Hi, TransPortland.org !

Nous poursuivons notre collaboration avec nos amis de TransPortand.org. C’est à notre tour de rédiger un article sur le cargo bike dans notre ville, article destiné à être publié sur leur site. Voici cet article, attention, c’est en Anglais !

Hi TransPortland.org fellows, from the Paris Cargo Bikes crew ! As an answer to your post presenting the Portland cargo bike scene (English original version), here’s our perception of Paris’ scene.

But before we focus on cargo bikes, let’s have a quick look at the history of utilitarian bikes in France since World War II. In the 50s, most workers would get to work by bikes. But from the 60s, bikes only remains as a mainly recreational or sports activity. The percentage of cars and two-wheeled motorized vehicles in all transportation explodes, the road infrastructures adapt to this new mainstream vehicles, chasing away bicycles out of the cities. In the 80s and 90s, utilitarian bikes are introduced back in Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, but France’s cities still continue in their mainly pro-automotive policies….

Dinette à Nogent

In Paris, a really dense city (55,000 people/sq mi) compared to Portland (4,300 people/sq mi) or european cities like Amsterdam (9,080 people/sq mi) or Copenhagen (16,000 people/sq mi), public space is limited, yet new separated cycle paths appear and multiply. Bicycle specific infrastuctures are successfully implemented : some one way streets have a 20mph speed limit and are allowed to be ridden by bikes both ways; in some cases, you are allowed to turn right without stopping when the traffic light is red.

Paris is a relatively small city (about 8 miles large), making it possible to go all over town by bike. Vélib’, the Paris Bike Share Program (200.000 yearly suscribers, an average of 100.000 rides by day) appeared in 2007, introducing numerous new cyclists in the streets. Sharing the streets with cars and two-wheeled motorized vehicles (there are many of them in French large cities) is still problematic but for cyclists, higher visibility and consideration come with greater number of us in the streets, and the situation is getting slowly better.

But let’s get back to the point : until the 60s, heavy load bikes were often used in Paris. The popularity of organized races for heavy load bikes is a testament to the success of this kind of bike. The most famous races are the “critérium des porteurs de journaux” (newspaper messenger rally), a 23 mile race with a 55 pound load of newspapers, and the “championnat des triporteurs” (tricycle championship), same distance with a 143 pound load ! …

Porteurs journaux

triporteurs

These old-fashioned Cargo Bikes disappeared in the 60s and appeared again in its modern form in the late 00s. Before, you would rarely get a glimpse of a Bakfiets. The first Bullitt in France was imported in 2008 by Jérôme, a friend of PCB and a bike messenger riding his own Bullitt.

In Paris, you will mostly see Bakfietsen, Bullitts, a few Yubas or Kona Utes, and triporteurs (mostly Niholas or Christianias). On the other hand, you won’t see any “cycle trucks”, with the exception of the postal bikes (those bikes are sometimes bought and adapted by private individuals for their own needs).

Vélo la Poste

Lately, some bike shops have become aware of the potential sales of this kind of bike, more and more of them are offering for sale a larger and larger range of cargo bikes. You can also rent a cargo bike for an occasional need.

A few handmade cargo bike projects have appeared in France. During the 2012 Paris Cargo Bikes Meeting, Thomas – founder of Douze Cycles – shared his prototype with us. His project, a modular cargo bike that can turn into a short or long biporteur, or a triporteur, and will be produced in limited numbers. Two mechanics engineering students also came to participate to the meeting with their cargo bikes, handmade as part of their course (here’s a presentation of their bikes on a French Handmade Bicycles Makers Bulletin Board).
12_cycles_03
New cargo bikes models appear in Europe : the Dane Winther Wallaroo (Bullitt’s cousin, designed by the same engineer, Lars Malmborg), the Dutch Urban Arrow and soon, the German Riese & Muller Load, showing that this market is in full bloom.

The main use of cargo bikes is to take children to school or other activities. We are often asked for advice by parents considering a cargo bike. For example, which model should they buy, given the number of children they have or their age ? There are also messengers riding their Bullitt in Paris to carry bigger parcels than usual, or small mobile catering businesses, the latter is however a marginal activity in Paris for the time being.

The ParisCargoBikes website was launched to share the pleasure we have riding cargo bikes : we met through vélotaf.com (a French Bicycle Commuter Bulletin Board) and bought one at a time our own cargo bike. We felt like organizing an event with trials to have fun and getting new people acqainted with those strange bikes, and created the website to promote the meeting. Beyond the meeting, our website is now also aimed at giving people information about cargo bikes, by example interviewing cargo bikes owners. But for sure we will continue to organize the meeting next years !

Sources:

General bike considerations:

Heran’s study, including an abstract in English

Antique cargo bike racing :

Blackbird SF [en]
Vélos Mont-Valérien [fr]

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