To Paris and (Hopefully) Beyond

Cycling for Climate Change

This month, I released a short film called Time To Cycle’, which tells the story of a group of 200 people, who cycled from London to Paris in December 2015 for the UN Climate Conference.

As you can imagine, this involved a large amount of preparation to coordinate 200 people across Northern France and Southern England. As a result, Time To Cycle was formed as the organising body and network for this ambitious journey.

It all began about a year before, around November 2014, when a few people in Brighton started talking about the idea of cycling to Paris for what was being called a pivotal landmark event in the series of UN climate conferences. The official aim for 2015’s climate talks was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.

It gradually became clear that there was at least one other group based in London who were planning to cycle to Paris, and potentially other people or teams  planning similar rides from the UK and other European destinations.

The London and Brighton groups joined forces and starting working together to plan a trip of around 30 people. Hoping that more would join them, they decided to release a website with tickets and information about the ride, the route, and upcoming meetings. Suddenly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, people from Ireland, Scotland and all over the UK started signing up to the ride.

In the summer of 2015, a small group set off to test the route to Paris and find locations that would host a large group overnight. The route was then confirmed to be: London to Brighton to Newhaven, where a ferry would take us to Dieppe, then on to Rouen, Freneuse, and then to Paris.

By the time we set off we had over 100 people, plus others joined us for all or most of the ride! Our days went something like this: We would set off in the morning as a huge “bike train,” flags flapping in the wind, two or three sound systems playing unsynchronised playlists, people happily singing along or blowing their whistles. Once we were on the outskirts of town, we would pull over and split up into smaller groups of ten, which helped with efficiency and speed. Each rider would look out for the people in their group, as well as organise their own pit stops for food and water wherever they pleased.

‘The idea of cycling all the way there and then not being allowed into the city was the last thing we wanted.’

During the day we cycled along beautiful countryside roads, mostly in the sun, but occasionally in a bit of rain. In the evenings, we were happily fed by a number of local organisations, including Brighton Junk Food Project and local food cooperatives in Rouen and Freneuse.

We also met a group of school children in Freneuse who were waiting to greet us. Their teachers had spent the day teaching them about climate change and when we arrived they had made a colourful, beautiful banner on climate change for us. This was probably one of the most fun moments of the ride. We had had a cold, tiring day riding, but it was all forgotten in a moment, once we entered the building. The kids were cheering, applauding and they just looked so excited! We spent some time with them drawing, showing them our bikes and practicing our French.

They gave us the banner they had made, which can be seen in the film, when we celebrate at the finish line in Paris the following day.

Our aim was to share our journey with everyone. We wanted to spread ideas of how we work towards changing the future, especially if the leaders in Paris weren’t. Paris is a step forward, but a lot more can be achieved. Us taking the effort to make ethical choices, supporting and spreading the work of scientists with projects to help combat global warming, and even helping startups or small businesses with more sustainable or “green” strategies.

We arrived in Paris on 11th December and we were very aware of the high level of security. Fearing the police might not let us into the city in a big massive bike train, as we had practised in every other city, we decided to stay split up in our groups of ten. Because it was one month after the Bataclan attacks in Paris and the city was still in an official “state of emergency,”200 people, mostly foreigners, riding bicycles into the city with big flags was most likely going to be perceived as a potential threat and a distraction for the police.

The idea of cycling all the way there and then not being allowed into the city was the last thing we wanted. So we agreed a meeting point at a large roundabout near the Arc du Triomphe and stuck to our small groups. We planned to cycle the last section of the route together once we were inside central Paris.

Every group made it in. We cycled past the Arc du Triomphe, exhilarated and relieved. Our spirits were high, as a few people joined us, including a few commuters on their journey home, and pedestrians stopped to take photos and wave us on.

Then, suddenly, the ride came to a halt. I cycled up to the front with my camera to see what was happening. The police had stopped us. They pulled us over, which was quite a task. They then circled themselves around us. So, we started playing music and dancing to try to keep a positive mood, while a few French-speakers tried talking to the police.

It was thanks to our French-speaker friends that we got out of it. I think the police were worried about us being a distraction to them and wanted to get us moving as soon as possible. So after about 15 minutes, they decided to let us back onto the road, as long as we only took up one lane and they would escort us most of the way to our hostel. In a turn of events, from being pulled over and surrounded, the police were now escorting us on motorbikes, holding up the traffic for us, letting us speed by whilst the cars all sat in traffic. It was absurd and hilarious at the same time!

 

The following day we showed up at the D12 protest in Paris. The meeting point for cyclists was just above the Arc Du Triomphe, where we found a number of other groups who had cycled from Copenhagen, Valencia and others places around the world. There were even a couple who had cycled from Vietnam to Paris over 10 months (see bike4afuture.com or Facebook).

On our bikes, we cycled en masse through a series of tight alleys and small streets towards the Arc du Triomphe. We were then directed by some organisers to stop just before the Arc. Those of us at the front were given red ribbons to hold up, marking the 2°C threshold. We were told we would be cycling ahead of the protesters, marking the start of the ride and the red lines would represent the limit, beyond which disastrous climate change will be inevitable/extremely hard to prevent.  So/It was like this that the bikes led the way, kick-starting the day of protests.

D12 was a protest held on 12th December (2015), organised by numerous organisations, including Greenpeace, indigenous groups, bike activists, and so many more. Thousands of ordinary people showed up to march down the streets of Paris to show that they intend to continue working for climate justice no matter what heads of state decide in the climate conference.

Stepping off our bikes, we joined in the march and found that among the brass bands, flash mobs, various red lines and many many red hats, there were also Brighton MP, Caroline Lucas, and writer and activist, Naomi Klein.

Looking back it was both a memorable journey and a harrowing(seems negative, maybe stimulating/motivating) adventure shared by over 200 people, which left us energised and excited for our next adventure! I can’t stress enough how special and wonderful that is.

 

Time To Cycle continue to organise rides and you can find out more on their website and Facebook page.