Paul de Vivie

Paul de Vivie bigraphy, stories - French touring cyclist, activist and journalist

Paul de Vivie : biography

April 29, 1853 – February 27, 1930

Paul de Vivie, who wrote as Vélocio (April 29, 1853– February 27, 1930), was publisher of Le Cycliste, an early champion of derailleur gears, and father of French bicycle touring and randonneuring.


Vélocio wrote of his tours in a language that inspired a nation – France – in which holidays with pay were unknown:

A shaft of gold pierced the sky and rested on a snowy peak, which, moments before, had been caressed by soft moonlight. For a moment showers of sparks bounced from the pinnacle and tumbled down the mountain in a heavenly cataract. The king of the universe, the magnificent dispenser of light and warmth and life, gave notice of his imminent arrival. But only for an instant. Like a spent meteor, the spectacle dissolved in the sea of darkness that engulfed me in the depths of the gorge. The glistening reflections, the exploding fireballs were gone. Once again, the snow assumed its cold and ghostly face.

Or again:

After a long day on my bicycle, I feel refreshed, cleansed, purified. I feel that I have established contact with my environment and that I am at peace. On days like that I am permeated with a profound gratitude for my bicycle. Even if I did not enjoy riding, I would still do it for my peace of mind. What a wonderful tonic to be exposed to bright sunshine, drenching rain, choking dust, dripping fog, rigid air, punishing winds! I will never forget the day I climbed the Puy Mary. There were two of us on a fine day in May. We started in the sunshine and stripped to the waist. Halfway, clouds enveloped us and the temperature tumbled. Gradually it got colder and wetter, but we did not notice it. In fact, it heightened our pleasure. We did not bother to put on our jackets or our capes, and we arrived at the little hotel at the top with rivulets of rain and sweat running down our sides. I tingled from top to bottom.

Advocacy for small wheels

De Vivie was also an early advocate of tires of up to 57mm (2.25 in) cross-section on rims as small as 500mm (20 in), preceding modern advocates of small wheel bicycles such as Alex Moulton. In 1911 he wrote:

"My own experience has gone no further than to 50cm wheels furnished with 50mm tyres, but I can guarantee that in an experiment extending as far as 15,000km covered, they will not have the smallest disadvantage from the point of view of their running. It simply seems to me they are more prone to skidding, but this is perhaps because their tyres have no tread and that the bicycle is very short. That universal agreement has fixed on 70cm as the proper size for wheels does not in any way prove that this diameter is best; it simply proves that cyclists follow each other like sheep.
Make no mistake, uniformity is leading us directly towards boredom and towards routine, whilst diversity, even though it distracts us, holds our attention, our interest and the spirit of enquiry always on the watch. To change is not always to perfect, and I know that better than any others newly come to cyclo-technology. But to stand still, to sink into a rut, that is the worst of things for industries and for men."Velocio, Le Cycliste, France, 1911 – English translation commissioned by Tony Hadland, see article at

Velocio died at St-Étienne, France. His obituary in the Gazette of the Cyclists’ Touring Club pictured him with an open-framed small-wheel bicycle.

Death and memorial

Velocio memorial at Col de la Republique De Vivie was a vegetarian, a speaker of Esperanto and a strict man who started every day of his later life by reading ancient Greek. On February 27, 1930, the last words he read were from Seneca to Lucius:

Death follows me and life escapes me. When I go to sleep, I think that I may never awake. When I wake up, I think that I may never get to sleep. When I go out, I think that I may never come back.

Then he collected his bike and began pushing it across the road. He stepped back to avoid a car and was hit by a tram. His memorial is at the top of the col de la République. Its inscription reads: "Paul de Vivie, alias Vélocio (Pernes 1853 – St-Étienne 1930). Apostle of cycle-touring and promoter of gears [changements de vitesse]. Monument erected by the town of Pernes-les-Fontaines on the 150th anniversary of his birth. Inaugurated 20 April 2003."Journal, Fellowship of Cycling Old-Timers, UK, April 2005