Paris Travelogue: Bicycle Culture Imposed From Above

Posted on 26 February 2008

Editors note: the question we ask at the end is still relevant. If bike share programs prove that the commuter market is already there, then why aren't more bike shops jumping on board?

- February 2016 


France is home of the bicycle, it is, after all, where the bicycle was first invented. However, France never adopted the bicycle as transportation like Holland. Nonetheless, cycling runs thick in the blood - think of the Tour de France - the French are mad about bicycles. So, when it came to reconsidering bicycles as transportation, it appears that instead of creating bicycle infastructure - like bike lanes - to encourage bicycle use, the Parisian government bought everyone in Paris a bicycle to rent. The Velib program (whose outstanding bikes, incidentally, are produced by the parent company of Batavus) not only sees tourists using the bikes, but a massive proportion of native Parisians. And indeed Parisians were zipping all over the city on bikes that the city provided for a reasonable yet tidy annual sum. Smart. Now, Parisian drivers are a mad lot, and the lesson learned in the Velib program is that road safety is determined by a show of strength. With the sudden appearance of an excellently designed city bike, Parisians rapidly became friends with the Velib program and have swarmed the streets en-masse en-bicyclette. Suddenly, the drivers had to share the road. And they do. The oddness of the situation is that French bicycle stores appeared to be completely uninterested in selling dedicated city bikes - well, at least the stores we visited. Thus, the Parisian government collects fees from the rented bikes which they can reinvest into cycling infastructure, like bike lanes. Did we say Smart? Very smart. Within a couple of years, Paris has established a full fledged bicycle culture from above, an amazing accomplishment. But what we can't figure out is, if there was always such a market for commuter bikes, how come the bike shops in Paris didn't figure this out years ago?

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