Métrovélo: Two wheels, a Yellow Frame and an Attitude

Typical French Vélos

The World’s Fastest Bicycle
My bicycle’s the fastest
that the world has ever seen;
it has supersonic engines
and a flame-retardant sheen.

My bicycle will travel
a gazillion miles an hour —
it has rockets on the handlebars
for supplemental power.

The pedals both are jet-propelled
to help you pedal faster,
and the shifter is equipped
with an electric turbo-blaster.

The fender has a parachute
in case you need to brake.
Yes, my bike is undeniably
the fastest one they make.

My bicycle’s incredible!
I love the way it feels,
and I’ll like it even more
when Dad removes the training wheels.
–Kenn Nesbitt

We’ve already discovered that jogging in Grenoble is a real treat for the feet (and legs). As the purported “flattest city” in France, there are only two real challenges we face when going through our paces: refraining from stopping at every boulangerie we pass to pick up a pain au chocolat, baguette, or croissant and sidestepping the dog “doo” on the sidewalk. But because of the relative ease of traversing the streets here by walking, cycling, the tram, or the bus, Grenoble is also an easy-living choice for senior citizens and the handicapped.

Bicyclist with Green Parapluie (Umbrella)

Everywhere you look there are des vélos (bicycles), des râteliers (bike racks), and of course, des cyclistes (bicyclists). Bike lanes are integral parts of the traffic scheme, and unlike our NC experience of seeing bicyclists clad in the latest biking gear including helmets, Grenoble’s cyclists are everyday folk who bicycle not as a form of exercise but as a means of basic transportation and are rarely dressed in biking togs or, alas, protective headgear. Paniers de vélo des gens grenoblois (bike baskets of Grenoble people) are sometimes filled with purses, leeks, flowers, or even petits chiens (little dogs)!

Biking in Heels!

Up until now, we have not needed to use a bicycle around town. We avail ourselves of the tram, the bus, and the soles of our feet. With our only one-year stay and the cold and snowy winter, we decided to forgo a long-term rental contract for bikes. But now that the weather is so agreeable, we’ve finally rented Métrovélos, the preferred ride in town, for the weekend to get a new perspective on our adopted ville

Grenoble Alpes Métropole urban agglomeration (known as the Métro) promotes and develops non-car modes of transport: cycle, pedestrian, and public. They boast 300 km of reserved cycle paths in the agglomeration, and three outlets rent Métrovélo bicycles to the public: la gare (train/bus station), Domaine Universitaire (a campus site), and Métrovélo boxes.

Métrovélo Box

I noticed these wooden boxes when we first arrived in Grenoble and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were. The structures have separate cubby lockers for storing personal bicycles and dispensing the yellow rental bikes, for which you can subscribe. The boxes are located near tram stops and the train and bus depot so owners and renters can ride there, store their bikes, hop on their preferred mode of transport, and off they go!

The rates for hiring a bike are unbelievably low. After the required 90€ refundable deposit, the cost could be as little as 15€ per month or up to 100€ for an entire year, including maintenance. Renting for a single weekend (Friday 5 pm until Monday 10 am) is “expensive” at 9€. The price also includes helmet, baby seat, basket, and cycle lock. Students, seniors, and job seekers are given a reduced rate.

We picked up our bikes on Friday night and took a leisurely turn around the ville before heading back to the apartment. From our first ride, I thought the bicycle gave us a different perspective on the streets that we already knew. Saturday and Sunday we were with bright, sunny, breezy days with low humidity. On Saturday, we headed south, riding for about five hours in areas we had never been able to get to before because they aren’t readily accessible by mass transportation and are too far to walk to. Whenever the mood struck us, we stopped at nearby parks or cafés and reveled in the great weather. We came across a deserted bike track, and Steve did his best Tour de France imitation amusing some Français (French people) gardening in the nearby allotments.

Steve on the track

Sunday was another beautiful day to enjoy the bike lanes and off-road trails to the northeast of Grenoble. We first meandered along the Isère River on the paved road that is closed to le trafic véhicule (vehicle traffic) so that bicyclists, joggers, and walkers can use it. Later, picnicking at Parc Ile d’Amour (Island of Love Park) in the neighboring ville of Meylan, we were surrounded by people toting their grills, sports equipment, blankets, and picnic baskets to enjoy the day with family and friends. The quiet scenic route that we took home was a stark change from the noise and busyness to which we’ve become accustomed on the main thoroughfare of our “home” street, cours Jean Jaurès.

Parc Ile d’Amour

It has been almost a year since either Steve or I have been on bicycles, and if not for the 100 steps up to and down from our apartment, I think our legs and derriéres would need a longer recovery period to make up for about 10 hours and 55+ kilometers of cycling in this one weekend. Bien sûr (of course), we are still discovering the wonders of French life, next step… Le Tour de France?  (Check out the video of the route – it will be in Grenoble before we leave for home!)

View from les vélos

A Haiku
wheels spinning around
flying past automobiles
the bike is freedom
-Nicole McMorrow


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jennifer
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:44:51

    The Critereum of the Dauphiné Liberée passes through town June 8. You can get a preview of a major bikerace throught the Alps leading up to the July Tour de France. And see how it disrupts other transport.


  2. Anne Woodman
    May 31, 2011 @ 15:20:54

    Wow! It seems like you had a great time. I can’t imagine cycling for 10 hours, though. Whew! Thanks for sending the beautiful photos. I’d love to see France on a bike someday.


  3. Jenny
    Jun 06, 2011 @ 01:18:50

    Sounds like another wonderful weekend. I can’t believe you’ve been gone so long!! It’s been so much fun following you this year. You are coming back, right??


  4. Catherine
    Jun 11, 2011 @ 13:57:37

    I agree with Jenny. I look forward to your blog! You really are coming back???


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