Foolproof Tips for Biking in Paris using the Velib System

Whether she's riding bikes in Paris or staying at $17-a-night hostels in Peru, Washington-based writer Adele Chapin blogs about all her travel adventures at GoshGeeGolly.com.

When I booked my plane tickets to Paris this spring, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: pedal down a sunny street on one of the Velib bikeshare bikes, while wearing a striped shirt and perhaps carrying a baguette in the bike's basket. You can't get more Parisian than that, can you? The wildly successful 20,000-bike Velib' system just celebrated its fifth birthday in July, inspiring similar systems around the world in cities like Washington, D.C., London and New York. I couldn't wait to try the Velib' and see how it compared to my experience as a Capital Bikeshare user in D.C.

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But while my black and white striped t-shirt was packed in my suitcase ready to go, I was a little iff-ier on the bike situation. I had read contradictory information online about whether or not the Velib' machines accepted American credit cards. I didn't want to chance my Capital One card not working and jeopardizing my Francophile biking dreams. So here are the steps that worked for me so I could travel via Velib during my trip, without getting a new credit card:

  • I logged on to the Velib website and clicked on 7-day ticket for eight euros.
  • I created a four-digit PIN code that I would enter at the Velib machine every time I checked out a bike.
  • I entered the start date and end dates of when I would be in Paris, so the pass would be usable then.
  • I clicked the payment tab, and paid with my American credit card Velib sent me an email with my ID number, along with the PIN I chose. I printed out that email, then at each Velib machine, I used the touch screen to select English, and followed the instructions as to when enter the ID number, PIN, and bike number. I then removed the selected bike from its stand, and I was ready to roll.

Note: The blog Oh Happy Day suggests buying a Navigo Pass at a Metro station for 5 euros to avoid typing in the PIN and ID numbers, but if you are cheap like me and don't want to spend the extra 5 euros, the above steps will work.

Each bike has a kickstand, mudguards, a roomy basket, and a cable lock you can use to secure your bike while you pop into a shop. I found the bike to be flimsier than the Capital Bikeshare bikes, but with a faster ride. Docking was a little difficult, perhaps it takes more arm strength than I have. As for pricing, the first half hour is free, the first additional half hour is one euro, the second additional half hour is two euros, and the third additional half hour is four euros.

I know there will angry comments about my lack of a helmet in the photos, which I admit is irresponsible. In fairness, we didn't see many people with helmets riding the Velib. I showed my parents nearly 700 pictures of my vacation, and the only ones they commented on were the helmet-less bike photos. They were not pleased. What can I say? I survived.

For your Parisian biking tour, street bicycling experience is helpful, but in my experience, cars seemed to be aware of cyclists. Once we found bike lanes and less-busy streets, we loved exploring the neighborhoods in Le Marais and near our Airbnb apartment in Oberkampf.

For more advice on Velib biking, check out this link on their website. Happy cycling!

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