Friday, July 4, 2008

Bicycle, Bicycle!

She ain't much to look at, but she's mine.
Paris_MyBike, originally uploaded by david_stirling.

Today I took a walk through Père Lachaise cemetary, into the neighborhood on the other side of the cemetary from where I am (Gambetta), then I used the Vélib' bike rental to ride up to a municpal pool.

Vélib' (which combines the words "vélo libre," meaning "free bike") has stations throughout the city with sturdy bikes that you can ride for free, once you have signed up. It's kind of like ZipCar for bicycles. You have to pay a small fee to sign up: 1€/day, 5€/week, or 29€/year, but once you have done that borrowing a bike is as simple as entering your code on the electronic kiosk to unlock a bike and off you go. The first half hour is free, then it gets progressively more expensive the longer you hold the bike. The idea of course is to have a constant supply of bikes being made available.

The Vélib is a great idea, and a ton of people use it, but it became clear to me that even for only a month I was going to want the freedom that came with having my own bike. It seems like way too often the stations are empty or, worse, have nothing but bikes with mechanical issues. (The custom is to turn the seat facing backwards if a bike is broken.)

So anyways, I called up a shop I had seen on Paris Craigslist that specialized in used bikes, got their address, and headed on over. Upon arriving, my reaction was a little like a first date with someone from yikes, she didn't look like that in the photo. But I took one for a ride and despite her homely appearance one of them had the specs I was looking for: lighter than a city bike with higher gearing for speed, an upright position for better vision, smooth tires for the road but sturdy rims. And at 50€ she was a relative bargain. As a bonus, she shrieks when I put on the brakes which serves as a nice warning to bystanders in the absence of a bell.

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