This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 125.
Last month I was on holiday in Paris and the highlight of my trip was a visit to a truly fantastic cycling project, ‘Cylofficine’ (a play on words between Cyclo and officine, ie/meaning dispensary). Conceived by a group of friends discussing the future of cycling in Paris, it works to support and strengthen the cycling community, not just through events and training but also by providing spaces where cyclists can meet and socialise.
Welcomed by a team of friendly and upbeat volunteers, I was treated to a tour of one of their community bike-repair workshops, located in the heart of Paris. Whether you’re coming to adjust your saddle height or build a bike from scratch – it’s all here. The team on that day were kind enough to answer a few questions for me and here is a short account of my visit.
The workshop consists of a large room furnished with bike stands, workstations and plenty of tools and spare parts. A mechanic’s bible sits on the registration desk, and a whiteboard shows blown-up drawings of the various complex assemblies that make up a bike – a handy reference for when you’re reassembling your ride. There’s also a coffee area where volunteers can socialise, sitting on furniture made from reclaimed street signs – all rather cool and surprisingly very comfy!
It all started only six years ago, with volunteers touring the French capital on a cycle-powered mobile workshop to meet the public and perform cycle-repair outreach activities on the banks of the Seine. Plenty of hard work from volunteers has built a sustainable business model; Cyclofficine now has over 6,000 paying members, employs six staff and has opened workshops in four locations in Paris (two in the arrondissement where I am, in Pantin to the north-east, and in Ivry-sur-Seine, south-east, a hop away in the neighbouring suburb).
Membership is open to everyone and grants access to all workshops. There are open monthly meetings where matters are discussed and decisions taken, all in an inclusive and non-hierarchical manner. The Charter clearly lays out the spirit of the initiative, based on cooperation, inclusiveness, knowledge-sharing, self-help, empowerment and respect; this is exactly how Cyclofficine felt to me too.
Financial accessibility is key, and bike spare parts are all ‘prix libre’ (voluntary donations). Spare parts come from ‘recup’ (reclaimed from bikes which would have ended up in landfills or otherwise scrapped). There is a strong emphasis on the pillars of sustainability to reduce, reuse, recycle. You won’t find brand new parts there, but if that’s what you’re after, the Cyclofficine has an agreement with a bike shop close-by, where you’ll get a discount on showing your membership card. You can then come and fit them at the Cyclofficine.
Whilst I was there, a chain was replaced, brakes mounted, a derailleur adjusted, a new saddle fitted, and a budding young free-style champion enquired about her scooter following some unplanned aerial manoeuvres. All of this activity happened in a communicative, knowledge-sharing, friendly and cheerful atmosphere. Good times! I left a few copies of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletters for our Parisian friends to read.
Now off to plan a Cambridge to Paris bike ride for the summer. Hopefully I’ll get to see the Cyclofficine team again when we get there! Merci Todd, Tania, Guiso, Romain and Stef.
Cyclofficine website (in French): www.cyclocoop.org/