The following is a guest essay from my sister, Margie Rynn, who has lived in Paris for seven years.


velibIt took me awhile to be willing to try Velib’, the new rent-a-bike program now available all over the streets of Paris.

I love the idea: anyone can pick up a bike at any metro station or anywhere there’s a “borne” (stand) of bikes, ride around for half an hour, and then leave it at any Velib’ stand. That first half hour is free, and not only that, the bikes themselves are extremely cool, a sort of futuristic über-bike that makes you feel like there is nothing more high-tech and advanced than a bicycle.

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For me, though, there was a problem: traffic. I have nothing against Parisians in general, but once they get into a car, these otherwise reasonable people become a hoard of aggressive louts with little concern for the lives of their fellow men, women, and children. Merely driving in this city sends me into a state of extreme anxiety; now you are expecting me to ride a bike?

The program went into effect while everyone was on summer vacation. When we came back … quelle suprise. Everywhere hip urbanites were scrambling to mount a silvery Velib’ saddle. Suddenly, bike riding — an activity once relegated to idealistic fools and old men in berets — was utterly cool. Men in business suits, women in stiletto boots, and teenagers in strategically weathered jeans were proudly sailing through traffic, hair flowing in the wind. (Of course no one is wearing a helmet. That would mess up the hairdo.)

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So to recap: now thousands of people are willingly taking their lives into their hands every day, riding through crazy traffic on bikes, helmet-less. And what’s more, they look like they are having fun. So much fun that I really, really wanted to try.

After giving myself a million reasons why it was better to walk from Gare du Austerlitz to Luxembourg (This is a walker’s city. I’ll be there in a matter of minutes!), I spied a stand on a quiet street filled with glistening bikes. My feet hurt. There was no one around. No one to breathe over my shoulder as I tried to figure out how to use the machine that unlocks your bike.

I slipped in my credit card. I followed the instructions. The green light started blinking. It was too late to turn back. I detached the incredibly heavy two-wheeler from its post, and sallied forth.

Lo and behold, it was wonderful. At first I carefully stuck to the small streets, but after a few minutes I was charging along a bus lane on Blvd. St.-Michel. Maybe it was the weight of the bike, or the glamour of it all, or the sheer joy of riding around the streets of Paris without being a slave to public transportation, but I forgot about my fear and before I knew it I was on the Île de la Cité, figuring out where to have lunch in the Marais.