Monday, July 18, 2011

Le French vélo

This is my old bike, the one I had when in college in France, too many years ago to dare confess the number of decades.  Since I left France and entrusted her to my relatives it has managed to survive, though a tad rusty with faulty brakes that should be changed outright.  Yet, I still find her, somehow not giving up on me.

Weather has been terrible lately, something some of you may have guessed since I keep posting.  But rain in France is soft and if you do not mind hiding under the slightly jutting roof of a closed fish store, you might survive the humidity and keep riding a few minutes later, until the next squall.

Cold and rain have never stopped me.  I cherish them and would have rode more if it were not that I did not feel like buying the needed outfit which is long, very long gone from the wardrobe I also left in France with the bike.  Eventually, drizzle can soak you.  All are covered and shivering but I still ride with my sunglasses, in shorts and shirts as if nothing, enjoying my preferred outdoor temperature, 18C.  When I lived in the states biking season stopped for me in November and sometime could start as early as late March.

But then again I am French and we, as a people, are second only to Dutch and Danes in our love of biking, in the constant presence of biking in our everyday life, the more so in summer holidays.  We shop with our bikes, we go to work with them, we ride them for relaxation on week ends, or exercise maybe, we fall in love with other bikers.  And of course, we watch the Tour de France religiously.

We also learn to ride on our elders old bikes.  The one I learned to ride with was probably used by my dad during  WW2.  A heavy contraption with no gear that gave me great legs at the end of summer.  There are no hills in this area but the roads are rarely flat, and distances long.  I think a couple of relatives learned with my bike, though it is a big frame one so kids could not use it.  I was never told, it was a given it would happen.

My bike is a Peugeot with ten gears though I have not dared use them this time around.  After all, the weather has barred me from rides longer than 10 minutes stretches and I need to recover my legs fast as biking is impossible for me in San Felipe.  My bike is also a "half race", that is, a light frame but not too light and thus sturdy enough for my big frame.

It is a very un-american looking bike.  It has fenders on each wheel.  It has platforms to carry things (with rubber bands in the front bag, a red one so faded that it has a strange fuchsia hue).  If I lived in France by now it would have a basket in front or carrying bags on the bag, maybe both if I lived in a small town.  All bikes in France have fenders, except those of the Tour.  All bikes in the US look strangely naked for our eyes, making us wonder what silly Americans do when it rains.  And then we laugh when we see their mud splattered backs.  All US bikes we see seem to us very impractical.  It also has lights, with a dynamo to generate the juice, no batteries required.

And yet it is not quite your average French bike since it has what is now for me very uncomfortable running handles.  In France, 90% of bikes you see in streets have nice, high handle bars that allow you to ride in an almost vertical position.  But when I bought it I was into long Sunday rides, or fast dashes to downtown from campus to buy books at my favorite libraries.  I did not do that mistake in the US and I got then a stately UK bike, a Raleigh, with high handle bars.  I brought it back with me to Venezuela but never use it: too many potholes, too much insecurity as such a bike forbids me to ride alone in San Felipe's streets.  They would rob me of it just for its exotic look

I love my bikes and if I ever can retire in France, or at least spend a couple of months a year I will bring my Raleigh and restore my Peugeot, the former for my shopping at the open air market and the second for long bike rides on the amazing amount of bike paths that exist today in France, at least in touristy areas.  That is if my health allows though the Raleigh one I may be able to ride into my sunset.

Why should I buy a new bike when I am already blessed with two bikes with a soul?


  1. glenn7:12 PM

    Daniel you are recovering your Frenchness very well. I notice you are making fun of Americans.

    Actually, what American cyclists do when it rains is "take the car."

    Of course you know we don't have a bike as a functional tool as is used in France. Ours are more for fun or exercise, some for sport of course and only a few as a percentage use them as sole transport.

    And then I was shocked when my Punto Fijo wife told me of many in Venezuela, including her, that never learned to ride a bike. I tried to teach her but she's too chicken and afraid she will break too easy at 55 -- age, not speed:)

    Keep enjoying your time off. It's nice to hear you cheerful.

  2. Nice post Daniel, and nice Peugeot! That looks like a touring frame with cantilever brakes. Way cool!

    You'd be surprised to see how bike manufactures are now marketing similar bikes in the USA for commuting and getting groceries; fenders, racks, lights. Some people are actually starting to bicycles as transportation. Check out the new Raleighs, Treks, and other major manufacturers.

    I arrived in Venezuela a few years ago with a dufflebag and my favorite bicycle. I use my bike mainly for pleasure and exercise, but I've also used to explore, and sometimes for running errands. I have a car, but in Lecheria, I'd rather ride my bike. I use a messenger bag to haul stuff.

    Outside of Lecheria, a pack mentality is needed for survival. I once ventured into Barcelona alone. Someone threw a full 2L bottle of orange soda at me, apparently to try to knock me off the bike to take it.The bottle skidded under my bike and actually hit my front wheel, but I was able to veer around it and keep going. The malandros were in a passing bus just looked at me as they passed. Unfortunately there are too many people in Venezuela with this mentality.

    Also on the subject of bikes and Venezuela, I have yet to see a single Iranian bicycle in the PLC area. Maybe they're in the barrios or someplace, but the one picture of Chavez on the bike I saw it as all wrong! A useless psuedo-mountain bike looking object is what it was. If the government is going to get into bicycle manufacturing, it needs to build useful bikes, more like the Dutch bicycles, or folders that can haul a load but also be folded in half and taken onto a bus or into a por puesto.

  3. RabbiBulla11:03 PM

    I have yet to see a single Iranian bicycle in the PLC area-true.
    And the farmers I know- I have asked and nobody they know has bought an Iranian tractor either.
    Seen the Iranian cars? What about milk from the Iranian milk plant?
    And, Iranian built housing?
    Great doing business with Iran, right Chavistas?

  4. mimbres

    nice logo....

  5. Daniel, you forget Belgium and Germany. Try to see a Flemish or a German train station.

    I remember once some friends and I took the train from Heidelberg to Kehl with our bikes, crossed the border across the Rhine (lovely: no cop, no military, just an old custom house closed down) and off to Strasbourg. After we ate some crêpes and other delicious stuff we started to ride to Haguenau trying then to go a bit more north and cross back to Germany at the level of Rasstatt.
    I remember we were not sure about a crossing and I asked some locals and they said: "are you crazy? Those are like 30 kilometres!"
    My friends (Germans) asked what the guys said and I replied. We remembered Asterix. I guessed the French thought when we left: "Ils sont fous, ces Boches!"
    So, I guess there are some regions or connections where people do that less. In Germany you can almost count on having a bike road from the very south to the north.

    The French road was lovely, marvelous landscape, but between cities you had to "negotiate" a lot with cars. Once we got back into Germany the bike paths were there everywhere.
    Of course: you have to watch out what is allowed and what not for driving in Germany, whereas in France it is more of a négotiation, in Germany Law is Law.

  6. Boludo Tejano2:53 AM

    A bike, a bike, a kingdom for my bike! Or was that a horse? A horse for my bike?

    Didn't that particular scion of the French Invader Dynasty finally get his? :)

  7. Kepler

    When I named the Dutch I sort of implied the Belgians.....

  8. Daniel,
    And I guess when you mentioned the French you sort of implied their Urvolk, the Germans, right? We all know the Franks were just Germans who Germanized Latin and mixed with the Gaelo-Romans.
    In fact, we can say probably those Franks who settled in Paris and Northern France came from Flemish and Dutch territories.


  9. Oh my - I made that prediction before today's stage was close to over, and it's already out the window. I did not expect this to be a stage that would shake things up in the least, but I was quite wrong. Frank Schleck faded badly, Contador looks like his old Tour self, which he hadn't before, and Cadel Evans made a great move. Now I don't know what to think - except that it's going to be an exciting weekend! I can hardly wait!

  10. Is that on the right at the back a horse, a unicorn or something else?

  11. Hmmm....looks like my prediction - and the rest of my first post - got completely lost. I'll try to recreate.

    First, I have to say I really appreciate this post as a long-time cyclist. In fact, I didn't own a car until I was 23 years old, simply because my bike was all I needed. Simple times.

    I will also say that bike isn't entirely un-American. My Mom used to have one quite like it. :D

    Now back to the other post, and Le Tour. I realized the weather is France was "terrible" by watching the race on TV. And it's quite an exciting one this year. Unlike so many years when the winner is all but certain a week befors it's over, this Tour may well come down to the day before Paris. Today and tomorrow will be absolutely critical for everyone, with massive mountains on both days.

    My prediction was that a Schleck would win, probably Frank. But like I said, that's now out the window. I may venture another guess after today's stage...if I dare.

    I also queried Daniel in the missing post - have you ever gone out to watch Le Tour in person? I'm not really sure I get it as a spectator sport that way. You wait for a long time by the side of the road to watch the cyclists go by in a blur. If you're lucky, more than one blur.

    And yet I still want someday to rent an RV and roll around France following the race, cheering them on. (Of course, the real draw to this is probably in Daniel's most recent post - The Vin.) And wearing polka dots, of course. :)


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