2011 Tour de France

Cycling is forever firmly linked with France, and not only because of the fantastic Tour de France. Mention the country’s name and many people immediately conjure up the image of an elderly fat man in a stripy teeshirt and a beret pedalling serenely along a country lane with a baguette under one arm and a string of onions around his neck. Well, I always did. Until I moved here. The only elderly gents on bikes you see are head to toe in expensive lycra ensembles whizzing along at speeds close to breaking the sound-barrier. But you don’t get that many even of them any more.

Only 3% of French people cycle and Transport Minister Thiérry Mariani wants to do something about that. So he recently unveiled his Plan Vélo (National cycling scheme) to get more people on their bikes. The goal is 10% of the population cycling by 2020. (Comparative figures for Amsterdam an Copehhagen are 28% and 37% respectively.) And M Mariana also hopes that 12% of all trips of 3km or less will be made by bike by then too. Way ahead of you there, brother! We usually cycle anything less than 10km unless it involves picking up large amounts of shopping.

Current non-cyclists will be tempted by the introduction of more cycling lanes, in cities of course, and special bike parking zones. These latter should be a big help. Finding somewhere to safely leave a bike has long been a problem and something that puts would-be bikers off. At Benj’s university residences of around 500 flats, there are 5 bike stands. I repeat, 5. It’s beyond pathetic. Bike security is important as even a bog standard bike is a couple of hundred euros these days and insurance companies never seem keen to pay out for bike thefts. Benj has already had a bike wheel nicked. The government is promoting Bicycode, bicycode.org which is a system of indelible security marking bikes to deter thieves.

from bicycode.org

There will be incentive schemes for cycling employees (not, sadly, the self-employed – plus ça change) and tax breaks on electric bikes, which I shall have to investigate since I’m not entirely sure what those are. There will be schemes whereby employers can ‘buy into’ collective transport projects and the good old Vélib (short for vélo en libre service). There’s mention too of une indemnité kilométrique. The government is hoping to save €5.6 billion on health care by making us all fitter from cycling, and if all Europeans pedalled 2.6 km per day instead of driving it, transport related carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 15%.

Recently cyclists were given official permission to shoot red lights in towns since this appears to be safer for cyclists than having them waiting at traffic lights and then setting off at the same time as impatient motorists behind them. I got swiped from behind at a roundabout once as I waiting for a gap, well tucked into the kerb. It’s incredible how brightly dressed cyclists suddenly become invisible when they stop!

So, it’s a green light for cycling in France. On your bikes, lads. Oh, and that really should include government ministers …