Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cycling in Paris

This is officially a blog for women cyclists in Birmingham and the midlands but as many issues around cycling are international (and I like to maintain my link to my former home) I thought I'd make a long-overdue offering.
It has been a joy discovering a new city by bike. The freedom of moving across the varied and vibrant places which make up Paris, my Ato Z always to hand for the inevitable (but thankfully less and less frequent) moments when I get lost, has allowed me to appreciate the city altogether differently than if I'd opted for the underground solution to moving around. The character of different quarters, the individuality of each place and most importantly the transition between them becomes apparent by bike in ways in which can't be achieved by the teleportation effect of motorised transport. And it is officially quicker than anything else (independently verified by my race with a scooter and the metro to the pub last weekend).

Of course, here like elsewhere, we're still the minority, and the discriminated minority at that. Drivers don't give you enough room, busses cut you off, motorbikes and scooters swerve dangerously into cycling lanes. The most shocking thing that's happened since arriving here was being stopped by a young policeman for cutting through a red light. He dangled the vague possibility of an 80 euro fine before me as he unashamedly flirted his way through one of the most bizarre conversations of my life. I was completely taken aback by such an unprofessionalism but have since discovered that sexism of this type is common currency amongst French police officers.

Yet being in a minority can have its advantages. Since arriving here I've been warmly welcomed into a community of like-minded cyclists - women as well as men - who are interested, like me, in fixing bikes, teaching others to do likewise, campaigning for better provisions for cyclists, etc. If our numbers weren't so small I wouldn't have had the chance to feel integrated so quickly, in such a big and anonymous city. The mutual support network cycling creates is perhaps one of the most international and valuable aspects to the "little queen" (as the French affectionately term the bicycle) that I can think of.

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