In the last few years a European Union policy to put bikes on par with cars in major cities has had ripple effects across the world. Indeed, shortly before I left the city I had made my home for 7 years, they were busy putting in “city bikes.”
The concept is simple. Apart from buses, cabs, the Metro, trams, and good old-fashioned walking, bikes can provide a faster to get from place to place AND do so in a way that is not just environmentally responsible but is really different from the walking experience.
It wasn’t until my 3rd month in Paris that I realized that Velib could be linked to my Navigo pass and for the underwhelming cost of 39 euros per year, I would have 45 minutes per day of bike time before I would start to accrue costs in euros and hours.
The biking experience in Europe is often gentle. Generally drivers do not resent you or act menacingly towards you. They get that you, like them, are just trying to get someplace. And indeed, being in the midst of traffic going to and from places in some ways feels more exciting and vibrant than walking (this is even more so on beautiful days when your senses are singing than on cold days when you are simply trying to stay warm).
On our morning tours we often point out Velib and how to use it. For visitors of more than 2 days the 7 day pass is well worth it. You will in all likelihood need a chip-and-pin card. You will pay upfront for a daily rate and then per hour over 30 minutes of continuous usage. By continuous usage I mean if you ride the bike for 29 minutes and then park it, wait two minutes, and then check it out again, the clock has reset. Otherwise the cost escalates (in small increments) as they don’t want you on the bikes all day – as a leisure rental. There is also a 150 euro security deposit against you losing the bike, which is nearly impossible, barring carelessness on your part.
Keep in mind that in a non-curated system (Velib doesn’t interfere with the random movements of the bikes) there will be “peak” hours when you can’t find a bike anywhere to save your life and other times when there isn’t a spot for you to leave your bike.
Also – common sense – check the bike before you take it out: pedals, tires, and seat (adjust it to your height). If it doesn’t work, return it immediately and grab another bike (although I’m happy to admit that I have ridden a velib with a flat before when I had a ton of groceries in hand. It was my only option).
There’s also an app that tells you where the bikes are. It doesn’t tell you how much room there is to leave a bike; it tells you how many bikes are available to take. And honestly even on days when I couldn’t find a space to leave my velib, it was only a mild inconvenience to find alternatives. The app is a must-have and at a cost of ZERO, the price is right. :-)
Don’t miss this low-cost way to see Paris as a true local. Save yourself some time in the process, as you make it to various destinations just a little faster than you would have before.