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Motorhead Memo: Parlez vous moto?

By Kip Woodring


OK… what does a biker without his bike do on a rainy day in Paris? Go visit a motorcycle shop or two, of course! Not knowing that area, a little research quickly showed that (among others) there were a couple of likely spots to get a two-wheel tease in the City of Light. One was near where the Bastille used to be; the other a couple of Metro stops from the hotel… on the very road Napoleon marched his troops down after victories in his wars. At least that’s what the name of the street implies: “Rue De La Grande Armee.”

Conveniently located just up the road from the Champs Elysee, it works out pretty well for folks who’d rather shop for chaps than Chanel. Meaning, the tourists can have the one and I vastly prefer the other—call it the Rue less traveled. But before we get too far down that road, here’s the thing: The French in general and Parisians in particular don’t see motorcycles and motorcycling the way we do. For example (as I was soon to see), they ride rain or shine in traffic conditions that would have most of us in jackets with sleeves that tie in the back. In other words, they ride as much out of necessity as for sport. Once you’ve seen enough men (of all ages) in suits zipping along to work and fashionably-clad femininity (ditto!) bouncing in and out between cars and buses to get the shopping done, you begin to get it. Motorcycling might well be a hobby here, but there, as with a lot of things French, it amounts to something between pragmatism and passion… unique to say the least.

BTW, lane-splitting is legal in France and all the well-practiced pilots aboard zillions of buzzing scooters use that to huge advantage in the melee that is Paris traffic. Yup—scooters and small-bore motorcycles are evident in abundance in the city! Thing is, so are plenty of what we would call “real” motorcycles. Not that the French have the same tastes in these matters as we do. They seem to have a real jones for muscle bikes and dual-sport models, and are inordinately fond of sportbikes, as well as shaft-drive anything… especially Beemers, Gold Wings and, of all things… Moto Guzzis! (Saw more there than I have seen anywhere else… ever!) As for their admiration for Harley-Davidson, it’s vivid and long-standing. After all, the first Harley from 1903 used a cloned engine from a pioneering French engine—De Dion-Bouton from about 1900. Of course almost everyone everywhere used a version of that engine back in the day, since it could said that the De Dion-Bouton was in fact the first practical motorcycle engine there was. Few seem to realize that, in point of fact, the oldest continuously operated motorized two-wheeler outfit on the planet isn’t Harley; it’s the French firm of Peugeot! Point being, the French aren’t exactly new at this biker thing and they know a good thing when they see it! So, naturally enough I wanted to see if I could see it, too… Yankee friggin’ tourist that I am!

When you emerge from the underground “Argentine” Metro station about mid-block, the first thing that grabs you is just how many motorcycle shops of all kinds there are on the Rue Armee. Both sides of the street are chock-a-block with ’em! How convenient! (But then—Paris has always been a great city for surprises for those who amble about in it.) Since I saw them in person and you aren’t able to right now—I hope you’ll understand that I think the best way to share a little bit of what it’s like is through pictures (and my pedantic commentary). So sit back, relax and have a glimpse at the motorcycle scene in Paris… in the springtime… in the rain.

Harley-vous Francais?

Yeah… there’s a hog fest of sorts to be seen all over France, but especially on the streets of Paris. But again, not the same thing as we’re used to here. You won’t see fleets of baggers in the city, and Big Twins in general are understandably a bit thin on the ground in the capital… but Sportsters… there are plenty! What’s a bit hard to figure, with typical French sensibilities on these matters firmly in mind, is the lack of V-Rods. Didn’t see one! Why this should be is a mystery, since other muscle bikes like the Yamaha V-Max are not just popular but practically revered in the land of artists and ideologies. On the other hand, this is the land of the Deux Chevaux and Citroen DS21, as well, so “brilliantly weird” sort of rules the mechanical thought processes of Gallic gearheads.

Which leads to the biggest “Ah-ha!” of the visit—namely an Italian creation you may or may not be aware of—namely the CR&S DUU. Those familiar with Confederate motorcycles and/or the Wakan might not be as taken aback as I was when confronting one of these beasts rolling down the street or parked on the sidewalk in the rain, but you know you’ve found Paradise.

Paradise Motos that is! Along with other rare breeds like Norton, Vyrus, MV Agusta and Headbanger (Harley Clone), among others, they sell this intimidating, fascinating V-twin creation. But, it is not a Harley, as you can plainly see! Rather it’s a bespoke handcrafted, limited-series production machine using an S&S X-Wedge engine and a simply stunning spine-type chassis, with top-shelf componentry scattered everywhere else you look! So look…

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