Dec 16th, 2023, 09:00 AM

A Cyclist's Survival Guide for Paris

By Connor Ballard
Image Credit: Connor Ballard
5 essential tips for riding a bike in the city of love (and war)

If you’re coming from the Netherlands, bikes are most likely innocent ladies, gliding you through golden light reflecting off still bodies of water and little minecraft paths with johnny appleseed trees. Bikes in Paris are of a slightly tougher function, equipped to compete and burst through unsuspecting crowds like bludgeoning machines from Twisted Metal. The narrow lanes and bike stick figures on the asphalt that accompany the streets of Île-de-France are emotionless runways, and should you find yourself pedaling through them, here’s five essential tips to avoid being annihilated from the searing exhausts and unrelenting tires which flatten you after the french crash up against you at full speed and babies in small seats, strapped to the back of bikes, flip you off with a stubby little fingers as they disappear with distance.

Dress Appropriately

Starting off simply, it's important to dress appropriately for the weather and conditions you’re going to be riding in. Most bike cranks will either leave pestersome stains or grab onto the opening of your pant leg when the pedal comes around, so either tuck your pants into your socks when getting around or ditch the pants entirely for a little fun. It’s basic knowledge to wear breathable clothes in the summer but Paris in the winter can easily dip below freezing. Gloves, balaclavas or beanies, and something to cover the neck are must haves in colder weather, unless there’s a preference to numb up those limbs before doing some serious damage to your competitors.

Lane Splitting

So we all lane split, and I won’t explain it so you can play the victim. Regardless, don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you have to pass a geezer taking it slow, do it swiftly—there’s no need to hustle an old woman because she has the time to slow you down. She earned it. They earned it, fighting Nazi’s while you were a swimming embryo. Just back off. But watch out for the other bikers splitting lanes coming toward you. It’s a simple tip. Charge away, but be smart about it.

Every Man for Himself (Le Marais)

So there’s one stretch in Paris that’s particularly fearsome, Rue de Rivoli. Starting at Place de la Bastille and ending at Place de la Concorde, stretches a densely populated main street splitting the heart of the Marais from the elegance of French aristocracy and the Louvre. It’s one of the most populated streets in Paris, and bike lanes there function more like a game of sharks and minnows. In such places, you must remember that it’s every man for himself, and very very few people will act in accommodation to your inefficiency. Rivoli’s a straight shot with many traffic lights, so if you’re in a rush it's bob-and-weave time.

Start of Rue de Rivoli (Image Credit: Connor Ballard) 

Velib’s Mobile App

Ever since Lime Scooters were banned from Paris, and thus removed before September 7, 2023, there’s been a flock of newcomers to the Velib bikes (electric and non-electric bikes stationed around the city for member use). Velib is a great alternative to get around town, they’re stationed pretty conveniently around the heart of Paris, seemingly never more than a few blocks away, only require a membership card to quickly activate and go, and when parked, you’re finished, and unburdened. The only problem is so many people use these bikes today that it’s not uncommon to spend 20 minutes just trying to get a bike that has both wheels attached, isn’t missing a pedal, or whose basket isn’t carrying a slender but firm turd stuck to a wistful square of transparent tissue-paper that blows steadily as you ride. With Velib’s mobile application, you can see what bikes work, how many bikes are at what stations, what parking spots are available and where Velib stations are located. 

Green, Yellow, Red

Traffic lights in Paris work like Covid masks in a crowded metro: they get the job done but those farty particles are still pushing through. It’s illegal to run red lights. Don’t do it. That’s it, that's the tip (There’s about a three second delay between a red light for bikes and a green light for cars).