Bikefag report: Paris, France
I packed up the purple bike and the American flag jacket in a “Greed Dragon” bike box I acquired from a Mexican bike shop in Brooklyn and went to the airport with very little money but high hopes that American Airlines would let it on for free. Sure enough! I checked the Greed Dragon both ways for free, continuing my perfect six for six streak of getting bikes on planes without paying a dime (American Airlines is no problem, United takes some finagling). And one eight hour flight, a five hour night, and 14 clock hours later, I arrived!
Paris is an excellent place to ride a bike. Whether you’re “racing” around the Piste Cycliste in the Bois de Boulonge with a bunch of old men on brands of bikes that you’ve never heard of; shuddering down the Champs-Élysées’s cobbles, wondering how the hell they sprint on this; trying to figure out how to check out one of Paris’ Velib’ rental bikes with an American credit card; or riding an obnoxious purple track bike through red lights with almost no knowledge of French customs or traffic laws; you’re bound to have a great time riding in the land of tastefully stylized, marble 7-floor buildings.
One of the first things I noticed riding in Paris is that I sort of looked like an alien. Picture a gentleman in a blue pinstripe button-down shirt tucked neatly into khaki pants. He has a navy blue cardigan tied gallantly over his shoulders, and very expensive looking shoes and sunglasses. Now picture a lady in a khaki trench coat with a black dress underneath and a black purse over her shoulder. Now picture six million such men and six million such women riding identical grey velib’ rental bikes through identically beautiful avenues with identical 7-floor Haussmannian façades. Now drop in an American with an ironic haircut, wearing an ironic wolf shirt, riding an (ironic?) purple track bike, and having very little understanding of street signs or regard for traffic laws.
“C’est rouge!” they shout, assuming that I didn’t notice the light was red. “C’est rouge!”
It didn’t take long, though, before I found the Paris velofags.
I met a guy named Adam from San Francisco and a guy named Jeremy who was French but spoke perfect American English. They took me to what seemed like the epicenter of bike fagging in Paris: Cyclope.
This place has all the flashiest, gayest shit. Anodized Miche everything, strange colors of Phil hubs that I didn’t know existed, NOS Peugeot track frames, custom track trick framesets, etc. It’s basically the Trackstar of Paris.
I was oblivious to the vibing typical of these sort of track boutique “bike shops,” but Adam later told me that they were calling us “fags.” They didn’t know the half of it..
As soon as they all went outside and got a look at our obnoxiously-colored track bikes and translated my story about how I’d just been a bike messenger in NYC, they all started looking more interested (and turning up the vibes).
It was a tense situation. I was trying to wait until the velofags rode out, so I could see how these Frenchies did, but my compatriots wanted to leave. Not one block later, though, the leader of the velofags came bombing through an intersection we were waiting at and screamed, “The lights are… SHIT!”
I jumped in the pack of whooping, skidding Frenchmen, running lights, cutting off cars, bombing roundabouts, and racing scooters across town. I wasn’t sure where the hell they were going, and my American and American-sounding friends had dropped off, so I just kept my sights on the leader of the pack, caught his wheel and mimicked his recklessness. He was a fast dude, for sure. But I’m an American. I was able to stay with him until we arrived at our destination: some hipster shoe boutique on some hipster block where they all chilled out and drank what must have been the French equivalent of Sparks on the sidewalk.
After keeping up with the fastest velofag, I was apparently cool enough to hang out with the “gaing”. I hung out for awhile on the sidewalk and between my basic comprehension of French and helpful translation from a guy who was particularly interested in Brooklyn, I learned of a group ride happening the next day. I went home and told the good news to my friends, and the next day we showed up at 2pm at Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad to see what the deal was.
Oh man, the velofag group ride was an experience indeed. Aaron, Brandon and I showed up and told everyone we were bike messengers from San Francisco and New York, which was true enough, but I was only in NYC for three months and Brandon and Aaron haven’t worked as messengers for almost a year. But it gave us the street-cred we needed to be invited on the “fast ride.”
All of the French kids assured us that they were planning to go to Brooklyn or San Francisco very soon. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side…
The “fast ride” was pretty fun. There was a camera crew on a scooter that encouraged us to do fast-looking, illegal things. We bombed down hills, rode on a busy freeway-like street, ran red lights, yelled at pedestrians, all with the scooter cameraman thumbs-upping us and egging us on. It was pretty fun, and I wish I had any idea where the hell that footage wound up going (maybe we’re going to be on MASH:PARIS..). Brandon managed to shoot a couple of photos of us “mashing.”
By the end of the day, I’m pretty sure everyone had drank about as many 1664s as they’d ridden kilometers (myself excluded, of course). but it was a damn good time.
We spent the rest of the day watching bike polo, and checking out peoples’ bikes.
Our honorary membership to the Parisian velofags secured, Brandon, Aaron and myself rode off into the distance (toward the 16th arrondissement) and spent the rest of the trip riding around more leisurely, concentrating our efforts on trying to see how many people we could fit on the cargo bike Aaron found.
Parisians certainly access cycling from a different perspective than Americans. Most just ride very practical befendered Peugeots or Merciers. There are bike lanes on most major streets and the traffic, although somewhat hectic, is pretty good about not running anyone over.
I think the best part of Paris velofagging is tempting yourself with all of the ridiculous Eurosteel that seems to be piled up in every shop. If you’ve got the money, go there without a bike, buy some exotic ride, ship it back on American Airlines, and sell it on Craigslist for way more money (especially if you live in San Francisco).
That’s about all for this bikefag report. Stay tuned for reports about bike gaity in other cities. Here are more photos Brandon took: