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Vélib Bikes | A firsthand experience of Paris' Bike Sharing Scheme

Micro-mobility has always fascinated me. Back in April 2019, I test rode various Yulus which left me amazed by the concept and the ease with which I could get across town (relatively) carbon-free and cost effectively. When I was in Stockholm on an exchange trip in late 2019, I couldn't help myself but try out Bird and Lime scooters despite it costing quite a bomb. Though I can't quite remember the exact amount I paid but I remember it being upwards of 50 kronas/5 euros/400 Indian Rupees for a short 10-15 minute ride; something that was very expensive considering that I had a public transport card that allowed me to take unlimited trips across the city and to most of suburbs an hour or two away.

A Vélib stand a stone's throw away from
the Eiffel Tower

While Bangalore has cheap modes of transport to get around the city, be it the buses, auto-rickshaws, cabs the metro or even Yulus and Bounces, one cannot say the same about cities in Europe. A single use ticket in Stockholm costs around 45 krona/5 euros/450 Indian Rupees if my memory serves me right. A single use ticket in Paris costs 1.90 euros while in NYC it is 2.75 USD. Even in Le Havre, the town that I live in, a single use tram/bus ticket costs north of 1.5 euros which makes travelling affordable although one would consider walking if it is under 3-4 stops. As a long time cyclist, the thought of walking bores me but neither is practical to take my bike everywhere. Further, that is not an option when I visit other cities, and I am sure it is the same for others too. During my recent trip to Paris, my friends and I decided to bike around the city to take advantage of not only Paris having no tourists owing to visa and travel restrictions but also use their famed Vélib bikes.

The bikes are easy to locate and one does not need to look too far to spot a Vélib bike stand. You can choose from an e-bike and a mechanical bike, both of which are easy to use by anyone who knows how to ride a bike. The most attractive aspect of Vélib bikes, besides its practicality, is the price point at which it operates. We bought a day pass for 5 euros and could use the bike for 30 minutes at a stretch, unlimited number of times, at no additional cost. As we were after all students travelling on a budget, we exploited the system by docking our bikes every 30 minutes and restarting our rides to ensure we do not get charged the 1-2 euros per 30 minutes depending on how long you use it for. When you're biking for the entire day, those 1-2 euros would've added up! As a micro-mobility enthusiast, I could not resist trying the e-bikes, albeit sparingly as it cost 1 euro for 30 minutes despite having the pass. All in all, we spent a grand total of 7 euros to get around Paris and cover a total distance of 30 km over the course of the entire day; the low mileage was because we took breaks soaking in the sights, meeting a friend for a long lunch, a bit of shopping and more. Considering that we rode along the Seine, viewed the Louvre, visited the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysées, navigated through the infamous roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, stocked up on Indian supplies at the Gare du Nord area, visited a friend's apartment, biked (almost) all the way up to the Sacre-Couer and then finally to our flixbus station in the outskirts of the city, I'd say that it was money well spent. Doing the same thing using the metro and other public transport would have cost us at least double (if not triple) the amount, along with it being more unsafe considering that social distancing and other COVID protocols (except the wearing of masks) are not followed in public transport. 

Some tips and pointers

  • Ensure your phone is well charged to locate Vélib bike stands. All bikes come equipped with a small pouch with a transparent screen in which you can put your to navigate across town/to a bike stand.
  • Look out for bikes with a reversed seat. This is an informal rule that indicates that the bike has an issue; do not try to unlock that bike and don't forget to turn the seat of a bike you have used if you think it has an issue that makes it unsafe or unusable.
    AVOID these bikes (point #2)

  • Respect traffic rules and try and stick to biking lanes as much as possible (more rules below).
  • A 300 euro (100% refundable) hold will be placed on your credit/debit card. Account for that!
  • Check your bike's chain and brakes before unlocking it (especially for e-bikes which are going to cost you). My e-bike's chain was broken and I did not notice but I was thankfully not charged as I docked it within 20-30 seconds.
  • Link your Vélib account to your Navigo pass if you have one. I was in Paris just for the day so I didn't buy a Navigo pass and I'm not sure how to link it but it is more convenient to unlock a bike.
  • Once you buy your Vélib day/week/month pass, save the code and your password. You will need it every time you start a ride.
  • Wear a helmet; Paris has some wild drivers and this is coming from someone who lived the first 18-19 years of his life in Bangalore!

Useful rules to keep in mind - general and France specific

Learn the basic traffic rules!

  • Anyone to your right has priority (prioritè à droite) except if you are entering a roundabout that is marked with a roundabout sign (in which case, anyone inside the roundabout has priority over you). Pro tip: the Arc de Triomphe roundabout is NOT a roundabout, priorité à droite applies even if you are inside the roundabout so give way to anyone entering! 
  • Look for give way signs with a cycle and an arrow at traffic lights. If the arrow corresponds to the direction you are travelling, you can legally jump the signal provided you won't be obstructing traffic from any direction. 
  • Footpaths are for pedestrians, not bikers; expect to be told told off by the locals if you are caught riding on a footpath.
  • Biking traffic has increased significantly since COVID-19 which means that the police are keeping a stern-er eye on bikers. Bikers have been fined for wearing earphones and not having their lights on when it gets dark. All bike users below the age of 12 years have to wear helmets irrespective of whether they are riding or are pillions!
  • Don't stop on a bike lane (or even the road for that matter!) unless you are at a signal, pedestrian crossing or yielding way to someone who has priority!

  • A couple of pictures from the Vélib biking trip!

    Enjoying a warm glass of mulled wine
    under the Eiffel Tower - perfect for the -1°C
      weather. Yes, we cycled in 
    -1°C for the first
    two hours!


    The Arc de Triomphe where
     priorité à droite applies!

    View of the Louvre

    And lastly, me on the Vélib (unseen)
    under the Eiffel Tower

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