The freedom of Vélib’

The hectic pace of life lately has me thinking about our vacation again. It was a real pleasure to go back over the photos and remember our day on Vélib’ cycles in Paris.

First, the practicalities: if you are an American, you must have two things in order to easily rent a Vélib’. First, an American Express Card (the only non-puce card that is accepted), and second, a rudimentary command of Vending Machine French—though the menu offers an English-language option, the translation isn’t the greatest and it reverts to French halfway through.

Armed with both of those things, we timidly approached our first Vélib’ machine outside a cafe a few blocks away from the Gare St. Lazare.

It took us about 30 minutes to get the three of us registered (you have to buy a day pass for 1 euro, after that renting the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes) and in possession of the bikes, but after that, we were off.

Riding in Paris was much, much less stressful than I had expected. Of course, it was a Sunday, but our ride to the Champs-Elysées was quick and easy. Before we left, we checked the map, decided on a route, memorized the few turns necessary (those long boulevards in Paris mean it’s unusual to have to turn more than 3 or 4 times on any given route) and set off.

Many of the bus lanes in Paris doubled as bike lanes. At first I was unsure whether that was a good idea, but it turned out to work amazingly well.

I think this guy's eye was caught by Dot's red dress!

Once we had them, we tooled around all afternoon and well into the night. There are so many stations that you don’t even have to plan to find them—half the time you’ll run into one on your way to your destination. And if you don’t walk, a block or two and you will.

Our itinerary included a stop for a drink at L’Hotel, where Oscar Wilde died.

And a break for Ladurée macarons (psst: Pierre Hermé‘s are better).

And of course, plenty of photo ops.

It’s true that you have to take a close look at your Vélib’ before checking it out—we ended up with a bike with a flat tire once, and another time couldn’t get all three of our bikes from the same station—but overall, the system was extremely easy and cheap, and by far the best way to get around Paris.We were kicking ourselves for not trying it out sooner.

large velib station on the boulevard Beaumarchais

And if you’re wondering how the city makes sure the bikes are evenly distributed between stations, or how the bikes are taken in for repair, we spotted this transporter loaded up with Vélibs on our way home from dinner.

Parlement at night

Parlement at night

Notre Dame at night, as seen from a Vélib'

Notre Dame at night, as seen from a Vélib'

Anyone else had any Vélib’ experience?

{snapshots by me, film photos by Dot with her Nikon}

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28 thoughts on “The freedom of Vélib’

  1. Jasmine says:

    We had so much fun riding around on our velib in Paris… But had such difficulties trying to get the bikes in the first place (had to call the bank and extend our daily limit, the first machine we went to did not print out our paper tickets, so once we returned our first bikes we could not rent another) but after all the drama we were finally having a ball cruising around Paris on our bikes. So much fun!

    They have just started this scheme in our city (Brisbane, Australia) but I think it will be much less successful as you are required by law to wear a helmet… safety wise of course this is a good idea but I don’t know how many tourists carry a helmet around with them, or would be willing to buy one just for the day!

    • Trisha says:

      My brother just got back from Australia and was telling me about their bike share. I agree that the helmet condition makes things difficult. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

  2. After reading about Dottie’s new “2-wheeled creature” in the previous post, for a moment I thought that she brought home a Velib as a souvenir : )

  3. nicolas says:

    Excellent. Glad you had so much fun (and not so many hassles in renting the bikes). Riding those large avenues in the 8th arrondissement isn’t the most pleasant thing to do in the city, but they do get you places – I guess it’s the closest thing we have to grid-system avenues…
    Just for the record, this is not le parlement (which is bicameral in France too, and those two chambers aren’t in the same building or even the same neighbourhood) – that’s the Académie Française, as seen from the Pont des Arts (aka Red Wine & Makeout Central for French preppies).

  4. anna says:

    Cool pictures, looks like you had some fun. It’s always great to have friends around to try something like that in a new town :).

  5. Hello, Mrs Dottie!

    Fine pictures of my town! You are right; cycling in Paris on Sundays is quite easy, even in summer. Just a remark; what you called the Parliament is the French Academy (Académie Française). THe “real” Parliament (Assemblée Nationale) is on the same side, but a few miles farther.
    Hope to hear from you if you come back one day in Paris; I maybe could help.
    Cheers

    Regis

  6. cris says:

    I didn’t rent a Velib while I was in Paris, as I brought my ANT with me, but I agree that riding in the city was a lot less stressful than I was expecting, and the bus lanes were also something that I was skeptical about but weren’t too bad in retrospect. I really appreciated how easy it was to navigate around the city and how cycling anywhere in the city was such a scenic adventure. Every other turn and block had another statue or garden or monument to draw one’s eye. Drivers were also generally pretty low-key. I have a favorite memory of going through the rotary of Place Charles De Gaulle, following an older gentleman pedaling placidly away on his Velib while cars swirled all around us and gently yielded to our signals.

    My girlfriend and I head up to Montreal at least once a year and lately we’ve been leaving our bikes behind and have been using their Bixi system. It’s a pretty decent analog to the Velib, though it seems that they could do with more bikes. We usually didn’t have problems getting rides when it was just the two of us, but with two other friends, we frequently had to hit up a couple of places to round up enough bikes for the four of us. Bikes might just be too popular up there.

  7. Trisha says:

    Yes, so agree with you on the scenic adventure. I’m dying to visit Montreal and hope to try out Bixi soon.

  8. […] more on bike sharing, Dottie posted about her experience with Bcycle in Denver, and I wrote about our time with Vélib‘. } « « Previous: Kicks Next: Fashion Friday: Trying on a Trend » […]

  9. […] looking forward to using the Velib today, which we greatly enjoyed during our last trip to Paris.  A tout a l’heure! « « Previous: How to Make Your Own Hair […]

  10. Krista says:

    Yes but now you need to go to London and rent a Boris! If you go between now and July of 2011 when my membership expires, I will let you borrow my bike key, so all your rides that are less than 30 minutes will be free!

    Here’s my round-up of the London bike scheme in its VERY early days:

    http://www.londonelicious.com/dining/2010/08/my-review-of-the-london-bike-scheme.html

  11. Dottie says:

    Okay, let’s go back now!! :)

  12. Timely post for me. We just got back from Denver where we used the Denver B Cycle bike share program. It was my first bike share experience and I’ll be posting my experience in a day or two. Comparing your experience to mine was very interesting.

  13. Simply Bike says:

    I’m totally doing this the next time I’m there (whenever that will be, sigh…) You three and Valentine have me completely pining for cycling in Paris! And it’s great how inexpensive the Velibs are.

    Hope you find a way to remedy the nostalgia…may I suggest a good chocolate filled croissant and a glass of vin? Always works wonders :)

  14. Janet says:

    My husband Dan and I spent most of our two weeks in Paris on Velib bikes. Despite some problems like you had (one Dan took out and then found had no chain on it!) it was a really great way to get around Paris. It beats taking the Metro hands down!

  15. Trisha says:

    I would absolutely LOVE to take you up on that one day, Krista! Although riding in London seems a little more intimidating.

  16. Scott says:

    Excellent! Do you know if credit cards with a special chip are an alternative to AmEx? I am going to Vienna in March, and I intend to ride all over the city on bikes from their bike sharing system. I recently got a new credit card with a “pay pass” chip, but I may get an AmEx card too, just in case.

  17. Trisha says:

    Hm. I would get an AmEx if I were you to be sure — but it seems like they would work, if it’s the same type of chip.

  18. Trisha says:

    Definitely, Janet! We loved it.

  19. Trisha says:

    Alas, it’s so hard to find a good pain au chocolat here!

  20. Trisha says:

    Ooh, can’t wait to read about it, Karen.

  21. I tried with my unchipped cards to get a Velib pass, to no avail. So the next day, I bought a used bike for about 300 euros at the shop on Boulevard de Sebastopol. Rode all over town for the rest of the week, then sold it back to them for 150 euros before heading back to the states. Worth every penny, but that experience was also why I bought a Bike Friday — now I’ve got a familiar bike with me in every city I want to ride in.

    I think the bus lanes work for bicycles in large part because there only seemed to be three buses in all of Paris. I never did figure out if the taxis using the bus lane were kosher, but they were never rude or aggressive towards the cyclists, from what I saw.

    The one type of bike lane I was less keen on were the ones up on the sidewalks. Pedestrians (ourselves included) weren’t so good at honoring them. Then again, since every bicycle has to have a bell and the pedestrians are pretty well-trained to respect them, it was easy enough getting folks to step back out of the lane.

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