Did you ever notice that the perception of cycling in the media is mostly performance and competition-based? How many miles can you cycle, what gear do you use, etc.? But what about those inexperienced and unsure about taking up cycling? For those rookie beginners, CityChanger Yann Moszynski has designed a wonderful, useful cycling handbook.
Lately, there has been a lot of news about cycling in the French capital as it is getting more and more popular. We talked to Yann Moszynski, co-founder and creator of the cycling blog Les Rookies, who has been advocating for cycling in Paris for years. He told us more about the city’s cycling history, how he created a nationally praised handbook on cycling, and what inspires him to travel by bike.
Born and raised in the suburbs of Paris, Yann started cycling at a very young age. Compared to Paris, public transit wasn’t really sufficient where he lived, so as a kid, cycling was his way to get around.
When moving to Paris to study, cycling became Yann’s natural way to get around. “However, a decade ago, it was pretty scary to cycle in Paris because there was essentially no safe infrastructure.”
The City of Love Starting to Love Cyclists
At the beginning of the 21st century, the city started rolling out its first cycle lanes under the mayor Bertrand Delanoë, but according to Yann, this approach was too shy and insufficient to actually create a decent cycling culture in Paris.
With the election of the new mayor Anne Hidalgo in 2014, impactful change started to happen. The committed new leader prepared an ambitious plan to increase not only cycling but also car-free areas in Paris.
Of course, this plan was not welcomed with enthusiasm by all; especially drivers felt angry about having space taken away from them that has been rightfully used by cars for decades. Unimpressed, Anne Hidalgo continued implementing her plans, not only banning cars from the banks of the river Seine in 2017 but also committing to re-designing the famous street Champs Elysée by turning parts of the road into green pedestrian areas.
The real behavioural shift in Parisian’s attitude, however, came with the Covid-19 pandemic. With public transportation being no safe option anymore, people turned to cycle as an alternative. The mayor and her team took this opportunity and created many new bicycle paths. A little fun side fact: They called the new cycle paths through the city “coronapistes”, not the sexiest name, in Yann’s opinion. This network of bicycle paths was intended to be temporary, but in July 2020, Anne Hidalgo was re-elected, allowing her to make the bike-paths permanent.
Anne Hidalgo has proven how good political leadership can actively drive change and support the work of cycling advocates. However, as Yann tells us, the problem in Paris is that there are different mayors for each arrondissement (district), each with a different amount of goodwill or courage to roll out cycle paths. “It really differs from one arrondissement to another. You can have great or terrible infrastructure, which is obviously really a shame because one criterion of good cycling infrastructure is having continuity from one place to another.”
From Dash Cams to Handbooks – Yann’s Cycling Advocacy Journey
Yann has been fighting to get people in Paris to cycle for over a decade now. He saw first-hand how cycling can positively affect a city when he lived in the Netherlands.
Determined to achieve the same in France, he started advocating for cycling, recording his cycling routes through Paris with dash cams on his helmet. As many non-cyclists minimize and doubt the danger on the streets, the film material of Yann and many others showed how scary cycling in Paris could be, especially when sharing one lane with busses and reckless drivers. Yann tells us that the videos “created a bit of awareness, and fortunately, the mayor’s team at the City Hall listened and became active.”
Cycling already spiked in Paris once before the pandemic. In September 2019, big strikes in the transportation sector affected public transit massively, and people slowly started seeing cycling as an alternative. Cut to March 2020…
Les Rookies – Not Knowing Anything Should Not Keep You From Cycling
We were all bored in lockdown, but while many decided to binge-watch Netflix, Yann created his own cycling blog Les Rookies, together with his friend Matthieu Tober.
The term “rookie” a name given to inexperienced athletes in professional sports. This description of a rookie is the exact motivation behind the blog. Yann and Matthieu, both long-time cyclists, realized that most portrayals of cycling in the media are performance and competition-obsessed. As this view is totally different from Yann’s and Matthieu’s perception of cycling being about discovering new places and sharing meaningful moments with people, the duo decided to do change this.
In the beginning, the blog was not specifically related to cycling in urban areas but rather a space to share inspiring stories about adventure cycling and people’s experiences around cycling. The concept of the blog is easy: No matter if you’re an extreme backpacker or if you’re a commuter…
“We believe that the beauty of cycling is the diversity of cycling activities and cyclists, and yet it is related to one very simple object.”
One project of the duo that has received national-wide media coverage actually occurred by chance. At the beginning of 2020, Yann and Matthieu were both working in the same office, known there as the cyclists. During the French lockdown, many colleagues started asking them for advice on how to start cycling, so they started to create a little guide for them.
Only meant for a few people in the beginning, their colleagues asked them if they could share this guide with friends and family. Realizing that this could be something interesting to a broader audience, the duo worked 48 hours straight to be able to publish a handbook on the last day of lockdown, 11th of May, 2020.
“The idea was to give any piece of advice from A to Z you can give to first-time cyclists on cycling in an urban area.” Basically, Yann and Matthieu put together all the information they’ve gathered themselves by cycling in Paris for years. The handbook gives information on how to choose your bike, how to dress depending on the weather, how to ride safely, and more insights from the two cyclists. It was published in the morning at the end of the lockdown, both in French and in English, accessible for free online.
The feedback was immediate and overwhelming. Shortly after launching, the handbook got supported by the team of Anne Hidalgo and the retweets just flooded in. Even the Minister of Ecology in France shared the guide online.
The most wonderful thing was the response from the public, Yann recalls. People talked about how the duo’s pieces of advice helped them change their daily commute to cycling. Additionally, the handbook led an increasing number of people to Les Rookies, finding a place in a welcoming cycling community for everyone.
Even though the handbook entails specific information about cycling in Paris, other city officials reached out to Yann and Matthieu asking for a printed version to distribute for free in their cities.
While talking to Yann, we could clearly hear his pride about the effect their handbook had, not only on residents but on politicians as well: “I think there’s a big shift in cities starting to notice how pleasant it is to live in a city that’s built for living and for sharing moments instead of just commuting through it.”
The Journey Is the Travel Itself – No(r)way
One early idea that dominated the Les Rookies Blog from the beginning was to inspire people with cycling adventures. As both Yann and Matthieu have had wonderful experiences travelling to different places by bike, no wonder they’re eager to share these adventures.
Fascinated by Norway’s nature, this summer, Yann and Matthieu will travel 500 kilometres through the Scandinavian country. Even though the distance is not a challenge for the duo, the 9000 metres uphill cycling might be.
As Yann is also an art director, having done film and photography for years now, he plans to film this adventure. With the title irresistible paradox of discomfort, the duo plans on featuring interviews with cyclists all over the world explaining why they travel by bike. “It will be the visuals of us in Norway, hearing the interviews of cyclists from various levels, and with very various experiences that share why they think it’s worth travelling by bike.”
Paradox of Discomfort
Yann tells us that, when talking about travelling by bike, most people react with questions like “why would you sleep in a wet sleeping bag? Why would you do that?”. Well, we couldn’t help but ask him exactly that, and his answer is nothing but inspiring:
“Usually, when you travel, the goal of your travel is the final destination. But when you travel by bike, the journey becomes the travel, the journey is not the destination, the journey is the travel itself.”
While recalling the many times he went to Germany by plane or car, Yann explains he never really knew Germany until he cycled from Amsterdam to Berlin. “You have a whole other connection to your environment, you actually become part of your environment”.
Moreover, Yann finds a unique satisfaction in the discomfort of travelling by bike: “While cycling, you go from very lonely and deep moments where you are alone with yourself to happiness, where you discover a new place or enjoy a sunset. It’s just those crazy unique moments that you can only experience by cycling or by hiking.”
Advice for CityChangers
Yann advises you to reach out to established cycling associations before starting your own cycling project. They have a lot of valuable information and can definitely help you. “You will notice that you’re not alone. Thousands of people are in the same situation as you”. This sense of community will give you the final push you need to get started with your project.
The other important thing Yann realized on his advocacy journey: Don’t underestimate the power of Social Media! “Twitter is a very powerful tool. There are massive bike commuting communities, in London, Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen.” You will soon realize that “this online community is really powerful, there’s a lot of reach, an active community of people who want to change cities”.
Lastly, for the cycling rookies out there, Yann has one more piece of advice to give: “Don’t feel judged, don’t feel any social pressure. I think the beauty of the bicycle is that you can do it alone, you can just take it and see how it feels. And then, I’m quite sure that once you try it, you’ll stick with it.”