2sb Visits Paris, 2011

I visited Paris in 2006, and wrote about my experiences and shared some photos. I was lucky enough to go back last month (April, 2011) and it seemed that things have changed enough to make a new story and photo gallery worthwhile.

One thing hasn’t changed: Paris is abuzz with scooters day and night. But while most American scooterists see scooters as a lifestyle choice or hobby, Europeans generally view them as transportation. Most Parisian scooterists are commuters, and are thus concerned about reliability and utility, with style a secondary concern. My unscientific survey of popular ‘colors’ for scooters in Paris are:

  1. Black
  2. Charcoal
  3. Dark Grey
  4. Silver
  5. Bluish-Silvery-Grey
  6. (tie)Dirt, Rust

If you do see a red or yellow Vespa, odds are pretty high there’s a woman riding it.

The biggest change I noticed since my last trip was physical size and displacement. Cars, scooters, and motorcycles seem to have grown since my last visit. In 2006, it was rare to see a 4-door automobile, this time I saw many SUVs, 4-door wagons, and luxury cars (though Minis and Smarts remain popular). This may be attributed to the location of our hotel (St. Placide in 2006, République in 2011) but we travelled all around the city and the trend seemed to hold. Any motorcycles I saw last trip were small-displacement, this time I saw many Triumphs, large-displacement sportbikes, and a surprising number of Harley Davidsons, including a small group of Hell’s Angels at a café near the Bercy arena. Even the scooters have grown. Vespa GTs are starting to outnumber the LXes. The Piaggio MP3, a failure un the U.S., is hugely popular in Paris, blocking sidewalks everywhere. Perhaps some sort of tax/licensing change took place in the meantime to encourage this change.

As far as makes and models, Parisians depend on their scooters daily and keep them for many years, which probably explains why you see few Chinese scooters. Znen sells through several importers under various names in the U.S., but in France, they sell their own brand, and they and Loncin (or was it Lifan?) seem to be the most common mainland-Chinese scooter. Taiwan’s SYM and Kymco remain popular, SYM seems to have grown considerably since my last visit. As far as the French brands, Peugeot continues to sell a wealth of available models, but aside from the 400cc Geopolis and Satelis models, their scooters seemed downright rare. MBK (Motobecane) is now closely tied to Yamaha, so perhaps I wrote off some MBKs as Yamahas, but the majority of MBK-branded scooters I saw were ridden by the police. Even Honda seemed less common, the SH is supposedly a huge seller in Europe but I only saw a couple. Smaller Yamahas like the BW and Jog seemed less common than the last trip, but the X-Max, TMAX, and other larger models were all over the place.

Piaggio still seems to dominate the market. The aforementioned MP3 and the Vespa may just appear to be more common because of their distinctive look, but the rest of the Piaggio line was also well-represented (and specifically Piaggio and Vespa; subsidiaries Gilera, Derby, and Aprilia appear far less common.)

Vintage scooters aren’t common, but they’re still around. I was surprised to see two different Lambretta LDs circling Place de la Republique. With a little patience, you’ll see smallframe Vespas, usually Primaveras or 50 Specials, some are lovingly restored, others are battered. P-series Vespas are still fairly common, though most are recent disc-brake models or LML’s Star (our Stella), not vintage.

Another two-wheel story worth noting: Since my 2006 trip, Paris launched the Vélib’ bicycle-sharing program. It’s not worth going into much detail here, aside from saying it’s incredibly impressive (hooray for Socialism!) and I couldn’t help including some photos of Vélib’ stations in my photo gallery.

I’d hoped to meet Charles from scooter-infos.com, but he was tied up with moving and busy with work, so we didn’t get the chance. I did happen to pass through two districts loaded with scooter shops. Rue de Turbigo (between Les Halles and République) features several scooter dealers. I passed these on a Sunday while they were closed, though I wouldn’t expect them to be very exciting for an American scooterist. Picture a Frenchman with a vintage Ford Mustang obsession stopping into a modern good-old-boy Ford dealer in America and rambling on about “le Fastback soixante-sept.” I spared them a visit.

Somewhat more interesting to a motorcycle/scooter tourist would be the “helmet boutiques” along Boulevard Richard Lenoir, just north of Place de la Bastille. Within three blocks of the pillar, I found a couple more scooter dealers and five or six shops specializing in scooter accessories and helmets. If you need a lock or jacket or helmet, this’d be the place to go, I walked through a couple shops and was astounded with the array of helmets, most of them being the ‘form over function’ expensive designer 3/4 helmets that don’t interest me much. Most of these shops also sold myriad jackets and lap aprons and such. There’s even a Hein Gericke flagship store.

If you go out of your way to visit scooter shops and talk to every scooterist you meet, there’s perhaps not much in Paris to get excited about. If there is a shop somewhere selling vintage scooter t-shirts, with walls covered in rare chrome bits, or a stand at an outdoor market piled high with legshield badges, original shop manuals, and rally patches, I’m still looking for it. Even so, it’s an exciting place for a scooterist, and the best part is free: just sit in a cafe, park, or balcony anywhere in the city and watch the infinite parade of scooters pass by.

(View higher-res photos and comment at flickr)

3 thoughts on “2sb Visits Paris, 2011”

  1. The image of a group of Hell’s Angels sipping café au laits, pinkies pointing to the sky, is just funny.

  2. Ha, that’s pretty much what it was. I don’t know much about hogs, but their bikes were the toys-for-tots full-dress 70s/early 80s models, not choppers or anything. But they seemed very cheerful and had a few ladies at their table, so good for them!

  3. Mustangs were actually quite popular in Europe when they first came out, though they were called T-5s… some company that made garden-type tractors had the rights to the “Mustang” name and wouldn’t give it up.

    These days, I’m still rather surprised to see how many Honda CR-Vs, PT Cruisers, Chrysler minivans and Jeep Cherokees are on European roads. Of course, all are available with diesel engines there…

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