the bone, miserable.
People talk of fair weather cyclists yet not fair weather pedestrians, the latter of which I am one. The outside is not always free, come winter there’s a price to pay. My countdown to summer days and light evenings has begun. Until then I’ll venture out only on two wheels.
More black and white images from Paris. Black and white, what else from the capital of noir?