Spending A Life And A Summer On My Moped In Strasbourg
A friend sends a message: “We’re going to eat in ten minutes, come join us.” It’s summer in Strasbourg so the heat and humidity rule out travel by bicycle, and the vacation traffic to and from the city make crossing it by car a chore well outside the confines of my timeframe—with my Nimbus 2000 in the shop, my best option is Raymonde.
A simple Motobecane like you’d find in the shed of many of my countrymen, this moped has left me stranded a few times (though I blame my mechanical naivety more than anything for this), it always leaves me and my clothes smelling like oil and gasoline, but it has yet to let me down in any way that matters. For a full ten years now Raymonde has been my faithful companion, weaving through the four-wheeled traffic across downtown boulevards or cheerfully strafing along the countryside when more space is called for.
Unlike most Americans reading this but like many of my friends, the first mode of transportation that provided me with real freedom was a moped I rode at age 14 rather than a car I drove four years later, and though I had plenty of solo adventures with Raymonde, I am also part of a riding group: Les Aiglons de la Route, or “The Eagles of the Road.”
To talk about every adventure (mis- and otherwise) that I’ve had on the back of or somehow because of this little blue machine would test the limits of my memory and your patience, so let’s get back to the task at hand, chosen for its relevance to Raymonde’s life’s summary: getting good food with old friends.
I refer to mopeds like mine as burger racers, which are cafe racers for those of us who don’t like caffeine! (There’s also the fact that they aren’t motorcycles, of course.) So with a burger calling, I fall into my routine: some shoes on my feet and the same blue metal-flake lid on my head, ignition on, give the pedal a healthy push, and Raymonde’s small but eager two-stroke cylinder is alive once more. It’s a noisy little thing—sorry neighbors!—and it only gets louder once I set off down the street powered by hunger and a little bit of gas and oil.
I split the spaces between cars, maybe use a curbstone or sidewalk or two, and later on a pass a guy on an electric scooter and can’t help but think I’ve still got something the future’s yet to figure out; his machine is quiet and green, great, but what about the style? My pedal scrapes on the last corner, and I see my friends have already parked theirs and found us a table.
During our meal we thought back to the last road trip we had together. Not having followed the same path in life, the Aiglons (our riding group) are now scattered throughout France. We don’t have the regular pleasure to travel together that often or else in great numbers anymore, so to avoid this becoming the end of the group we’ve made sure that every year since leaving high school we take a trip together. In July, the “Mou du Guidon” [soft handlebar] event gave us one such opportunity to meet for few days. I enjoy traveling by car too (like the road trip I took to the BMW headquarters in my E30), but I think it’s best to indulge in everything that you find enjoyable, whatever its form or horsepower.
We leave work and whatnot behind to ride for a few days, we sleep in tents and eat barbecue. It’s simple, magical fun, and very relaxing for the mind. We laugh a lot, there is always an opportunity to make jokes at the expense of the one that inevitably breaks down on the side of the road, or who must pedal up in the hills. Sometimes we stop to swim in a lake, sometimes we race on a downhill section and turn the brakes into the most important determinant of speed.
There are even those that bought one only for these few days of riding, others others that follow in the car that contains tools and picnic supplies. Some bikes are used regularly and proven daily riders, for others it’s just the trip of the year: breakdown almost assured for them. We stop, the culprit repairs his stuff, and the others take the opportunity to have a drink. On two-wheelers that cruise at 60km/h average, we have plenty of time to stop and talk, appreciate the landscape, and meet people in the villages we pass through. When the hills play games with us, our machines show their discontent with a significant drop in speed, but we are never in a hurry: we know when we are leaving, not so much when we are coming back.
These big trips are great, but as I finish my fries with the last of my drink before heading back out again, I conclude our burger stand conversation: “Just for these shared moments, I could never sell my moped.”
When life becomes too complicated, I hope you have a vehicle—of whatever type—that lets you get away from stress or else remind you of times without so much of it. I think of these vehicles like Horcruxes: parts of our souls are locked in the sheet metal, not through magic but shared experience. If they are more than their parts, we are the ones giving them life.