Get on your bike!


Bikes, St Laurent. Photo: James Dalrymple
Bikes, St Laurent. Photo: James Dalrymple

New resident Shonah Kennedy – aka Miss Shonah – gets around Grenoble en vélo. She encourages you to do the same. Here is her guide to enjoying and surviving your daily bicycle commute in the Capital of the Alps.

by Shonah Kennedy

Did you know Grenoble is the flattest city in France? This is a statement that I have heard on more than one occasion in my two short months here – and it has indeed been verified by my favourite search engine! What does this fact mean for the residents of Grenoble and its surrounds – Get on your bike(s)!

What better way to commute in the flattest city in France than from the luxury of your own two-wheeler, two-leg-powered machine and – as an added bonus – breathing in the fresh air of the mountainous surrounds?  So, you want to commute by bicycle … there are a few essentials before you peddle off.

Essential 1: A Bike

You can go to the usual suspects – Decathlon, Go Sport etc. or you could try viable alternatives.  Quite by mistake I bought my bike from Carrefour – not even being aware that you could get bikes – and bikes of decent quality with any service – there.  However, my vélo de ville is strong, road-ready, equipped with a cute basket and warrantee to boot! There was even a very helpful bike technician there to tighten a few nuts and bolts before I rolled it through the cash register!

If you wanted to try to commute en velo, but without committing to a bike immediately – Métrovélo can help.  They are very informative and give assistance readily (they also have insider information on where is best to buy second hand bikes, if this is something you want to consider) and you can hire a bike from them for one day or one year!

Essential 2: Protection

So, now you have your machine of choice – be sure to be well equipped! When you drive, or catch a bus or tram to commute – you can run directly from your warm and cosy house into a warm and cosy vehicle (or, of course in the summer months, air-conditioned bliss). There is a layer of vehicle between you and the sometimes inclement mountain weather. Sadly, a bike does not offer this protection so you need to B.Y.O.

Therefore (and from experience of not donning these items) gloves, jacket, head gear and very thick socks will make your commute a more enjoyable experience.  And really, need more be said – it is cold out there (now) and all extremities are vulnerable. It is always better to be able to take layers off than be so cold you can’t operate your machine properly!

With regards to a helmet – there is no question, get one!  It is the only item that will stop you from hitting your head on anything harder than your head in the case of any type of accident. When sitting parallel to a big monster truck, or bus, human insignificance seems to be magnified and these moments make you realise that helmets are good ideas!

Thanks to daylight savings and another Northern Hemisphere winter quickly approaching, it is getting very dark “out there” very early – BE VISIBLE! Yes, look like the “stop/go person” at road works, get more lights than are necessary. Imagine a rolling Christmas tree and this should give you some indication of the level of illumination you need on the roads after dark – or pre-light depending on the hour you need to start commuting.

Essential 3: Know where you are going

There are over 280 kilometres of bike paths in Grenoble.  Not only does this make commuting extremely easy to do, it also allows for many opportunities to get lost! From the Tourist office, Métrovélo, or many online sites you can get a simple map and pre-plan your daily commute, until it becomes as easy and as simple as jumping on the bus.

Now you have your essentials – get on your bike! This is an exciting moment, so considering the following will make it really fun!

Enjoy your daily commute!

**Leave yourself plenty of time to get all your gear on (layers take time to put on and take off!).  Cycle at a steady pace (you don’t want to get to work everyday looking akin to “Mr Messy” because you had to cycle like crazy to get there on time!). For timing purposes I once tried to chase a bus. This little riding experiment resulted in the conclusion that it takes approximately the same amount of time to ride a bike as it does to take the bus. So, to be safe – as I was really pushing the leg power to its limits – perhaps a little extra time should be factored in!

**The road can be a veritable mine-field. There are cars, trucks and buses coming from all directions.  Once you are in town there are trams and pedestrian traffic to contend with. Wherever there is a bike path there are traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, one way streets, Give Way and Stop signs, puddles that cars will always run into just at the precise moment as to splash onto your newly ironed trousers – so all I can say is take it easy. Don’t get bike rage. Take a breather on the footpath and be aware that you and your bike are probably the most insignificant things using the road. The wonderful thing about commuting by bike is that you can go at exactly the speed you want. You want to stop and take a photo – there is no ringing the little green button, just put on the brakes!

**Know your limits.  The other day – in the pouring rain – I saw one brave soul riding along with her umbrella open. This is an absolute personal choice – however when it is a torrential downpour I am on any form of public transport that keeps me dry!

Remember – if it is difficult and you feel out of breath and the cars are just plain ignoring you and all the lights seem to be red – you are doing a wonderful thing for your own well-being, getting to see the city in a whole new light and also you are being very kind to the precious environment! So what are you waiting for – Get on your bike(s)!

8 thoughts on “Get on your bike!”

  1. There’s an association for cyclists in Grenoble that has bike maintenance workshops in campus and town and sells second hand bikes:

    I think that if you’re a member, you can use their tools and spare parts for free. I’ve not joined yet so I’m not entirely sure how it works, but I’ve been past the campus workshop and they have drawers full of pedals and so on.

    There’s also a big secondhand sporting goods shop out at Comboire which does secondhand bikes – I got mine there for under 90 euros and it is still going strong 6 months later.

  2. Concerning Decathlon. When I arrived I was a total bike novice and bought one of their medium price-range, all-purpose (ville et compagne) bikes. This bike is ridiculously heavy, although it doesn’t matter much to me as I don’t go far.

    Although Decathlon generally has good service, I had lots of problems at first with burst tyres and wear and tear on the saddle. Once I replaced these I had no further problems, which leads me to suspect that some of the materials sold with the bike are of dubious quality.

    However, my warranty was good for replacing the saddle and the saddle support – which fell apart on separate occasions in the first year and which I was expecting them to refuse.

  3. James –

    I expect if you adhere to ptit velo, you can replace out of warranty saddles for free… If my French is up to the job it says that they have free spare parts for members (except wheels).

    Just in case it turns out to be a problem with your bum rather than the saddles:-)


  4. Hannah – I love the sound of the association. Thank you so much for passing on the information! Also for the 2nd hand bikes – always good to have a spare for guests…

  5. Hi Hannah,

    I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my bum at fault. The studs on my jeans maybe. In any case Decathlon didn’t care in that instance, even though I returned the saddle about eight months after purchase, with all its jelly stuffing hanging out … mustn’t grumble!


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