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Review of the Fat Tire Bike Tour: Paris by Night


Though it may not conjure up images of the brightly colored fixed gears lining the center squares of cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Paris is generally a bicycle-friendly city. With its free bike rental system, Velib', designated bike lanes, and mostly flat terrain, Paris is easily navigated by bicycle (though cyclists should ride with extra caution as drivers and pedestrians are not always very bike-aware). A great way to experience the city on two wheels while taking in monuments and historical facts is through the American-owned Fat Tire Bike Tour company. Since 1999, the company has been offering English-speaking biking tours that range from all-day experiences to highlights of select monuments (most recently, a tour on the Chateau de Versailles). Perhaps their most interesting offering, however, is the Paris by Night tour, which gets you a four-hour spin around the city when it's arguably at it's most beautiful and enchanting: after dark.

Location and Contact Information:

Both the Day Tour and Night Tour meet at the south leg ("pilier sud") of the Eiffel Tower in front of a large "Fat Tire" meeting point sign. Reservations are encouraged, but not required.

Address: 24, rue Edgar Faure
15th arrondissement
Metro: Dupleix (Line 6)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 56 58 10 54
Visit the official website

Opening Hours and Tickets:

Tours are available seven days a week, though check the website for the specific time and day of the tour you are interested in taking.
Tickets: Tour prices vary. Check the website for additional information.

Paris by Night Tour: The Experience

The last time I got on a bicycle, it was a hot pink Huffy that allowed me to brake with my feet, so needless to say, I was a bit intimidated arriving at the Fat Tire office for the evening tour. To my great delight, however, the guides were extremely helpful and patient. After selecting my bicycle, they assisted me in adjusting the seat, explained the gear system, and even let me do several practice tries in the tree-lined park area near the office. Each bicycle is labeled with a name, and I am happy to report that PB and J and I only fell into a barricade once before we were ready. Each participant is put into one of five groups, each with about 20 people, based on their age and fitness level. For some reason, I was put into the most fit group, which initially caused some fear, but turned out to be the best match. Our guide, Stu, handed us our bright yellow reflective vests (no helmets, though, surprisingly), and then gave us both the route and helpful information such as hand signals to use for cars and reiterated the fact that red lights do apply to us.

Time to "Dominate"

The first leg of the tour is a 25-minute flat ride from the office to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was here that Stu would frequently yell out "dominate!" which meant that our group was going to pass a slower one in front of us along the Boulevard Saint Michel. The sun was beginning to set as we arrived at the famed Gothic cathedral, and Stu began calling interesting historical facts, designed to interest and inform even veteran Parisians. Each of the company's guides is equipped with a strong background in European history, and are able to answer participants' many questions with ease, and direct them to further information.

Snacks and dinner were not included in the tour, so it is highly recommended that you eat something beforehand or bring some cash with you for the next stop on the Pont St. Louis, which besides connecting the Ile de la Cité and the Ile St. Louis, boasts the famed Berthillon ice cream shops in Paris. We were given a sufficient amount of time to gobble down our cone of choice while we watched several dancers draw a crowd on the bridge.

Sightseeing by Bicycle

After releasing our kickstands, we set off to see the major monuments offered on the tour. We rolled up to the sublime Sainte Chapelle, listened to tips on how to make the most out of a visit to the Louvre, and walked our bikes over the first pedestrian-only bridge constructed by Napoleon, the Pont des Arts, as we were given information on the Academie Française next to onlooking picnickers. The tour does not include tickets into any of the museums or monuments, however.

Perhaps one of the most magical experiences was circling around a fountain in a sealed courtyard after leaving the Pont des Arts. The secluded area will transport you back in time and provide you with a strong sense of freedom. I circled until the women designated to watch the back of the group told me it was time to move on. Our route next overlooked the Place de la Concorde, where political dissidents and royals were guillotined during the French Revolution. The square was currently being prepared for firework festivities for the 14th of July (Bastille Day).

The Boat Cruise

Included in the tour are tickets for a one-hour boat cruise up and down the Seine with Bateaux Mouches, an extremely popular destination for tourists. Our guide was able to bypass the line, so that when we arrived on the second level of the boat, he had already secured two rows of seats and multiple bottles of red wine for us. As we drank out of plastic cups and yelled with joy as we passed underneath each bridge, Stu talked about everything from the empire of Napoleon and his legacy, to contemporary French politics, as well as proffering tips about where to eat throughout the city. He also welcomed questions on any subject. Having boarded the boat around 10:30pm, the city was completely dark as we exited and unlocked our bikes for the final leg of the night.

Last Leg

Before heading to the last main attraction, Stu made a quick stop at what has become known as Princess Diana's flame. Originally given to Paris as a gift from the International Herald Tribune, the flame sits on top of the same roadway tunnel where the Princess suffered her fatal car accident. It has since become the place where people leave flowers and notes in honor of Lady Di.

Either tired from riding or from the wine, some of us were a bit wobbly on our bikes as we rode up to the Eiffel Tower. Upon arrival, the clock struck midnight and the tower began to frenetically sparkle. We took a last break here for pictures before taking the short ride back to the office, where Stu provided guests with directions and additional information. Bathroom access was also provided.

My Bottom Line?

Fat Tire's night bike tour lasts approximately four hours, including one hour for the boat cruise. During that time period, you will cover 8.2 miles (13km) on your bicycle. Besides the incredible nighttime setting and less-crowded bike lanes, the night tour also stops and involves less talking than the day tour does, allowing you to enjoy the ride, and Paris by night, in full.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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