My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.

vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
     1. bike, bicycle

[from vélocipède]

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo

(The following story was written in September 2007)

My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.

I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.

"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!

                                    *     *     *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."

The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.

"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!

My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"

Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)

"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.

Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"

Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.

"We have a different model in silver..." he said.

                                           *    *     *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.


References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench

     Read more stories about my mom here.
 A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.

     Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS


Terms & Expressions:
  vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
  vélodrome = cycle-racing track
  vélomoteur = moped
  faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding

Aromatic lavender honey
Rosetta Stone French (CD-ROM) -- "an award-winning method used by NASA and the Peace Corps"
In music: Putumayo Presents: Paris


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Ann at Cooking the Books

I love your photos today -- they capture the air of freedom that comes with a bicycle!

Here in Paris, everyone loves the vélibs, or rent-a-bikes, that are stored on neighborhood street corners. But I'm too chicken to try riding a bicycle here! Maybe in August, when 2/3 of Paris is away....


We bought our first french bike during the 2007 strike in Paris. The cobble stones did a number on my husband's derriere!! The second one was a gift from a returning Canadian expat who couldn't ship it home. So now, with one in the hallway and one on our petite patio, we are up to our necks in bikes. Though it is fun to find a low traffic day in Paris (rather difficult and we have to share the bus lane!) and ride past the monuments. I feel almost Parisian! Jeanne

Kristin Espinasse

Ann: I'd be triple-too-chicken to ride in Paris. I can hardly cope with Braise-the-Dog running alongside my wheels. Makes me nervous!

And, Jeanne, don't even mention sharing the bus lane. Eeeks!

Evelyn Jackson

I'd try your velo among the vines, but never among Parisians! I couldn't believe how many people ride their bikes in the busy, busy city...women in high heels, little old men with their canes hooked on the handlebar, young dads with babes in backpacks...yikes!I'm with Ann...maybe in August when everyone is gone.


What a chic mom you have, Kristin! Now we know where your good looks come from. I miss taking the kids bike riding at Parc Monceau when we lived in that we're in the NYC suburbs, you'd think it'd be easier than ever. Alas, we have no sidewalks where we live (common around here), and it's hilly.

Pug At The Beach

Way back when, after my first trip to Key West, my kids bought me this beach bike for Mother’s Day.

When my daughter Zoe took the above photo of my beach bike on this quiet road in New Hampshire, I had already made the decision to move to South Florida the following summer. She took the picture because she wanted me to always remember where I had come from once I got to where I was going. She wanted me to always remember that dreams do come true and that I was creating that dream.

Now I ride my bike to the beach everyday and it's great!

Diana Taylor
Top Dog
Pug At The Beach
Encouraging people to pursue their own dreams with the help of a small island dog philosopher.

Andrea Robinson

As I have told you before, your mother is AWSOME and an inspiration to all of us. You are so lucky to have her in your life. She truly knows how to live minute by minute!

Julie Schorr

Thank you for this lovely email, Kristin. I have been wanting to go and purchase myself a bike somewhere and ride with my son. Your email has inspired me to go and do it!

Nancy L

For me your photos today capture the feeling of "bike as friend". I ride my bike up and down the hilly,narrow, twisty roads to get to my office in our little New England town. Friends and neighbors wave and beep to say 'hello' as I peddle, and my Cannondale "Bad Boy" (yes, that's the model name) has never let me down. Life just feels kinder & gentler when I'm riding my bike. Occasionally people will remark "I saw you on your bike, aren't you scared to ride on these roads?". I must say that I sometimes feel dwarfed by the passing GIANT SUV's (this is America, after all--some cars are just enormous)but NEVER afraid because I adore my bike and feel safe on it.
My only regret is that I have to store it for the winter... Today we have over 6" of snow on the roads and another 6-10" expected. In the meantime, I dream about Spring and riding again!
PS- Your saddle bags are very fashionable and an important accessory for a busy Mom on a bike! Happy Riding!


I LOVE riding bikes but I can never do so without the motif of Miss Gulch playing in the background of my mind. As a result, I always feel like the Wicked Witch of the West! You, on the other hand look like Glinda! (I guess it's because I have dark hair.)

Thanks for the great photos! And Jules, thanks once again for Pear. I hope you find just the right sized canvas to paint the kids and Braise in that wonderful tree!


I sit here at my laptop, trying to work from home while the Ohio snow and ice storm holds me house-bound for the second day. The thought of riding even the dorkiest, most Pee Wee Herman-ish bicycle through a French vineyard is almost more than I can bear! It must be lovely. O for a little bit of spring!


Your mom's bike looks like a folding one -- is it? I have a folding bike that actually fits in the back of my Mini Cooper if the back seats are folded down. Trouble is, I am not very good on a bike. Roads and traffic are absolutely out of the question -- I'd be under a car in no time -- and even the many bike trails here in Virginia are a bit scary, with all the experts on their racing bikes whizzing by, yelling "On your left," which always startles me and makes me instantly want to swerve to the left myself.

Your lovely country roads look just the thing!


Great story and I love the photos of you biking. You look so French with the white sweater draped over your shoulders and the stylish hat. Favorite photo is the one of you to the left of the vines. The leather bags look a lot better than the plastic pop crate many of my friends have on their bikes!


Wonderful photos! Both of you are très, très chic! Great hat, by the way.



Hi dear Kristen,
I love this post.. As always Jules is so quirky (sp?) and fun, and you look beautiful on your bike. My poor bike sits in my garage with flat tires because I never ride it, I'm inspired to go on out and pump up those tires and hit the road. I only wish I was riding in your beautiful neck-of-the-woods rather than the asphalt desert I live in here in Vegas... p.s. Thank you so much for accepting my "friend" invitation on Facebook, I'm having lots of fun on there.

Linda Meier

Congratulations on "braving" a bicycle. My husband and I (and a group of friends) have spent 10 days cycling in France each of the last two years. This year in the Loire Valley and last year in the Dordogne. We absolutely loved it. The French are very bike supportive, give you space when they pass (even though driving fast) and there are designated bike routes in many places. We are avid bicyclists at home (Bainbridge Island, WA) and it's just plain fun, ecologically correct and you can eat croissants without a worry!!! Keep on cyclin'


I respectfully petition to be informally adopted by the ultra-cool and wise Mama Jules.

*squint* That looks suspiciously like her hat on your head, kid.

Fred Caswell

In facinatingly different ways, you and your mom are such beautiful, lovable people.

While a bit envious of the more youthful riders, there are no regrets for giving up my electric bike following two minor falls (when stopping!) and a blown fuse causing a challenging peddle home on that heavy velo electrique.

Mailing the photos that I was unable to e-mail earlier. Maybe it would be better to spend more time baking with Nancy than biking alone. Comme toujours ... Moi

Fred Caswell

Forgot something (nothing unusual for this vieux homme):

Weather outside is not only frightful but downright miserable.

Just when the ground was making appearances in spots or small areas partous after being continuously covered by snow for over a month, along came seemingly endless rain making the snow a mushy covering hiding or revealing slush which itself is retarding the flow of the thin layer of water beneath.

Must go now to make a path for some of the water to flow towards the lower areas. I am totally sick of this weather!

The Meteo reports the next two days will be sunny and above freezing! No one will be happier. FAC


I very much enjoy your site which was recommended to me by a Francophile....
I have been day dreaming about riding my bike as I look out at the snow in New England. It won't be too long before I get to venture out. Usually, I ride around 1000 miles from May to September. I am 50+ and my bike helps keep me in shape....Thanks for the memories that are straight ahead!

Edith Schmidt

Enjoyed your velo story.
St Etienne, France was the center of the French bicycle industry. If you go there you can visit the Museum of Art and Industry which features an interesting exhibit on the history of bicycling in France as well as a history of the Tour De France. In the 1860's the French father and son team of Pierre and Ernest Michaux designed a bicycle that's more like the modern bicycle, tho' as far as the design of the first bicycle some folks cite Leonardo Da Vinci as being the "inventor' of the first bicycle.

Edie Schmidt


Oh I LOVE your Mum (oops "Mom")!!! She has such a "joie de vivre" and mischief that you can see in the twinkle of her eyes!! May I say the two of you are like peas in a pod!
My husband has a perchant for bikes and has managed to collect 5 in various states of disrepair ( not including the kids bikes) one of which includes a tandem that we have had many a fight on!! However, it was his purchase of a limosine off Ebay that really caused me to say "What the heck..." ( wish I knew the french version!) and caused some turmoil in our normally peaceful house!! However...we now load it up for our family hoildays sometimes with surfboards and sometimes with snowboards, music and always extra kids...and I now love the silliness it puts into our lives!! That's our "joie de vivre"!!!
PS Love all your photos including "Pugs"!


We started the day with snow, then sleet followed by rain. My one-on-one French lesson was cancelled, so I started several projects, which I left undone because I got caught up in reading your past posts and have been at the computer of some time now. Unfortunately I'm usually at least 3 or 4 posts behind.
.... Yeah, Obama!
.... I would love to climb Mont Ste Victoire.
I have a 10 speed bicycle, which was hanging in my garage and now has been sent to the shed to hang there with its deflated tires, dust and cobwebs. I keep saying that I will go the local bike shop and purchase a new bike where I can sit up straight and it has a soft wide seat and wide tires, but I haven't done so yet. I live on a road that bends and has endless hills. I walk this road during the spring, summer and fall, but biking it gives me the willies. Walking, at least I can jump out of the way of the speeding cars. Although, almost every weekend, especially during the warmer weather, there are groups of 8 -12 people who are in full biking gear - those colorful form fitting outfits - that ride our roads without batting an eye lash.
There are several areas where I would feel more comfortable riding. Our roads near the sound are beautiful as well as our state park. You have encouraged me to follow my decision to buy a new bike... it should be blue... and be comfortable. Hopefully I will remember this come spring time.


I too was salivating over a turquoise retro bike w/a tan leather seat in a bike shop where I live in Virginia. I got back into biking last summer, encouraged by a new bike path that opened up along the river. It's a lovely ride, safe from cars, but one must be on the lookout for walkers w/dogs as they let them wander all over the path. I have to announce I am coming "on the left!" but try to do it early enuf so I won't scare the wits out of people, but often they jump and want to move right in your path. The exercise is great and there are some good rodes, even riding's a rather small town. Love the pictures - your Mom looks like a lovely wildchild who would be great fun to know and bike with! Good for you getting back on a bike. Love this site. "Happy trails to you."


Vive le vélo, et vive la campagne!
So, Kristin, it's been nearly a year and ½ since the famous purchase of the silver bike! Ooooh! Your smile and confidence give us the impression you were happy to have not only accepted the gift (with grace!) but delighted to be able to explore, on 2 wheels, such a beautiful countryside – the whole experience offering the exciting vision of a 'moving' green space unrolling around you, at a gentle speed.

The behaviour between mother & daughter, the remarks and arguments going on in front of Danielle, at the sport shop & home deco shop, produced some delightful mini-scenes that made me smile! Now then, have you been riding your bike regularly along the country lanes? according to mood and weather? occasionally with neighbour Danielle?... and with your Mum when she comes and stay with you? or rather on your own whenever you can 'escape'?

The photo taken in 2003 shows me how much the owner of the bike, just a month after her operation, wanted to face 'the world outside'. Bravo Jules! The smile on your face was much more than a 'pretty smile' to please the photographer and enchant the readers. It was a brave and bright smile shouting to everyone: “Whatever happened to me, I'm ok. Look! I've got this fantastic two-wheeled friend taking me wherever I want, away from what I went through – and whenever I ride my bike, I feel as free as a bird”!

Linda Cain

Chere amie,
SVP, wear a helmet! You can get one that looks like the wings of mercury ... but it's MUCH safer than your cute little hat!
(Do I need to tell you sad stories to convince you?)


Pauline Lowe

Bonjour d'Adelaide en Australie de Sud. I am a recent inductee to French Word A Day and this is my first contribution to your blog. Last week in Adelaide there were beacoup des velos for the TOUR DOWN UNDER. Lance Armstrong helped to boost the crowds. This week not many are riding their velos as we are experiencing the 1st of our summer heat waves with the mercury expected to be 40-45C for the next week. Fleeting moments have me thinking it would be nice to be in winter but then again it is only hot.

Linda Meier

I second the comment about wearing a helmet. They are not cute or fashionable but my husband who has been an ER doc can tell the sad stories of those who don't.


your mother is stunning. What a fabulous smile she has there!

Jeff C.

All this talk of bikes in paris reminds me of the first time I heard the word velo, it was in an old song by Joe Dassin:

La Complainte de l'Heure de Pointe
(À Vélo dans Paris)

{Refrain: 2x}
Dans Paris à vélo on dépasse les autos
A vélo dans Paris on dépasse les taxis

Place des fêtes on roule au pas
Place Clichy on n'roule pas
La Bastille est assiégée
Et la République est en danger

{Refrain 2x}

L'agent voudrait se mettre au vert
L'Opéra rêve de grand air
A Cambronne on a des mots
Et à Austerlitz c'est Waterloo

{Refrain 4x}

Check out this corny video:

et en tant que d'autres ont noté, tout à fait la ressemblance de famille là!
Ainsi le vélo était probablement inévitable!!

poppy fields

I love the feeling in this story.
Hey, I have a bike...I'd love to come pedal through the vines with you one fine spring day :)

Susan Walter

And here's a picture of me on my bike on my birthday.

I must admit to being a complete fraud though – my sister, father and husband have all ridden this bike more than me.

(That's a particularly nice pic of your mum, btw.)


Oh, I have terrible bike envy! I recently got a bike for the first time in years and it's been such a joy to rediscover the feeling. But my bike is a beat-up old hand-me-down from a male friend 6 inches taller than me, so while it's fun to ride, it's also challenging. Your beautiful silver bike is the kind of bike I aspire to...

Jules Greer

Hi Honey, I just re-read this wonderful story....brings back such wonderful memories.

P.S. John has never put one ounce of alcohol in those lovely red shot glasses.
We just admire them on our desk. You'll see them when you arrive.



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