YOU’VE heard of Russian Roulette, haven’t you? You know, one bullet in the chamber, spin, point the gun at your own head and pull the trigger. One chance in six you’ll be dead. We’ll, French Roulette is when a tourist rides around the Arc de Triomphe…
I started my first full day in Paris (I’d organised myself a couple of days after the Yamaha Super Tenere Launch, see June 2010 issue) full of enthusiasm and loose plans to get things done.
Two trains, one bus and three hours later I was happily in the saddle of a TDM900GT, the GT giving me small panniers, a top box and a lower fairing in addition to the bike we get in Australia. I then got lost.
I knew this would happen and I didn’t really care, indeed, I was treating it as a tour. There was no hurry and plenty to see, so I just tried to go in the general direction of the city.
My accidental tour ended at the Arc de Triomphe. By this time I was getting tired of riding, but I was well-attuned to the attitudes of French riders and drivers. Basically, everyone wants to get where they’re going with the least amount of fuss, so no-one bats an eyelid at anyone on two wheels carving up the traffic. Indeed, you’re considered a little strange if you don’t.
I can’t say I ever really felt comfortable pulling over into a lane of on-coming traffic and shooting up beside the line of stopped cars on my right, pulling back into the lane as vehicles started coming toward me, but locals do it all the time.
Anyway, back to the Arc. It’s a roundabout where 10 or 11 roads come together. Seriously. And what you end up with is about five lanes of traffic on the roundabout all happily carving up their compatriots in an effort to get where they’re going.
And with no line markings, it’s a free-for all which works, the only rule being ‘don’t collide’. The car drivers just steadily go where they want and the two wheelers go around them. People look out for each other because they don’t want to crash. No one I saw was going very fast and it becomes just a tangle of vehicles all making their way.
I loved it.
If this roundabout were in Australia it would be covered in lanes, signs and traffic lights. It would take 10 times longer to get through and wouldn’t prevent any accidents.
Being May 7, there was also a commemoration of the unknown soldier going on under the Arc, so there were cops everywhere, tourists watching from the outside rim, but there was no way Paris was going to stop motorists using the roundabout: I reckon gridlock would happen pretty quickly if they ever did.