Riding Vélib'

Riding the Vélib'

Last time I was in Paris, I just missed the roll-out of Paris’s bike sharing program Vélib’, but now I’ve had a chance to give it a try.

Our primitive American credit cards do not work with the Vélib’ consoles, but you can buy short term subscriptions online. One and 7 day passes are available (residents can get a yearly subscription for 29€ that includes a card that lets them skip the checkout process). The way this works is you enter a PIN number and are assigned a subscriber number. To check out a bike, you enter your subscriber number and PIN. It is not as convenient as being able to use your credit card but it does the trick.

At 1.70€ for a one day subscription, with unlimited 30 minute rides in that period, Vélib’ is a resonable approach to getting around town, especially for shorter distances. By contrast, a single Metro ticket also costs 1.70€ and does not include the return trip. Minneapolis’s NiceRide compares unfavorably at $5 for a one day subscription.

Stations are everywhere in Paris and are usually very close to Metro stops, making them a nice choice for commuters to cover the “last mile” to their apartments.

Our first Vélib’ experience was frustrating. There were several bikes in the rack by our apartment, but it would only let us check out #29, which had a flat tire. I put it back. We walked on, and the next station also only had one bikes, which we couldn’t check out because a rental was still active. We hurried back to the first station and figured out that I hadn’t locked the bike right. It’s tricky to get the lock working, and sometimes it seems like it’s locked, but isn’t (you must look for the green light). After solving the lock, we walked back and passed station after station empty of bikes – due to demand or theft, I don’t know. Finally, two blocks from our destination, we found some bikes to rent. Our trip back was easier, as there were loads of bikes deposited at the destination by tourists like ourselves.

The bikes are like tanks, heavy and tough to maneuver, but good enough when you get up to speed. They have three speeds and a handy basket up front. The fenders will keep you dry and there’s a skirt guard – plenty of women are riding in dresses.

Most streets have a bike lane, though it would hardly be considered such in the US. They are very narrow, and some times scooters ride in them illegally. The craziest ones are the ones that go against traffic on one-ways. You see no entry signs “SAUF VELOS” signs everywhere. But cars seem to respect the lanes, and the speed limits here are much lower – most streets are 30 kph, or about 18 mph.