The idea of riding bikes in a foreign city was initially a little intimidating. I ride a bike almost every day in London and am aware of the constant dangers that riding on the city roads presents. However, when I ride in London at least I know my way around and I am used to riding on the other side of the road.
The Velib scheme was set up in 2007 and although it has had various teething troubles, I found it be a fairly efficient and easy to use programme. It is also one of the best ways to see what is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
The Velib website has a handy download for UK visitors to read through before you get to Paris. Admittedly I didn’t look at their website too carefully beforehand but the leaflet has some great tips and guidelines. It can be found at http://www.velib.paris.fr/ Click on the ‘Download’ UK icon in the top right corner for instructions in English.
I would say that riding in Paris is probably best for confident cyclists only. The heavy bikes take some getting used to and it is definitely not an activity I would recommend to learner cyclists.
There are over 1,500 Velib stations across the capital and it normally doesn’t take too long to come across one. The stations in the centre of Paris tend to be quite full, while bays further out are less so or even completely empty.
We first gave the Velib scheme a try at station number 6028 on Rue des Quatre Vents. You can purchase a one day or one week pass. We only needed a one day pass, which is charged at 1 euro per person although you have to agree to a security deposit of 150 euro in case the bicycle isn’t returned. This deposit is only collected if the rider doesn’t comply with their terms and conditions.
For some reason, the first credit card we tried didn’t work. A credit card or Maestro debit card with EMV-chip and PIN is required to sign up. The second card we tried did work so we registered for two people and selected two bikes from the adjoining rack.
The seat height can be adjusted but that’s about all. The website advises checking the bikes to make sure you don’t pre-select one that is in poor working order. Some kind-hearted people turn the saddles around 180 degrees to indicate if there is a problem with the bike. Issues like flat tyres are a bit easier to spot but some things, like a saddle that won’t adjust, are a bit trickier. It is possible to select your language at the machines, which makes the process a little easier for the first time user.
Unlike in London, dedicated bike lanes are plentiful and where there are none, the roads are wide enough that you feel comfortable riding alongside city traffic. Many one-way streets will have a no entry sign that say ‘sauf’ with a bike symbol, meaning ‘except bikes’, which afforded us greater flexibility when we did take the odd wrong turn.
The off-road cycle lanes are great though and make for a more relaxing ride. We rode almost exclusively on a pavement cycle lane from the Gare du Nord station to Place de la Republique.
Apart from the Sacre-Coeur area, the city is very flat, meaning that it is not too challenging for those who are not quite in peak physical condition. The first half hour of the rental is free so it pays to make short hops. We went over the thirty minutes a couple of times but even then, we were only charged a euro for the additional half hour.
We had a few moments of getting lost, getting caught in the rain and almost riding into a tunnel on the Rive Gauche. Asides from that, we had a fun time exploring the streets of Paris and after only two days of cycling, felt that we had been able to see far more of the city than if we had opted for the Metro.