Le Plan Vélo 2020 de Nice

Posted in Cycling, Nice at 14:37

Le Negresco with cyclist, November 2011

In November, while cycling home from my job in Cagnes-sur-Mer, I saw something no one wants to witness. On the Promenade in Nice, a few hundred metres before reaching Le Negresco, a SAMU (EMT) van was stopped next to the bike lanes, and two cyclists were on the ground, their bikes – one from our Vélo Bleu bike share – in a twisted heap. Neither cyclist had a helmet, and neither was moving or making a sound. I couldn’t look longer than that. I slowed down and signalled to cyclists behind me to do the same; only half a lane was free for passing the crash site.

Growing up in the Oregon countryside, our elementary schools in the 1980s had day-long courses where police and firefighters came to the school to teach us road, fire, and health safety. It made a lasting impression on me. I already knew how to ride a bike, but as a child, even when your parents explain rules to you, you don’t quite grasp that there are other people involved in your safety. This is normal: a child develops most healthily when their family provides a safe space, one the child does not see as “external”. When the firefighters and police came, they were other people – not family. I remember being struck by how important it was to have these other people to take care of you if you were in an accident, and how useful sensible road rules and regulations were. This is where my philosophy of “ride predictably” came from. It’s not just for your safety, it’s also for others. The road is a shared space, and behaving predictably means that everyone has a chance to use it in as egalitarian a manner as possible.

It doesn’t take long in Nice to notice that there are quite a few people who couldn’t care less about driving predictably. Red light? Accelerate. Pedestrian crossing at a light? Swerve around them. Yes, I have been swerved around and cursed at while crossing the street on a green pedestrian light – the cars had red lights. Motorized scooters drive on the sidewalk at full speed and will also curse at you if you tell them to use the empty road. In this sort of environment, it wasn’t too surprising to discover that a minority of cyclists behaved the same way. Except it was having a very bad impression on novice cyclists, namely bike share users. I spoke with so many people who said, for instance, “why should I signal or stop for pedestrians when drivers don’t?” Others who shrugged, “I don’t see any rules for cyclists, why bother.”

I thought about how my Oregon upbringing had made road cycling enjoyable and safe, looked at what was missing in Nice, and wrote city hall with suggestions. As well as praise. Nice truly has come a long way in the last five years, and the roads are noticeably safer. As the bike share program and bike lanes expanded, however, I saw grave danger ahead if self-centered driving and riding behaviors continued unchecked.

Last December I received a response from Christian Estrosi, saying he had taken my email into account and was tasking his road security department to look into the suggestions. Today I received a hand-addressed letter from the city. To my pride and delight, it was from the directeur de la stratégie de la voirie, or road security/strategy director. They’ve created the Plan Vélo to be fully implemented by 2020, using my suggestions, and more!

– All Vélo Bleu stations will be equipped with signs that detail road regulations and good cycling behaviors (they didn’t have these before)

– Vélo Bleu brochures will also include the same

La Fête du Vélo and La Semaine européenne de la mobilité will now include informational campaigns on cycling road safety. I had actually overlooked the bike festival in my letter, so was very happy to see that they thought to include it.

– Primary schools will now have educational programs for cycling, in which kids will be able to ride bikes with police officers along protected routes that have road signs and such, so they can learn in a realistic situation. Excellent!

They also assured me of their plans to continue extending bike lanes in the city, which is great news. Bikes make a positive difference in many areas – health, safety, environment, roads… I’m very happy to have been able to contribute to the development of cycling in Nice, and look forward to seeing the plan implemented.

Cycling the Riviera

Posted in Cycling, La France, Travel at 21:13

Colline du château de Cagnes

This view from part of my commute, snapped with my phone yesterday at sunset, speaks a great deal about cycling conditions in this part of the world: to say “it is not flat” is an understatement. With just 200km on my still-new road bike, not quite in good enough shape yet for longer rides, I’ve been looking into weekend ideas for short trips into the countryside. I assumed, given the number of serious cyclists you see here, plus the 14 million tourists we get each year on the Riviera, and knowing pro cyclists train here, that there would be at least someone blogging about it at some point. I know of MapMyRide, but was hoping for stories, insight, descriptions, experiences. The sort of thing that GPS traces don’t provide.

Well, I didn’t find much at all after hours of fiddling with French and English search terms. Here are some in French that give good results for trips anywhere in France except here:
– balade vélo (essentially a short bike ride)
– cyclotourisme (French for “bike touring”)
– cyclisme (cycling, generic)
– région à vélo (switch out “région” for whichever region you want to visit on bike)

If you do put in Nice, PACA (our region’s official French abbreviation), or the Côte d’Azur, in French or in English, you’ll come across lonely questions with no responses, or forum posts with “be aware that it is NOT FLAT!” replies, or a couple links to bike rental/tour gigs in the area, who generally take visitors along the flat Promenade and Basse Corniche. Those are nice rides, beautiful ideas for first-time visitors, but I’ve lived here for a while now and am the type of cyclist who enjoys a good climb or three.

“Crickets”, respond the intarwebs, apart from the obvious, yet rarely-described, Moyenne and Grande corniches to the east. The Moyenne Corniche is a bit steep and has gorgeous views. You can ride all the way to Italy (which isn’t that far, 30km from Nice) on both it and the Grande Corniche. The “Grande” corniche lives up to its name, and is a road many pros train on for its challenges. Those take you east, and flat coastal roads take you west, but what about the north? There lie the Alps, and equally stunning vistas… but no recommendations, aside from one French blogger not from the area, who talked about the crête de Craus a few kilometers north of Nice, as well as Roquebrune, La Turbie (along the Moyenne Corniche), and a few other mountain villages. However, he entirely avoided Nice. Rather impractical for advice when Nice is my home base.

I’ll likely return to my favorite bike shop and ask them for recommendations. They would definitely know some great cycling routes in the area. In the meanwhile, my personality is also of the “neat, I can figure this out on my own and learn from mistakes” type, so I’ll be checking out topo maps and whipping up some outings that I’ll try, then post about here.

IGN, France’s National Geographic Institute, has some very nice maps available for free download, in addition to the excellent ones they sell. They also publish a free Android and iPhone app. Below is a crop of their large physical map of France, showing our southeast corner of it, as well as neighboring Corsica, another place I look forward to visiting on bike.

Pleasant surprises

Posted in Cycling, Journal, La France at 17:00

I wanna ride too!
The last few weeks, I’ve been busy scraping off the textured paint in my living room to make way for a new color (of regular, non-textured paint). Luckily the textured paint had been put over white paint, which I then had to wash. That last photo may look relatively white, but in reality, it’s quite yellowish — the cleaned walls look much better. This means I won’t have to use primer, which is nice.

About a year ago, Nice started a “city bike” program called Vélo Bleu. I took a 15-euro yearly subscription, which lets you borrow bikes as you want, with the first 30 minutes free on each bike. While it is very cheap, it’s not so practical when, in reality, I’ve only been able to find a bike to use about 10% of the time, plus they’re very heavy and only have 3 speeds. I enjoyed riding them anyway, which helped me realize that I’d be happy with a cheap bike of my own for riding around town. I wouldn’t have to lose any time looking for a Vélo Bleu, and would save the money spent all those times I ended up paying for a bus or tram ticket when a bike couldn’t be found. The downsides are the probability it could be stolen, and having to maintain it myself. But even needing to do maintenance has its upsides: you know what you’re getting into with your own bike.

I didn’t plan on shopping for one until my yearly subscription ran out. I visited one of my favorite secondhand shops today, as I often do because they’re so much fun to browse, then went upstairs to check their used bikes, just in case. I’d seen decent ones in their store over the years, but nothing that ever caught my eye… until today. A charming old Peugeot in orange, with bright green decals, touring handlebars, a chrome rack on the back, front and rear lights, and a mixte (unisex) frame. I could hardly believe my eyes, and figured something must be wrong with it. I spun the wheels to check for wobble: they turned straight and true. I looked at the rims: no divots, cracks, or any other problems. I checked the rear derailleur: a bit gunky, but in fine working condition, which surprised me for a bike its age. The teeth on the chain wheels looked good; the bike pedalled smoothly. I sat on it: surprisingly, the seat was already at the right height for me, and the frame a comfortable fit for head-up city riding, though I would need to turn up the handlebars to level. There was no rust around the bike’s various bolts, which meant adjustments would be feasible. “If the brakes still work, it’s mine,” I thought — not only did the caliper brakes still clamp onto the rims, the pads were in good enough shape that the bike braked without a problem. The only reservations I had were for the shifter and number of speeds: it’s an old lever shifter, and there’s no front derailleur, so the bike’s 5 rear chain wheels meant it only had 5 speeds. “It is just for riding around town, and 5 speeds are still better than 3, plus this is a lot lighter than the city bikes,” I pondered. Then I bought it. 50 euros, and all I need to replace are the tires and inner tubes.

According to its decal styles and serial number, which starts with Y904, it’s a 1979 touring model. Everything on it but the seat and tires is original. 1979 Peugeot Cyclotourisme set with all the photos I took today. As a kid my brother and I would ride steel-frame Takara road bikes, which also had lever shifters. We often had to finagle their caliper brakes and derailleurs, so having another bike with a lever shifter brings back fond childhood memories. I’ll have to re-learn how to ride with one hand while shifting, and memorize the sweet spots for each of the 5 speeds! It will also be fun to have a mechanically simple bike to work on again. I do love my mountain bike, but with disc brakes, and front and rear suspension, it’s not one I can repair entirely on my own.

A Tour de France Fourth of July

Posted in La France at 11:23

Coyot (2)
Yesterday I took the train to Monaco and went to one of my old haunts: the offices I used to work in. They’re on Boulevard Princesse Charlotte, which is where the Tour de France passed yesterday for the Prologue. I sat on a curb bump at the Livestrong ads, since they made a nice solid background, as opposed to smaller and more colorful ads. This was my general view. All of my photos from the Prologue are in this set.

My vantage point did indeed make for some great photos. The one posted here is my favorite — the rider is Arnaud Coyot. I did, of course, also get Lance Armstrong, but he lowered his head. His fiche coureur (rider stats) put him in tenth place currently. Another favorite is this shot of rider Bernhard Eisel, who rounded the corner near the railway station while I was walking there to take a train back to Nice. Japan has two riders in this year’s Tour, and this photo of Fumiyuki Beppu is one I’m really happy with — you can tell how the solid yellow advertisement makes all the difference with these. Currently in eleventh place, Gustav Larsson has a great tattoo on his left calf.

In just a few minutes I’ll be leaving to watch the Tour on the Promenade des Anglais. I doubt I’ll get such good photos as yesterday’s, since the Promenade is flat, so riders will be going faster, and in groups rather than separately. But it’s certainly a neat experience to watch them!