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The Lonely Rider of an Empty City

Our Hungarian friend, Peter Guld, has allowed us to share this article he wrote showing a different side to Sideburn's French ambassador Hubert Bastie and his work as a nurse in Paris in the time of Covid-19.

Words: Peter Guld Photos: Nicolas Prado/ @tonton_la_mitralle

We have met at several events in the past, but I knew little more about him that he is the crazy French guy. There was always fire in his eyes. I never wanted to get in his way, so I always made sure to give him space on the racetrack. I would never have thought that he is one of the most peaceful and calm people in his private life. Somehow I have always imagined that someone who is super-fast must be really crazy. But something is absolutely sure: Hubert Bastie has balls not only on his bike but also in real life. We had a few words with the fastest biking nurse from one of the Paris frontlines of the coronavirus.

Hubert Bastie lives 2km outside Paris and has been working as a professional nurse at a homeless shelter for seven years. He loves his work and describes it as very calm, much calmer than at a hospital. The coronavirus, however, appeared in the homeless shelter very early, at the beginning of March.

\The big wave started on 6 March and everyone got it within six days. Me too, naturally and, unfortunately, I also infected my girlfriend. Luckily, we both got off lightly. We had a backache and a neck ache, but no other symptoms.'

65-70 people live at the homeless shelter, so it is like a family. Unfortunately, three people died of the virus, but they had been in a very bad health condition previously. Ten others were taken into hospital with severe symptoms, but now the pandemic seems to be waning.

'This job requires a lot of empathy, but, fortunately, I have it. I usually work three or four days a week, always at night. So I ride through the city in the late evening.'

When the coronavirus exploded in Paris, similarly to other metropolises, we saw a lots of photos of the empty streets and squares, but something differed here. In the middle of March, a lot of photos and short videos came up in the social media showing Hubert going to work by bike, mostly wearing a mask and a helmet. The pictures and the videos came from a single person, one of Hubert’s friends, Nicolas Prado, who lives on the road Hubert takes to work, so the photos and videos were shot from the balcony or outside the house. A few days later hundreds of people started to share the pictures and Hubert became an international hero in the biker subculture. He became the benefactor of the nation, who got the nickname 'the fastest nurse' in this period.

'I usually passed his house at 7:20 and he was usually outside. I enjoyed these days very much. Everything was quiet and empty, a little like a scene from a surreal film. I felt as if the city belonged to me. Since my workplace is in the south and I live in the northern part of the outskirts I rode through the city every day on my way to work. It was wonderful, especially because I could test all my bikes. But now everything seems to come to life. The city is more and more crowded and fills up with people. In the first month it was really just me. I didn’t meet a single bike, only a few cars or bicycles, but now that the numbers have consolidated and the lockdown has been eased – for example, you can do sports in the street after 7pm. – on the way to work I meet a lot of joggers in the middle of the road, who listen to music, so it is getting more and more dangerous because I have to keep slaloming.'

Like many European countries, the restrictions in Paris prohibited biking for biking’s sake and motorcycles could only be used as a means of transport. But as Hubert uses no other vehicles, the police had to accept the documents.

'They asked for my documents maybe once. I handed over my papers, my certificate of employment and my nursing degree and they immediately let me go. But I don’t take advantage of the situation, you can’t even do a wheelie and riding fast is out of the question. The whole city is empty and quiet and if someone does something stupid or you give full throttle, people immediately notice you and the nearest policeman would catch you in minutes. Nearly 100 checkpoints were set up in the city. I have never ridden so easy, it is a very chill situation.'

Although we didn’t concentrate on social issues, a few questions came up.

'I don’t know what will happen in the future. I hope there will be no big changes in the biker society. Maybe what will happen is that everyone has a lot spare of parts left and they might build something nice and finally have the time to use all of them. In general, I don’t think that anything will change. I don’t trust in human nature that much. Of course, now everyone keeps vowing and making excuses but if everything goes well and we are lucky, we might be able to forget about all of this in six months, which means that we won’t remember our present resolutions either, although the virus was a big thing in everybody’s life and, unfortunately, affected many people. So I concentrate on my own things. I have two or three bikes that I am restoring and I hope that this year I will be able to ride as a precision rider for Bridgestone again and we can continue the Motorcycles Diaries series that we have already.


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