Viva Velibs

What is it with this city? I need to write a letter to the Chamber of Commerce – Gil, Midnight in Paris

The note I’d write would say, “Viva Velibs!”

I watched Paris from a cafe during our first visit last month. We waited for the train to Deauville and noticed the Velibs then. Every few minutes one, two, and three would roll by. They carried nonplussed Parisian who held the swept-back handlebars and pedalled to work, home, or other matters.

Stop at a light and read a few sentences

This time I was in the 14th district at a conference hotel for a talk about Social to travel managers. Around the corner and just a few feet away was a Velib station where bikes come and go like pigeons flying from bench to bench. Parisians own yearly passes, swipe a card, and check them in and out. Since 2007, they’ve taken millions of trips on 20,000 bikes and the program has been so successful, an electric car version named Autolib launched while I was there.

Ride to Le Saint-Germain

Most Velib trips are 30 minutes from station to station, but after figuring out how to check the bikes out and back in, we rode them all afternoon to tourist sites and in a Randonnée Roller. Stations are located every 300 meters around the city.

Because US banks haven’t issued cards with chips and pins in them, your card won’t work at the station. Visit instead to get a code. Then punch that in, pick a bike, pull it out of the holder, adjust the seat, and ride. Parisians check the tires and spin the pedals to make sure the chain is on before they pick a bike. So should you. Bikes with a saddle lowered and turned to the right are broken.

Velib stations every 300 meters and some with waiters on a smoke break

The Velibs I rode worked fine with a sturdy, upright ride. It had Schwalbe balloon tires, front basket, and 3 speed Nexus. If the bike you choose doesn’t work, grab another one from a station. They have cable locks and keys with them, but we just parked at stations, checked a spot off our list, and grabbed another set.

Paris Traffic

Paris traffic is gridlocked like every city I ride in, but with infrastructure for the Velibs and cyclists. @mzsitka and I rode in shared, dedicated, and one-way streets with the flow. Follow the signs, other cyclists, and ride aggressively. Vehicles will give way and scooters will buzz you. We turned onto a no-bikes allowed, one-way street near Notre Dame by mistake once. This angered a driver who swerved toward me shaking his fist. I shook mine back, swore louder, and he backed down. Buses will also pass you very closely. Don’t panic. Just ride steady and hold your line. Most of the bike routes are in bus lanes. Ride single file. If you find yourself on a road with no bike lane, stay to the right, and you should see a lane or signage within a block.

Bike-friendly traffic

Paris landmarks are visible from the road and it’s mostly flat. When you get lost, spot the landmark in the direction you’re heading and adjust course. We asked for and we’re offered directions multiple times. Parisians are proud of Velib and happy you’re riding with them. No one was rude to us in Paris.

Two Sunny Afternoons

Our first trip was to Notre Dame and back where we rode with hundreds of cyclists and thousands of Rollerbladers.

Randonee Rollerblades

The next day we rode to the Eiffel Tower and back.

paris 1

Velibs at the Eifel Tower

If someone hasn’t thought of this, you could ride from Bansksy to Banksy and videotape it all with no intention of ever making a documentary. Call it Exit Through the Bike Lane or Velibs are a Fucking Sell Out.

Street art around every corner

Viva Velibs!

Riding around a city taking photos and writing about it is what I do, as a bike blogger, and arriving in a city with infrastructure and bikes to hire around the corner, seems made for me. Velib is part of the complex potion that makes Paris so enchanting. There’s a different flavor to the Boris Bikes in London. We get lots of PR about bike shares and think to do it right, you’ve got to go big like Velib.

Pyramids at the Louvre

I didn’t need to travel with my bike to Paris. There were twenty thousand of them, every 300 meters, waiting for me.


The photos in this post were shot with an #m43 Olympus E-P3 camera. High-rez versions are available on on G+ and Flickr. I had the camera with me on assignment from Pix. #m43 is a super-compact camera format with DSLR quality images and changeable lenses – see the PEN ready Project. If you followed this trip online, the first set of photos were uploaded straight off the camera and into an iPad. These have been post-processed. That’s limited to cropping, enhancing, white balance, and popping colors a bit, like the pigeon at the base of the pyramid.

The kit I took with me was this and it fit on a airplance seat tray.


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