I pedaled past Notre Dame Cathedral, shifted to third gear and cruised
down scenic Quai Voltaire, which runs along the left bank of the
Seine. At an automated bicycle station, I docked my rented bike and
walked a couple of blocks to the Musee d’Orsay. Following a
three-hour foray into priceless art, I returned to the station, removed
another bike, rode down Boulevard St. Germain and docked across the
street from Cafe de Flore.
After lunch at the fabled Paris eatery, I returned to the station,
selected my third bicycle of the day and rode across the river to
Place de la Bastille.
Thanks to Velib, getting around Paris is as easy as un, deux, trois.
A hybrid term derived from velo (bicycle) and liberte (freedom),
Velib is Mayor Bertrand Delanoe’s latest effort to combat traffic
congestion and turn Paris into a bicycle-happy green zone.
On July 15, City Hall unveiled 10,600 three-speed bicycles at 750
automated stations around town. The curbside stations — there’s
one every 900 feet or so — allow users to remove a bicycle,
ride to any Paris destination and return the bike to a nearby station.
By the end of 2007 a total of 21,600 bicycles will be available
at 1,451 stations.
Patterned after the Velo’v bike commuting program in Lyon,
the Paris Velib system is equally brilliant. Simply walk up to the
computerized pillar at any Velib station and use your credit card
to sign up. A one-day subscription costs 1 euro ($1.34). Seven-day
stints go for 5 euros ($6.74), and one-year subscriptions — available
only to locals — cost 29 euros ($39).
After completing the simple sign-up procedure, you’ll receive
a six-digit subscriber number. Punch in the number along with your
four-digit pin code. Press the button on the appropriate bike attachment
point and voila ! A beep indicates that your bike can be removed.
Simply adjust the seat, place your belongings in the wire basket
and you’re ready to roll.
During the first half-hour the bike rental is free. The second half-hour
costs 1 euro. The third half-hour is 2 euros ($2.70). The fourth
half-hour — and every half-hour thereafter — costs 4
The increasingly steep halfhourly charges are meant to discourage
riders from keeping a bike for long periods. Built for endurance
rather than speed, the bulky 48-pound Velib bikes are designed for
short commutes by successive riders in a given day. It’s cheaper
to rent a bike from a local bicycle shop if you plan to ride continuously
Paris boasts 230 miles of dedicated bike paths, designated bike lanes
and bus lanes that are open to bikes. Rather than scuttle underground
in the gloomy Paris Metro, I prefer to pedal above ground from one
destination to the next — dropping off a bike and picking up
another one along the way.
In fact, Velib can be a lifesaver in the wee hours of the morning.
When the Metro shuts down on weekend nights (approximately 12:30
a. m. Fridays and 2:30 a.m. Saturdays), thousands of partied-out
Parisians wait in long taxi queues, hoping to get picked up before
sunrise. Rather than wait along with them, I choose to hop on a bike
and ride home with a smile on my face.
But the system isn’t without flaws. Computer glitches have
been known to render stations temporarily inoperable. Although Visa
and MasterCard are accepted, only my American Express card seems
to work (friends have experienced the same problem). And the other
night, when I rolled up to the Velib station closest to my apartment,
all the bike attachment points were occupied.
By punching in my subscriber number, however, the system gave me
an additional 15 minutes to find another station before the half-hour
charge kicked in. The computer screen displayed the location of the
nearest station. It even listed the number of unoccupied bike attachment
Pedaling furiously, I covered 900 feet of Parisian asphalt in no
time. But when I reached the station someone was docking their bike
in the final slot.
C’est la vie. I rode to the next closest station, docked my
bike and walked home.
are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When subscribing,
a 150 euro ($202) authorization is made on your credit
card. Helmets are not provided. For information on renting
helmets and long-term bicycles, click the Velib link
on the City of Paris Web site, www.paris-france.org/en.
Instructions are available in three languages: French,
English and Spanish. German, Italian, Arabic, Chinese
and Japanese will soon be available. For more information,
visit the Velib site at www.velib.paris.fr (Only a portion
of the site is available in English).