23 July 2016

A Paris Bike Tour To The Grand Train

Sometimes I am a creature of habit.  Yesterday I went to Paris Bike Tour, from whom I rented a bike when I was here last year.  I did the same this time, except that I  got one of their "official" bikes (with the PBT logo and colors) this time.  Last year's bike was a silver Arcade, which was similar, if not the same, except for one thing:  the bike I got this year has a Shimano Dynohub powering the front and rear light, which I used last night.  Last year's bike had battery lights.

At first, I thought this year's bike was slower--or that I've aged more than a year or gained more weight than I thought I did since last year. (Don't ask!  Never ask a woman questions about her weight! ;-)) Then I thought that the seat was slowing me down--after all, it's the cushy sort found on bikes like this, and I'm used to my Brooks saddles.  But, finally, after steering out of the rond (or roundabout, as the Brits call them) of the Place de la Bastille, I realized why everything felt so sluggish:  The tires had about half as much air in them as they needed.  

I could have topped off the tires at any number of places, namely bike shops and gas stations.  As it happened, PBT is closer to Bastille to any other such place (that I know about, anyway), so I went to them.  Just for good measure, they did a quick check of the rest of the bike, and found nothing amiss.

All was well with the world, and off I went on the bike.  Mostly, I've rambled:  I've had no particular destinations in mind.  Actually, I headed for the hills, such as they exist.  Of course, I rode up the longest and steepest hill in Paris:  the one leading to the Sacre Coeur de Montmartre--and, of course, down to the teeming streets and open-air markets of Goutte d'Or, often called the "petite Afrique" (little Africa) of Paris.

When I pedaled in that neighborhood--and neighboring Barbes-Rochechouart-- this year and last, I noticed that however well-intentioned the bike lanes are, it is all but impossible to stay on them unless you want to stop-and-start, or do a lot of dodging and weaving.  It seems that, even by Paris standards, the streets and sidewalks of that neighborhood are narrow, and people are always out shopping or otherwise out and about, always in large groups. So, they almost can't help but to spill into the bike lanes.  They almost invariably get out of your way, at least to the degree they can, and say "pardon".  I saw only one cyclist argue with the pedestrians.  That cyclist himself is African, from Senegal.  "Vous n'etes pas francaise"--"You are not French" he said with a knowing grin.  I nodded, sheepishly.  "Pas problem.  Vous etes sympathique."  I almost expected him to say I am "tel" or "trop" sympathique--so or too nice--buy he just left it at "nice".  

Anyway, from there, I rode to Saint Denis--home of the Stade de France, site of the Euro soccer championship and one of the terror attacks in November--only to find the Basilica closed.  Still, it's impressive from the outside:

If it looks unbalanced, that's because the North Tower (the one that would have been on the left) was removed in 1840 after it was damaged by lightning three years earlier and subsequent storms.  Work on reassembling and installing is now in progress.  

But the ride to St. Denis was not for naught, as I found a path along the canal to La Villette, a few kilometers away in the northern part of Paris, where it connects with Canal de l'Ourcq, which in turn connects  with the Canal St. Martin-- an extremely popular spot for cycling, walking and picnics.

Then, after some more wandering I decided to hop a train:

No, I didn't go back to New York.  Rather, I chanced upon something I'd heard about before coming to Paris.

The Grand Train is held, as you might expect, in an old rail terminal and storage yard.  It was nice to look at tains that had, not only power, but also style.

You really had the sense that people rode those trains.


In those days, all Frenchmen wore moustaches.  At least, in the movies--and on trains--they did:

The engine in the photo below was designed for use in rugged Pyrenees terrain no other vehicles could reach.  It was used as a "relay" to and from ambulances and other cars and trucks, as well as to get pilgrims to Lourdes. 

It made its first run more than two decades after the first Tour de France cyclists climbed those peaks in the Pyrennes, and its last about two decades before I pedaled up them.

The organizers of Grand Train seem to have "discovered" some interesting uses for old track beds--like a "beach"

a "garden" 

and even a chicken coop.

(It looks like someone thought formal wear was required for this event!)

Hey, they even figured out that a gravelled track bed makes great petanque  court.

I was not surprised:  My Italian grandfather used to play bocce on a disused rail bed underneath an almost-equally disused viaduct of the New York transit system.

What would he think of that young lady?


  1. Interesting that the headlight is set for illuminating tall buildings on your tour. When in Germany I rented a similar style bike for a week, a hub gear obviously, each country seems to have a preference. You can easily get to like that relaxed riding position but it will not blend in with plastic racing bikes...

  2. Justine,
    Based on previous blog posts, it sounds like you are fluent in french. Do you teach French as well?


  3. I watched the race through the Elysian fields on TV but did not spot you...

    1. I must have missed this comment. I went disguised as a yellow jersey.

  4. Coline--The bike I'm riding is slow. But it does what it's designed to do. I guess I can't complain.

    MR--I don't teach French. But, as you've surmised, my French is functional, if not fluent.