Musician and bicycle enthusiast, Clément Brajtman, returned to NYC after a 5-year absence. Needless to say, he wasted no time to do the two things he loves most: play music and ride a bike. Instead of taking public transportation to get around the city, he opted to bring his own bicycle from his native Paris, France. During his visit, he cycled through various parts of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and even New Jersey. I sat down with Clément to get his perspective on how Paris and New York compare on their respective bike cultures.
What kind of cyclists do you find in the streets of Paris?
People in their 20’s and 30’s. They’re often students, people looking to save money on Metro fares, or people in a rush.
What kind of bikes are they riding?
Vintage Peugeots. Peugeot was a major manufacturer in France during the 70’s and it flooded the market. They ranged from low quality to top quality bicycles.
Did you notice anything different about the riders here?
Yes. People in NYC are better equipped with top of the line bikes, tail lights, and headlights. They dress the part, too, in cycling fatigues. It would be considered too much in Paris. People are more judgmental there and likely to ask themselves, “Why is he dressed this way?”
What kind of bike do YOU ride?
I ride a single-speed Vitus 992 road bike with bullhorn handlebars and 700 x 23 Gatorskin Continental tires. The bullhorn handlebars help you move through tighter spaces and I haven’t had a single flat with these tires in several months and I ride A LOT. The 992 aluminum frame is a bit different because it’s glued and not welded.
Is there a reason why you prefer to use a single-speed?
In the city, I like to ride a single-speed and keep it simple. You don’t need more than that. Like the fixie, it is less to worry about.
Since this would be the 1st time you’ve biked in NY, in a few words, how would you describe bike scene here?
Dangerous, thrilling, and booming.
What are some of the differences between Paris and New York as cities to bike in?
Well, the streets in Paris are messy and come from all directions. It’s much smaller and less divided compared to the Five Boroughs of New York City. Here, you have huge avenues, less disruptions, and more likely to catch a series of green lights. In Paris, there is more to worry about with all the scooters, cyclists, and cars. There are also a lot of cobble stone streets. It is a pain in the ass, literally.
Have you encountered any obstacles in the city?
There are lots of pot holes and sewer vents. Cab drivers are much more aggressive here. Sometimes, cars don’t signal when turning. Back at home, you would get a fine for this. The pedestrians here are equally as crazy though. They cross the street anywhere and anytime.
Is there anything NY can learn from Paris?
Not really. Both infrastructures are more or less the same. It started later here than in Paris, but you notice the streets are becoming more bike-friendly. One thing is certain and that is the need for more bike parking.
I understand you went on a bike trip in September of 2012. Where did you go?
From Paris to London. I wanted to do a long trip for some time. Not just commuting, but to get a real feel of distance. There is a difference between getting from Point A to Point B when cycling, compared to driving, where things just zoom by. You don’t even pay attention to what is around you. Traveling a long distance requires to focus a lot more. I always prefer to travel in an active way rather than in a passive way. I had a few friends in London I wanted to visit, so London was neither too close nor too far.
How long did it take you?
3 days to get to London and 2 days to return.
That’s impressive! Would you ever do something like that again?
Oh, sure! My next idea is to go from Paris to Copenhagen. It will be a completely different trip. I will need to pack a tent. I don’t think it’ll take more than 10 days. I don’t know if I’ll do it for Summer ‘14 or ‘15. I’ll have to organize it.
Based on your experience, any other suggestions on how to improve our infrastructure?
Any means of encouraging more people to bike. For example, why not make certain subway cars cater just for bicycles and have elevators at each subway station? More people on bikes helps them understand traffic and courtesy better because they would be more conscious of how to be safe as a pedestrian, driver, and cyclist.