Paris, France: 25 January 2019

Notes from UNESCO:

Professor Laufer from the University of Oregon showed up in Paris to check-in. It’s been absolutely fantastic having Professor Laufer here at UNESCO. He met with my supervisor Matthieu to make sure everything was working out. He is literally our own personal UNESCO ambassador. I feel very lucky to have this kind of support.

Professor Laufer, Oliva, Ida

As for my Malawi story, I was able to interview people directly associated with the project. My first time interviewing someone from Malawi. Had to navigate some tech issues associated with recording over Skype and WhatsApp for my notes but everything worked out in the end.

Excited to coalesce all my materials into an insightful success story.

Notes from the field:

I’m very excited to announce, I will no longer be walking to work. Before we left for Paris we had no intentions of buying bikes. We assumed that we’d just rent city bikes. That plan was quickly destroyed after we A. rented bikes from the Velib bike share and B. realized after walking over 100 miles in the first few weeks, we needed bikes to cover more terrain.

Plan A. went awry after trying out the city Velib bikes for the day.  First of all, you can’t ride the bikes longer than a half-hour without checking it in at a bike hub or you’ll get charged. Overall, the bike service fees are quite reasonable, if you manage not to get charged these overtime fees.

We paid online for two bikes which were 10 Euro for the day. I downloaded the Velib application to make sure we knew where all the hubs are located in Paris. These hubs are spaced out about five blocks from any direction. Really nice since we have to check in every 30 minutes. We figured that the inconvenience of the check-in would be balanced by the close hub network.

After procuring our bike rentals online. We locked our flat and shuffled outside about a block to the closest Velib hub. We were supplied two codes to check out the bikes one from them and the other designated by us. We were able to check out both bikes easily, set the seats to the appropriate hight, and started off on our journey across town. The first part of our trip would involve one bike check-in before arriving at our destination.

We managed to make it across town on our tanks my nickname for the 50lb bike. I had a flashback to World War II movies where tanks maneuver through small European streets, as I attempted a U-Turn on my bike.

We decided to park the bikes at the bottom of the hill rather than hyperextend a knee, and/or break a pedal forcing our tanks up the hill.

After a lovely walk around the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont we looked for a hub so we could cruise down the hill. The Velib application indicated that two bikes were available a block away. We got there and to our surprise, there were two bikes. Unfortunately, the bikes couldn’t be checked out due to service issues. So, we walked five blocks and found another hub. We checked out the two remaining bikes and I quickly realized my peddle was broke. I let Ryann know and we decided to coast down the hill and pick up new bikes at the bottom.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont by Ryann Crowley

At the bottom, I swapped my broken bike for a new one. After riding a couple of blocks I realized that the new bike couldn’t hold a gear and kept popping back to first gear. It felt as if I was in a rodeo but instead of being tossed off, I kept being thrust back into the seat. After a very painful 25 minutes, refusing to check out yet another bike.  We arrived at a new hub, I went to check-in my bronco but the hub wouldn’t except my bike. The screen kept saying “ERROR”, I watched as the clock on the bike kept ticking down, tic, tic, 29:44, 29:45, I kept placing the bike in different positions, trying to get it corraled. Finally, the hub excepted my bike at 30:15, just long enough to charge me additional fees.

So, yeah Plan A. failed. The only enjoyment of the Velib experience was being able to leave your bike anywhere and not worry about picking it back up again.

Buying our own bikes has had challenges, as well. We set a limit of 150 Euro for a used bike. I really wanted a single speed. Might as well keep it simple if you’re buying an old bike. And remember the French have some really old/cool bikes. A lot of the components are no longer made, so if something fails you might have to replace the entire component.

The first bike purchased was a beautiful classic steel framed single speed. After riding for just four miles the front wheel started to become unaligned. I stopped to check the spokes and they were loose. In addition, the back wheel spokes were also very loose. I’ve never in 30 years of cycling had my wheels fail. Thankfully the seller was honest and gave my money back.

Notre-Dame de Paris by Ryann Crowley

Ryann found the second bike for me. It’s a beautiful lightweight, silver, 10 speed, that drives like a single speed. The bike lasted a couple of rides before the front wheel went flat. No big deal, RIGHT? Well, remember old French bikes. The tire is from the 1980s, a technology new and worthy of the time, called boyau tires, English translation tubular tires. The tire and tube are a unit that is sealed to the rim of the bike. A technology fairly outdated, so now I have to find the old school tube/tire or buy a new wheel.

I found a wonderful community cycle shop called SoliCycle, after finding out that most bike shops were going to charge me more than 60 Euro to replace my flat tubular. SoliCyle is an excellent community bike shop. They have all the tools needed for a self-fix, plus they have spare parts. For a one-year community membership of just 20 Euro, I was able to secure a new wheel and meet some wonderful people. Highly recommend this group!

You might be asking yourself is all this trouble worth it? Yes, a billion times over. Biking through Paris is wonderful. You get to maneuver through traffic, down the narrow streets with beautiful architecture rising above you. Each arrondissement/neighborhood has its own unique time stamp. I love feeling like George of the Jungle swinging my way through traffic on the way to UNESCO.

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