La Parisienne à vélo

Vélo, bicycletteSee that girl? The blonde in the cute hat, blithely riding her bicycle on the streets of Paris? The one who smiles with an air of insouciance as she rides across the cobblestones, coolly skirting pedestrians and scooters as she crosses the Seine? That girl is not me. I’m not even sure she exists except on this bottle of beer. Which, by the way, I enjoyed down to the last drop. Right after my harrowing experience of riding a bicycle in Paris.

That is, getting hit by a car while riding a bike in Paris. Husband shook his head, amazed. “It could only happen to you,” he said, as if somehow it was my fault. Which we both agreed it was not. The driver didn’t think it was his fault either, although we begged to differ.

The light was green and I was in the bike lane, one of the rare ones that crops up from time to time at the busier intersections. The driver was turning right and assumed he had the right of way. He cut in front of me as I sailed forth, knocking me off my bicycle in what must have appeared like a moment of pure slapstick comedy. I hit the pavement in slow motion, getting up and dusting myself off a few seconds later, nothing worse than a few bruises and a scraped knee. Horns began to honk and the traffic flowed around us.

Husband rushed over and the driver got out of his car, checking it for damages. No one asked me how I was, apparently a moot point as I was already back on my feet. There followed an authentic French shouting match, replete with curses and insults. I tried to get a word in edgewise as husband threatened to call the police, to take a picture of the license plate. The driver, who seemed to believe the best defense was a firm offense, did not apologize but instead insisted he had the right of way, that he had done nothing wrong. He had stopped, as the law required. He was clean.

I finally managed to get their attention long enough to say that I was fine, merci for asking, that there was no serious harm done but that an apology would be nice. The driver mumbled something and husband backed off. We found a pharmacy and cleaned up my knee.

Then we went for a drink and they served me this. Irony?

In recent years Paris has been taken over by cycling madness. It’s called Vélib – a system of inexpensive bike rentals on every major street corner. It’s all very well for tourism. Who has not dreamed of riding around the city of light like a true Frenchman? Only true Frenchmen don’t ride bikes much – they prefer to drive cars. Along with motorcycles and scooters, buses and taxis. And you want to keep out of their way.

It takes nerves of steel to ride a bike in Paris. If you’re looking for a thrill, you could try bungee jumping instead.



  1. alifesgayventure · April 28, 2016

    i thought london is a dangerous place for cyclists, but looks like paris is too. as u have said, i have always have romantic thoughts of cycling in paris , those advertising images have certainly fired the imagination and stuck, even though cycling on cobbles is really uncomfortable.

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      You are right – those romantic images we have in our minds do tend to stick, and they can get in the way of truly experiencing a place. I remember many years ago travelling around Europe with a group of Australians who were always joking: “It wasn’t like this in the brochure!” Loved their sense of humour!

  2. Dana · April 28, 2016

    I love the city bike systems and ugh, so sorry that happened to you! That’s so awful and I’m glad you aren’t hurt. There is so much road rage in France it’s unbelievable ! Usually in the US, when in doubt we call the police if not only for insurance reasons (i.e.- if your injuries are obtained later, false claims, etc.) glad no long-term damage has been done,Mel! Cheers!

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Ha, ha….can you imagine if the French had lawsuits like in the US? Nobody would ever get anything done! 🙂 Merci Dana!

  3. suzyjbarker · April 28, 2016

    Bikes and vehicles of any sort do not mix. i think it’s because most drivers of vehicles have never ridden a bike on the roads, therefore they do not appreciate the space needed when overtaking a cycle, nor do they understand the sheer vulnerability of cyclists, often wearing little else but a cycle helmet! Glad you came out of that one alive!!

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Too true. Cyclists are so vulnerable, they don’t mix well with cars or pedestrians, and the worst thing is – drivers don’t even see them! I think there is need for a huge public information campaign to sensitize everyone on how to share the roads. And no helmets are offered with the bikes in Paris, so I think I was very fortunate indeed!

  4. davidprosser · April 28, 2016

    I’m sorry that happened to you and so glad you survived the experience. Mind you I think I’d still have suggested the driver visit an optician and maybe clipped his ear for him for the injuries substained.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Thanks, David! Yes, we would normally have been tougher on the guy but Stefan sensed he was not quite ‘right’ so we decided to leave him be. Just hope he hasn’t hurt anyone else with his short-sighted ways! Bises xo

  5. Shunn · April 28, 2016

    I’ve never seen that beer!
    Well, if you want to try riding a bicycle in Paris, August’s certainly the best moment to do it 😉

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Neither had I, and it was very good. A local microbrewery, I think. Et out…August is definitely the best month to visit Paris, especially without the Parisians!

  6. Kat · April 28, 2016

    Gosh, hope you’re feeling OK now, not too battered from that experience. My sister and her friend tried to rent bicycles in Amsterdam until they saw 2 bicycles collided into each other. My sister asked her friend, “do you think they have bicycle insurance here?” Very quickly, they conveniently forgot about the brilliant idea of cycling around in the city. Instead they preferred to walk 🙂

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Only a few fading bruises, thank Kat. Probably best to set off on foot if you want to enjoy the sights just about anywhere, as cycling requires paying attention to the traffic. Although even I would be tempted to bike in Amsterdam!

  7. Catherine Berry · April 28, 2016

    Behaving like an old lover, yet again, Paris is determined to keep you guessing. And then to rub it in in such a way!

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      ‘Old’ being the operative word….. 😉

  8. Lisa @ cheergerm · April 28, 2016

    A snortworthy piece of excellent and evocative writing Mel. Loved the finishing ironic beer bottle serving. (And of course, glad you are ok!!)

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Snortworthy! Brilliant. I aspire to nothing more. Merci Lisa! 🙂

  9. Suzanne et Pierre · April 28, 2016

    Actually, I think Parisians do use the Velib’ system extensively. They do like their cars, scooters, etc. but they are also developing a taste for bikes. Though they ride the same way as they would their cars & scooters – that is very aggressively. I have seen Parisians like on your beer bottles ride in Paris and I would say they were the most dangerous because they didn’t pay attention to any rules. I think these ladies felt that because they look cool they had right of ways everywhere. Strangely, enough I did ride a bike in Paris quite often and manage to never be in an accident. It is in Montreal that wouldn’t be caught dead on a bicycle…it is brutal here plus there are too many hills…(Suzanne)

    • Suzanne et Pierre · April 28, 2016

      Oh, forgot to mention that I am glad you weren’t badly hurt in this scuffle!

      • MELewis · April 28, 2016

        Thanks, Suzanne! No lasting scars, for which I am indeed grateful. Actually I can just imagine the type of Paris cyclist you describe – truly ‘insouciant’ and by some stroke of luck, they are never the ones to get hurt! Also there is a sense of ‘look how clever I am, and ecology minded!’ I am glad you survived cycling in Paris, but too bad it’s so scary in Montreal. I would not have imagined the drivers being as aggressive, but given the number of huge potholes I saw last time I was there, you would want to watch where you go.

  10. Osyth · April 28, 2016

    Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. That is awful. I’m very relieved that you have lived to tell the tale. I have cycled in Paris. And London. And Berlin. And Amsterdam. Never EVER cycle in Amsterdam. Promise me. It is beyond dangerous. They are all taller than me and they have huge bikes and they ride them like Harley Davidson’s on steroids. It put me off ever cycling in a city again.

    • MELewis · April 28, 2016

      Thanks Osyth! So glad you gave me that heads’ up. I will indeed take your advice, and now that you mention it, given the directness of some of my Dutch friends, I can see your point! Plus those bikes are heavy and I’m 5’2”!

  11. Andrea · April 28, 2016

    Your husband’s sweet running to defend you!😀

    • MELewis · April 29, 2016

      Yes….I would do the same for him!

  12. Barbed Words · April 28, 2016

    You poor thing! Cycling nowadays terrifies me, cars have no concern for cyclists. It was a bit amusing that you got that particular beer…hope you could laugh about it!!!

    • MELewis · April 29, 2016

      The beer definitely softened the blow….although I was sufficiently shaken up to only have noticed the irony a few days later! Merci 🙂

  13. Anne Donnelly · April 28, 2016

    YIKES!!! I love cycling, but cycling next to cars terrifies me, even when I was in Chambery which is considerably less congested!! Glad you’re okay. Love the label on the beer!

    • MELewis · April 29, 2016

      I do remember a lot of car traffic in Chambéry last time I was there, considering the size of the town. I think that cyclists and cars make poor bedfellows no matter where it is! Thanks for your thoughts!

  14. poshbirdy · April 29, 2016

    Poor you. Glad you weren’t badly hurt but must be VERY unnerving. Of course, a good beer makes everything feel a bit better

    • MELewis · May 2, 2016

      Cheers, Posh! All true…..hic!

  15. wanderingcows · May 1, 2016

    Hysterical. Not the image of you falling off the bike, but the girl on the bike logo when I clicked on your link. Very ironic indeed. I’m not big on riding bikes in a big city, unless it’s somewhere like Copenhagen where they’ve got special lanes for two wheelers … and even then.

    • MELewis · May 2, 2016

      There is something glamorous of the IDEA of bike riding – especially in a place like Copenhagen (on my list!). But alas, the reality falls a bit short (like yours truly, LOL!).

  16. acflory · May 2, 2016

    Ouch. Brave but…foolhardy, n’est ce pas? Very glad you’re still in one piece!

    • MELewis · May 2, 2016

      Merci for your wishes! Now that I’m wearing my 20/20 hindsight glasses, it does seem that it was not the best idea, especially given my single-sided hearing and the chaos of Paris streets. Oh, well….live (thankfully!) and learn.

      • acflory · May 3, 2016

        -grin- I have a pair of those specs as well. 🙂

  17. weird weekends · May 5, 2016

    I am happy you are ok… wow.. I have never been on my bike in Paris… (I don’t think I would dare). You are definitely a brave lady… In a small town named Blois (much safer for biking), I had an accident with a car while on a bike… and it was my fault… Was in a race with a friend and was looking back…. and then… hit a parked car and ended up on the roof of the car… The car owner (after he stopped laughing) was very kind to me… maybe you are treated better if it is your fault?

  18. zipfslaw1 · May 6, 2016

    A friend of mine was knocked down by a young Parisian guy on a Velib bike. She banged her head and has been out of work for months during her recovery.

    • MELewis · May 7, 2016

      Oh dear! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: pedestrians and bikes do not mix. Hope your friend makes a full recovery. Sadly, I fear such accidents are all too common.

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