‘Oh, I’ve got one of those,’ I say and smile at a girl passing me.
I’ve been in Lyon five months now and this is one of the best days I’ve had. It’s Friday, it’s been a long week, lots of rain, lots of cloud, but today the sun is shining and I’m cycling through the park on the way to my last lesson of the week.
It’s taken me a while to get my act together, but after five months, I’m settling in. I’ve made a few friends, I’m starting to understand the French and their language, the worst of the winter is over, my job’s good, and I’ve found the bottle of wine I would drink if facing the Guillotine. But that’s all small beans compared to receiving my Velo’v card in the post on Thursday.
Opening that envelope was almost as exciting as waking up on Christmas morning as a young boy to see a sackful of presents at the end of my bed. Nothing can surpass those childhood memories, but opening that white envelope was as close as it gets. Who says Father Christmas doesn’t exist?
Velo’v is the Lyon cycle network. And it’s the best thing in the city and possibly the world. These cycle schemes are more and more common across Europe but this is the first one I’ve used. The whole concept is so simple that I’m astounded it isn’t adopted in every city. I think they tried it in Bristol – Britain’s so-called Cycling City – but for some reason it didn’t work. Here they’ve got it off to a tee.
Once you’ve got your card, you simply swipe it at one of the 340 stations and take a bike. You’ve got 30 minutes free then it’s a Euro an hour, but seeing as you can get to most places in under half an hour, it’s rare you have to pay. And that’s the point. It’s not a leisure facility, simply part of the public transport system and considered just another method of mass transportation like the metro or tram. The actual bikes are as heavy as cranes and look like them, so you’re not going to steal one and attempt the Tour de France. And I can’t imagine van loads of scousers would get much for them.
The stations are all around the city so you’re never more than a few minutes from one and considering the clogged up roads, it’s quicker than car or bus. Hence, everybody uses them; not just a few waxy looking environmentalist dressed in green Cagoules and red wellies.
On Friday morning, I woke up bright and early and after a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and strong coffee, I tucked my new card into my pocket and strode out of my flat to the nearest Velo’v station.
OK, so a small part of my smile was wiped off when I saw there were no bikes in the station – it can happen – but a two minute walk took me to a full rack of bikes and my first opportunity to ride the Velo’v. Amazing. Five minutes to work as opposed to fifteen: an extra ten minutes in bed per day, an hour a week, two days a year. There was an another slight problem at the station near my work, as this time instead of being empty, it was full, so I wasted another five minutes finding another one. But my enthusiasm for this marvellous feat of common sense was undiminished. They make me feel French, part of the system. Looks like I know what I’m doing.
I don’t, but if everything is in the mind, then the Velo’v is a good way to trick it. Like alcohol, only better for you.