Vélo Paris

Courtesy of Velib

Courtesy of Vélib

We just got back from France and would like to report on what we observed about bicycling in Paris.

We decided to ride from our hotel in Versailles all the way to Paris. It was about 13 miles /21 km and when we got to Paris, the first thing we noticed were huge bike share stations called Vélib (short for bike and freedom in French). Everywhere you go, there’s a bike share station. The program is comprised of a whopping 20,000 bike shares in 1,800 stations, located 300 meters apart which explains what we saw. That’s about 1 bike per 100 Parisians, the largest bike share scheme per capita.

One of the many Velib bike share stations.

One of the many Vélib bike share stations.

It’s no wonder that every 10 bicyclists we saw, about 8 of them are on a Vélib. And it’s so popular that Paris also has a kids’ version called P’tit Velib.

No helmet and upright on a Velib!

Normal folks on Vélib bike shares!

That's one cycle chic!

That’s one cycle chic! (Sorry about the the blurriness of the photo.)

Although Paris has such a great bike share scheme and I do appreciate that the bridges over Seine River have separated bike paths, but their bike infrastructure on regular streets remains lackluster. You can pretty much tell that wherever there’s space, they just slap on some bike signs and say, “voila!”

I didn’t feel comfortable riding around. Many big streets don’t even have striped bike lanes and you’d probably want to avoid riding on them as much as possible. Cars are going pretty fast. In addition, the turnabouts are frightening to go into. Cars are always coming into the roundabout without slowing down, and drivers are always making right turns (I wouldn’t be surprised that right-hooks would make up most of the accidents there) in roundabouts. Moreover, the abundant exhaust fumes from the diesel engine cars was repulsive. There were so many scooters too and their emissions are not regulated.

Another comfortable looking cyclist in Paris.

Another comfortable looking “Saddle Warmer” in Paris.

I have to give a hats off to Parisian bicyclists. They don’t wear any head protection, no hi-vis outfits, and ride in fast and congested traffic.

I don't understand why bikes and buses have to be mixed. They are the most opposites.

Like in America, buses and bikes are grouped on the same part of the road.

However, there were some good ideas like what is shown in the photo below. It shows that bikes can go in the opposite direction of a one way street.

I noticed that all the bike signage were painted in a simple white color. I find this to be interesting because I think French design tends to be more artistic and elaborate. Also, the bike stencils are pretty crude.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Many narrow one-way streets have contra-flow bike lanes.

Cross-bikes on streets of Paris.

Cross-bikes on one of the large streets of Paris.

Another good idea is having cross-bikes through wide intersections. That is sorely needed in the States, particularly at freeway passes and boulevards.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there's a bike lane.

This is what we need on the Embarcadero in San Francisco or anywhere where there’s a bike lane. Tow away if park on bike lane.

Notice the wide street above doesn’t have demarcation for cars. It has been shown to calm car speeds.

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

No car entry except bikes. Yay!

In conclusion, riding in Paris seems pretty dangerous but the city averages about 2 fatalities per year between 2007 – 2012, a fairly low rate for a city this big with 2.2 million residents. The French (at least the Parisians) have the bicycling spirit. They are a country of Tour de France, inventors of Velocipedes and derailleurs that made what modern bikes are today. Paris has a flat topography, density and beauty, and more would jump on bikes if they had the proper infrastructure.

Thank you for choosing to bike!

It wasn’t Thanksgiving Day yet, but we felt we wanted to do something to show our appreciation to fellow bicyclists- those who choose a bicycle over a car to get to work. Therefore, we got an idea to pass out some treats to people who were passing by with their bikes.

First, Nellie made a prototype of the kind of treat we would be giving out.

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Then she made a whole bunch more.

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Last Friday evening, August 22nd, we handed them out to bike commuters coming off the Jack London Square ferries. Here are some photos of some of the folks we met.

Christian

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Kelly

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Nice Guy

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Nice Gal

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Curious Commuter

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Another happy commuter

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Thank you to all of you who choose to go from point A to point B by bicycle!

Happy pedaling!

 

Product Review – Ryder Rug

Have you ever wondered where all those punctured or patched-up bicycle inner tubes go? Where would you like to have them end up at? As an eco-conscious person, it just feels wasteful and wrong to throw out a perfectly fine tube with a couple of small holes. With cracked pavements, potholes, and broken glass from car windows on city streets, it is hard to avoid eventually getting a punctured tube.

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Ryder rug by RewindLab

Well, I want to introduce you the Ryder rug from RewindLab which is made out of used tire tubes. I thought this was such a creative idea to reuse bike inner tubes! The tubes are reclaimed from local bike shops, and the New Zealand wool blend is rescued from production. The wool is nicely weaved to hold the tubes together, and it’s a solid piece of a rug with the tubes giving it a bouncy and soft feel. I never would have thought a rug made out of tire tubes would look anything presentable, but this Ryder rug does. It brings out the coziness and warmth to any room.

Moreover, the rug can be used on either side and comes with eco anti-slip pad. They also come in different color combinations. With even more eco-consciousness in mind, it’s made locally in the SF Bay Area!

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The rug can be used on either side.

They currently have two sizes, 26″ x 19″ (66 cm x 48.3 cm) and 50″ x 20″ (127 cm x 50.8 cm). The smaller size is priced at $87 USD while the large size costs $158 on Etsy.com.

The front doorway of my unit is pretty wide, so neither of these sizes fit. It would be nice to have a size that’s 20% wider than the current small size they have. Also, I’ve only had this rug for a couple of weeks, so I don’t really know how well it can hold up to dirt and debris over time.

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Reclaimed New Zealand wool.

But if you ever cringe when tossing out used tubes or if you want a nice collection item to show that you are an eco-bicyclist, Ryder rug fits the bill nicely.

Courtesy of RewindLab.com

Courtesy of RewindLab.com

Cycle Chic – Outfit of the Day

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Who: Nellie
What: H&M stretch dress in purple, Express cargo jacket in gray, Fjallraven Kanken backpack, Brooks Addiction sneakers (recommended by my podiatrist for foot problems =p), silver hoop earrings
Where: Oakland Chinatown
When: Friday evening, August 15th
Why: Riding to meet Chris at the Jack London Square ferry station, then dinner in Chinatown at Shooting Star Cafe
Featured Bicycle: Biria mini velo

Bike Lift & Carry

Hey bicyclists!

There is this product that I want to share with you. I just think it is a pretty creative accessory in how simple and easy to operate. We all bike because it is convenient and easy, and that is how I perceive this product.

It’s called Bike Lift and Carry, created and designed in Ukraine (as you all know, Ukraine is in a civil war with Putin’s pro-Russian separatists) and founded by Henry Teterin, a great guy by the way. It’s a retractable strap that attaches at the seat post and stretches to attach at the handlebar which acts like a shoulder strap. And when you are done, just detach it from the handlebar and it coils back. There’s also a great review written by TreeHuggers. The kickstarter for this project just began a few days ago!

Courtesy of TreeHugger.com

Courtesy of TreeHugger.com

If you live in a home that have stairs or you’re a frequent BART commuter, this item should simplify your life. Maybe now, you don’t have to leave your poor bike outside. Or maybe you can now take your bike onto BART or MUNI metro. You don’t have to deal with slow and smelly elevators, and many stations don’t even have them. Many escalators only go up, but not down.

The shoulder strap can lift up to 70 lbs or 32 kg, which pretty much can work on any bike. This is great because more and more people are buying heavy urban bikes from makers like PUBLIC and Linus, and electric bikes are gaining popularity, as well. I wonder if this would work on long-tailed cargo bikes though, such as the Yuba and Xtracycle.

Courtesy of BikeLift&Carry.com

Courtesy of BikeLift&Carry.com

They come in many colors and should complement SF’s hip bike style! The kickstarter price starts at $45.

 

Product Review: Biria’s mini velo

Biria Mini-20

Biria Mini-20

About a year ago, I wrote a post on how a mini velo style bike is a great bike for urban living. Well, I changed my mind…it’s not just great- it’s actually the perfect urban city bike!

After moving to Oakland, we were confronted with a new set of conditions. First of all, the streets in downtown have way too many traffic lights for bicyclists. The stop and go momentum makes it harder to ride a full-sized bike. This is where mini velo excels. Its small 20 inch wheels with a lower rotational mass overcomes this problem. It makes it easier to start and stop.

2012 model

2012 model

Very often living in a city, the weight of what you ride/carry to run multiple errands affects your overall experience. Picture yourself locking up your bike several times to different bike racks and also having to lift up the bike from the street level onto the sidewalk. It can get pretty cumbersome. What about those times that you forget to bring your u-lock (or u-lock key). Well, with the mini velo, it is small enough to just bring with you into the shop.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

Tektro Tenera brakes and SRAM-X5 shifters.

BART is a great public transit option in Oakland. There are 8 stations and it covers the city pretty well, but the few elevators they have are tiny and escalators (bikes supposedly are not allowed on them) are super narrow. Many times, carrying your bike down the stairs is the only the option. So, carrying a smaller bike down the stairs and maneuvering a compact bike into a crowded area helps a great deal.

Pro Wheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Prowheel Chariot crankset, standard 53/39T chainring.

Moreover, the bike infrastructure in Oakland is relatively bad. You have bike lanes disappearing and even bike sharrows that disappear suddenly. Sometimes, the bike sharrows are in the door zone. And one way streets are common. As you know, it is an obstacle course for cyclists. Sidewalks clearly are not the place for bikes; but when it’s a one way street or you feel your life is on the line, I have to admit I do sometimes ride on the sidewalks (certainly at a very slow speed and where pedestrians are almost absent). Riding on a smaller bike such as the mini velo feels like you are not intruding as much into the pedestrian space.

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

SRAM X7 rear derailleur

Nellie and I moved into another place that doesn’t have nearly enough indoor bike racks in the garage and keeping your bike indoors makes a huge difference to how long your bike stays in good condition (and clean). Thus, we have to store our bikes in our unit. Size does matter. Also, I used to have an office space that a full-sized bike wouldn’t fit, but with a mini velo, of course!

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

This is my office at work. The Mini-20 easily fits in there.

In addition to riding in the city, she wants a bike that she can go for a long distance ride sometimes. None of her current bikes meet all of these criteria in one bike. So, Nellie decided to give the mini velo a try on a long ride. We just did a 30 miles/48 km ride, and Nellie wasn’t a bit tired. She said it’s the best bike she’s ever had.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Here are the specs and comments for the Biria Mini-20:

- Aluminum alloy frame and fork. After a long 20 miles/32 km ride, it can be harsh on your wrists because shock is not as well absorbed. But going just around town, you won’t notice it.  Remember, city streets in America are poorly maintained so this is not a factor if you live in the suburbs or on foreign soil where there is good infrastructure.  The good thing about aluminum is that it’s pretty light at 22 lbs (under 10 kg).

- 51 cm (c-t) frame, one size only. Nellie’s 5 ft 3 in/160 cm tall and there’s only 5mm to go at the minimum at the seat post.  I’m 5 ft 8 in/173 cm and I can still fit, however, I need a longer stem. The great thing about mini velo is that it really can be ridden by a male or a female.

- Two choices of colors for the Biria:  matte black or nickel silver. Nellie had the black one and it’s a nice color in person. Very chic and stylish.

- Tektro Tenera brakes and calipers. Good, solid and soft brakes.

- 20 x 1 1/8 CST tires. They are heavy and cheap, and prone to punctures. We immediately changed them out. The narrow size of tires helps reduce the high rolling resistance from small wheels.

- SRAM X-7 rear derailleur and SRAM X-5 shifters. The shifters are easy to shift with just your thumbs, but it’s a bit slow (not a problem if you’re not racing). Nellie’s bike is 2012 and the current model comes with Shimano 105 rear derailleur, and with 27 speeds (18 speeds for the 2012 model).

- Prowheel Chariot crankset (53/39T). Other than it’s made in China and provides a standard range, I don’t have any comment here.

- Saddle, grips and pedals. The saddle is very narrow at 35 cm wide , and it was immediately replaced with a woman’s saddle. The pedals are horrendously small and one sided only, and was also immediately changed. The grips are fine.

- Joy Tech hubs with Joy Tech quick releases. The quick release wheels and seat post makes it a good storage bike. Surprisingly, it really can fit into our Scion IQ with both wheels removed.

The current model retails at $900, which is not a bad price. Overall, the bike feels solid, more solid than any bike I have ridden. It is zippy and stops on a dime. I could see why these type of bikes are so popular in cities in Asia. I may have to get one for myself in the future.

Nellie and her mini velo.

Nellie and her mini velo.

Bike Denver

Flat Irons, near Boulder, Colorado

The Flat Irons near Boulder, Colorado, not far from Denver.

We have lived in and visited both coasts of the US and have a pretty good understanding of both sides. But we never quite understood Middle America, aside from what the media shows us. So, we decided to go visit Denver, Colorado. (No, not because of marijuana legalization there.) It’s not too far of a trip to take from the Bay Area, and I heard it’s not a bad city to bike in. Denver is referred to as “the mile-high city” or 5280 which is the number of feet it sits above sea level, and it’s located next to the Rocky mountains, which are the highest mountains in the United States.

This time, we planned to travel light which meant that Nellie brought only a single backpack and I brought only my messenger bag. We left our Bromptons at home because we thought the bike-share program that they have in Denver would suffice and be more convenient. The closest bike-share station would be only a block away from our hotel, so why not. As a bonus, our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in the city, on 15th St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalks near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalk near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

As a matter of fact, the bike-share stations are nicely distributed across downtown Denver. There are 700 bike-shares in 83 stations, twice as many as in San Francisco. It’s called Denver B Cycle, and sourced from the same company as most other bike shares in the US, Alta Bikeshare. Although their mobile app didn’t work, we could locate another station without even looking for one. It’s that ubiquitous. There was this brand-new redeveloped neighborhood called Prospect which was not completely done, and a bike share station was already in place. I was impressed.

A bike share station is placed in Prospect neighborhood which is not completely finished.

A bike share station is placed in the Prospect neighborhood, which is not even fully built out.

The bike shares are always located on the sidewalks and not in the street, which I think is an ideal setup. The sidewalks there are generally very wide, up to 20 ft/6 m wide. By locating the stations on the sidewalks, you don’t feel the pressure to hurry because you are in a safe zone. Also, it’s nice to undock or dock your bike off the street, unlike how it is in SF. Bike shares invite newbies, so having them on the sidewalks makes them more welcoming.

However, I still don’t like using bike shares when I would like to mindlessly wander throughout the city exploring. The 30-minute grace period was always on my mind because I didn’t want to accrue penalties. Also, docking/undocking is a huge hassle when you have to do it every 30 minutes. My opinion is that bike-shares are good if you know where you are going and only need it for going short distances. It would not be good for recreational our touristic cycling and for going long distances.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

Our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in town on 15th St. It was nicely done with crossbikes and protected barriers, but the intersection was not protected. Also, what I don’t get is why the cycle track was on the left-hand side. I heard that another cycle track is coming to a nearby street on Broadway, a north-to-south commercial corridor which should make a better network of bike paths.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

Another commercial corridor in downtown that is bike-friendly is the popular shopping area, the 16th Street Mall, which is closed off to cars. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors located on this long stretch. The identical tiles on both the street and sidewalks give it a very pedestrian-friendly feel to it. No need for bike signage.

16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

The 16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

Denver has a bike modal share of 2.9% in 2012 (20% jump from 2011), most of which I see riding on the extensive Cherry Creek bike trail. The Cherry Creek trail stretches 11.2 mi/ 18 km from Cherry Creek Reservoir in the south and through downtown in the north. It serves for both recreation and transportation. It’s a must if you do visit Denver and go for a bike ride. Some of the best scenery within the city is along this riverside bike trail. The water running next to it is surprisingly clean!

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail.

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail. I like how there are street signs installed on the bridges, so you know where you are going.

People actually go rafting on the creek and the water is pretty clean.

People actually go rafting and kayaking on the creek and the water is pretty clean!

Confluent People street art by local artist, Emanuel Martinez, under Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

The “Confluent People” mural by local artist, Emanuel Martinez is located at Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

What I like about Denver is it’s numerous parks, and the majority of them you can really bike within them for quite a distance with flat topography. City Park is my favorite and has a zoo and the Museum of Science and Nature. It’s located not too distant from downtown. Another park I recommend is Washington Park in the Pearl St. neighborhood. It’s voted as the most favorite park in Denver by the locals.

Denver City Park

City Park, not too far from downtown Denver, is a great place to bike recreationally.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Our favorite cafe is the Denver Bicycle Cafe. You can get food, beer or coffee while you wait for your bike to be fixed.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Denver Bicycle Cafe also has comfortable outdoor seating (not shown here).

Coolest looking bike corral in Pearl St. neighorhood.

A nice looking bike corral in the charming Pearl St. neighborhood.

Green Cyclery bike shop in Pearl St.

Cute little Linus bikes in the Green Cyclery bike shop on Pearl St.

Nice window dressing!

Creative window dressing using bike wheels!

I still think Denver has some ways to go in terms of bike infrastructure and reducing their use of cars. But I admire how much they are embracing the ideas of New Urbanism and I feel like they are doing the bike thing better and faster than many other American cities. For example, their 15th St. cycle-track was completed this year and now, the city is proposing another cycle-track on Broadway St. In addition, I really like their ubiquitous bike-shares, but it’s just not ideal for visitors to use them to explore the city because of the time limits. Visitors and recreational riders should rent a bicycle instead. Their Cherry Creek bike path is great fun to bike on and quite scenic, but then, it doesn’t go in every direction to really serve bike commuters. However, I do think that overall, the city government gets it and it’s just a matter of time.

A couple of more things I want to mention for anyone who is going to visit Denver and bike around. You may need some time to adapt to the higher elevation. At higher elevations, oxygen is less concentrated and so your body will have to adjust and breath shorter but more frequent breaths. At first, you might feel worn out faster when exerting yourself. However, the air is just fine for Denverites who are known to be very active outdoors. So once you adjust, you should be fine. Also, one of the fun things you can do in Denver, if you are of drinking age, is to ride your bike around to all the different local breweries and do some free tastings. Denver has great local beer! Many can be easily reached by bike.

Happy Trails!