Necessity is the mother of invention. Austerity is its co-parent. The dilemma: How does a budget traveller get from A to B in Paris? The Métro is the obvious solution and was my main mode of transport when I first visited the French capital.
But as comprehensive and pocket-friendly the Paris Métro is, the journey from A to B in this world city is as much of a pleasure as reaching the destination. Paris is simply too picturesque to be spent underground and too large to walk around.
BIKE RENTAL PARIS
In 2007, the Mayor of Paris initiated Vélib’, a self-service public bicycle-sharing scheme. The name Vélib’ comes from the French words vélo (bicycle) and liberté (freedom), and the scheme is now the largest in the world outside of China.
The Vélib’ website states that there are over 19,500 bikes in the scheme with over 1,300 bike stations located all over the city. The system also includes electric bike rental.
I can certainly attest to the plentiful supply of stations with several conveniently located next to prime attractions such as the Louvre and the Notre Dame cathedral, to name but a few. A map of station locations is listed on the Vélib’ website and app, but trust me, you won’t ever be far from one.
HOW TO USE THE VÉLIB’ SYSTEM
All that’s needed for the scheme is a credit card, a sense of adventure and a sense of direction.
For short-term travellers, one-day (V-Découverte) and seven-day (V-Séjour) tickets are available from the stations. You can also sign up for the system online or through the Vélib’ app. The cost of these tickets are €5 and €15 respectively. If you sign up at a station, you get a physical ticket. If you sign up online or through the app you get an access code and pin. A deposit of €150 is blocked on your credit card.
Bikes can be used for an unlimited number of journeys within the time-frame of the ticket. For mechanical bikes, the first 30 minutes of each journey is free, and as long as you return the bike to a station within the 30 minutes all you could end up paying is €5 for 24 hours or €15 for seven days.
For electric bikes, the first 30 minutes costs €1. Full pricing can be found here.
Despite instructions in five different languages, I found the initial ticket purchase the most challenging part of the process. In a nutshell, the station vending machine will issue a ticket upon acceptance of a credit card. Treat this ticket like gold.
The Vélib’ website has a number of tutorial videos to guide you through the bike rental via app/online method and ticket method.
Learn from my mistake and check the bike prior to renting. To cycle down the multi-lane Avenue des Champs-Élysées is exhilarating. To abandon one’s journey because the chain has fallen off is utterly deflating. I’m determined to return and have my yellow jersey moment!
DO I RECOMMEND THE VÉLIB’ SYSTEM?
Vélib’s appeal spreads right across the community and has been embraced wholeheartedly by Parisians as well as tourists. Economically and environmentally, public bicycle-sharing schemes are a no-brainer and my experience of Vélib’ prompted me to use similar schemes in other cities.
Safety-wise, the city has invested in bicycle lanes so cyclists are not competing with the continuous flow of vehicular traffic. Saying that, I get the impression Vélib’ has reduced the amount of cars and has led to a sense of calm I never experienced during my first visit.
Despite the Tour de France’s standing as the most famous cycle race in the world combined with my own love of cycling, it would never have occurred to me to journey around Paris on two wheels. I’m just surprised how long it took me to figure out that bike rental Paris-style would be an experience as beautiful as the city itself.
So yes, Vélib’ comes recommended.
For further essential travel information and tips for visiting France have a look at my Visiting France for the First Time post.