Thursday, April 05, 2007

A bicyclette




Grenoble is an oxymoron of a city. It is the capital of the French Alps and surrounded by mountains – yet it is as flat as a crêpe Suzette. In fact, it is the flattest town in France. This makes getting around less strenuous than in other cities and if you are not brave or foolish enough to take your car, there are plenty of other ways to travel.

By bicycle, for example. Now, I don’t ride my bicycle here because – well, for a start the tyres need blowing up and I’ve lost the bicycle pump but also I don’t want to die just yet. In Grenoble, you pedal at your peril. There are several miles of clearly-marked cycle paths winding their way through town ( they even have their own traffic lights ) with the unfortunate tendency to come to an abrupt halt just when you need them most: at the edge of a river or motorway bridge or at the beginning of a dual carriageway. Here you are forced to launch yourself into wild traffic that’s enough to make anybody’s wheel buckle. Moreover, most people don’t realise these lanes are for cyclists. Motorists think they are serendipitous parking spaces, joggers think they are running tracks, teenagers on mopeds think they are for doing wheelies on and as for dogs…well, let’s say they give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘wheels in motion’…

Nobody is quite sure who invented the bicycle. The French claim it was a certain Count Sivrac whose célérifère - a sort of glorified hobby-horse without steering, pedals or brakes – appeared in Paris in 1791. The Germans and the Scots are also strong contenders for the honour but it was two French coachbuilders, Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest, who improved on the basic model and popularised it, in 1861. Just over forty years later, the Tour de France was created and became the most prestigious cycle race in the world.


photo by Eric


Of course, there is always the Solex to make things easier. This is a motorised bicycle invented in 1940 and – along with strings of garlic, stripy tee-shirts and la baguette – it became a symbol of France. It was made here until 1988, when a Hungarian firm took over production. Now, the Solex is made in China. I rode one once, a long time ago, and it was rather fun. You pedalled frantically until the motor fired and then off you tootled, holding on to your beret and bracing yourself for the potholes (it had no suspension). When it rained, the Solex – which relied on friction on its front wheel to activate the motor– would not start and you could end up red-faced and pedalling like a maniac for several kilometres before you called it a day and rang for a taxi.

Today, a new electric Solex has come on to the market. Very green, I'm sure - but not really quite as fun, n'est-ce pas?

8 comments:

Mlle Smith said...

I am almost ashamed to say it but I'm not a confident cyclist. I would be terrified to ride a bike in Paris, for example, but maybe it won't be so bad in the south of France?

I'm thinking about getting a cute little bike with a basket! :0)

Mountain Dweller said...

I love riding but prefer mountain biking. I would rather take my life into my own hands rather than have it in the hands of some manic French driver!

bluevicar said...

I know people come to France to take bicycle tours. I even know some natives that ride bikes everywhere, even in Nice. But I can't even imagine riding a bicycle in this land...not in Antibes, not on any country rode that I've driven on, not anywhere. I'm staying with my feet, or other motorized transport, merci!

Meilleurs voeux!!

Gigi said...

Lots of people ride bikes here these days. My daughter used to ride to school on a retro white bike with a basket...the last time I got on a bike, though, I over-estimated my bottom's resistance to friction and ended up having to hobble home, pushing the bike...

Betty C. said...

I love your use of the Yves Montand song in this post! Have you seen "Ensemble, C'est Tout"? The song is used in a key scene in that film...

angela said...

Last time I took my bike out I ended up with a puncture and had to push the bike home..
I'll stick with the car.
Angela

Sarah said...

I wouldn't ride a bike through Montpellier now although I used to cycle a lot. I only use my bike for pleasure, but it also needs its tyres pumping...

I much prefer cycling to jogging though.

Tinsie said...

Awww I do fancy a ride on a Solex. Maybe on my next visit to France ;-)