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Actor, Singer Yves Montand
Actor, Singer Yves Montand

Of Love and Bicycles

Ever since French superstar Yves Montand introduced the world to the jaunty, jubilant 'La Bicyclette' in 1968, many a woman in France has imagined herself as "Paulette" and many a man has dreamed of her. Could we in America also benefit by putting some romance back into cycling?

Here's an interesting factoid: more women (55%) ride bikes in the Netherlands than men (1). By contrast, in North America, women on bikes are distinctly in the minority (24%). The dominate factor in this disparity is the presence or absence of safe, convenient bicycle infrastructure. Where American men are willing to take their chances on busy streets, woman aren't; and the only way to change that is to get governments to spend more on dedicated and where necessary, segregated bicycle lanes safe from heavy motor vehicle traffic.

The long history of cycling for both pleasure and out of economic necessity in Europe also has created a culture that sometimes puts as much focus on the romance of riding a bike as on the sport, a la Tour de France.

I came across a posting on LinkedIn to a music video tribute to actor, singer Yves Montand (pictured above) and his 1968 hit 'La Bicyclette.' Featuring Dutch fashion model and chanteuse Davine, the song is about a French postman's daughter named Paulette and the cyclists wishing to court her. Of course, not being conversant in French, I had to look up the lyrics, which I've reproduced below with a translation into English, courtesy of Lyricstranslate.com.

It turns out that since the release of 'Le Bicyclette' nearly half a century ago, there have been any number of 'Paulettes,' the most recent being one of my favorite French actors, Audrey Tautou, who is featured in the music video below.

Besides lacking adequate infrastructure to encourage more women to cycle, maybe we Americans have also missed the boat on the romantic aspect of cycling. Ever see anyone here 'dinking' the way they do in Holland? Look it up if you aren't familiar with the term, and no, I didn't misspell 'drinking.' Peter Jordan talks about it extensively in his bookIn the City of Bikes - The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist.

My point is that besides playing up the sports aspects of cycling, maybe we here in America need to also take a cue from the Dutch, or in the case of 'La Bicyclette', the French, to also bring back a little romance into our lives on two wheels.

La Bicyclette

Quand on partait de bon matin
Quand on partait sur les chemins
A bicyclette
Nous étions quelques bons copains
Y avait Fernand y avait Firmin
Y avait Francis et Sébastien
Et puis Paulette

On était tous amoureux d'elle
On se sentait pousser des ailes
A bicyclette
Sur les petits chemins de terre
On a souvent vécu l'enfer
Pour ne pas mettre pied à terre
Devant Paulette
Faut dire qu'elle y mettait du cœur
C'était la fille du facteur
A bicyclette
Et depuis qu'elle avait huit ans
Elle avait fait en le suivant
Tous les chemins environnants
A bicyclette

Quand on approchait la rivière
On déposait dans les fougères
Nos bicyclettes
Puis on se roulait dans les champs
Faisant naître un bouquet changeant
De sauterelles, de papillons
Et de rainettes
Quand le soleil à l'horizon
Profilait sur tous les buissons
Nos silhouettes
On revenait fourbus contents
Le cœur un peu vague pourtant
De n'être pas seul un instant
Avec Paulette

Prendre furtivement sa main
Oublier un peu les copains
La bicyclette
On se disait c'est pour demain
J'oserai, j'oserai demain
Quand on ira sur les chemins
A bicyclette
As we went off early in the morning
As we rode off on dirt roads
on our bikes
We were a bunch of pals
There was Fernand and Firmin
And Francis and Sebastien
And Paulette too

We were all falling for her
As if we were floating on air
on our bikes
On the small dirt roads
we often went through hell
to keep on pedalling
in front of Paulette
Granted, she was doing her best
She was the postman's daughter
on her bike
And since she was eight
Following him she had gone through
All roads in the neighbourhood
on her bike

When we came near the river
We laid down in the brackens
our bikes
Then we rolled through the fields
Spawning a shifting bouquet
Of grasshoppers, butterflies
and little frogs
As the sun on the horizon
Did cast our shadows
on every bush
We came back, exhausted and happy
Yet a little sad
Never to be alone
with Paulette

Quietly grab her hand
Forget a bit about the pals
and the bike
We thought tomorrow would be the day
I'll dare, I'll do it tomorrow
While we'll ride the dirt roads
on our bikes

(1) Source: People for Bikes.org.

Posted By: Bill Moore [07-Aug-2015]

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