Since I am a notorious autophobe you might wonder why I would choose to spend entire days cycling among these foul-smelling monstrosities.
Well, in part I suppose it's a way of getting some cheap thrills, since I'm too old for bullfighting or bungee-jumping, but there is also a matter of principle involved: I'm simply not willing to let these rotten bastards (LOL) crowd me out of my share of public space. Paris is so beautiful that it should be open to all of us, not just these motorized zombies.
And I'm not the only one. I read somewhere that bicycle use in Paris has increased by 50 % in the past six years, and that's just the beginning.
Update: That 50% increase was before the start of the new Velib spontaneous self-service bike rental system. Now thanks to Velib there has been another huge increase in bicycle use, in fact the streets of Paris are swarming with bikes.
The French newspaper Le Monde has already noted a change in urban behavior; they say automobile traffic is adjusting to the masses of bicycles on the road, which is estimated at up to 60,000 thirty-minute rides daily. Wow.
Additional photos: More people on bicycles asserting their right to cycle the city streets in Paris -- even before Vélib'.
A nice thing to do in Paris when it starts to rain is to take refuge in one of the many cafés and watch the rain from the second row of tables, just inside.
At Place de Roubaix I docked my Vélib’ bike at station 10029 on Rue de Dunkerque and had my choice of several cafés. I chose this one because the whole front was open so I could sit inside but still have a good view of the rain pounding down on the pavement.
This square is named after the city of Roubaix, which is in northern France right up by the Belgian border, between the cities of Lille and Tourcoing.
“Roubaix” rhymes with “rainy day” (sort of).
Second photo: Two men on Vélib’ bikes riding past the café.
Third photo: Another man on a bicycle. Strangely enough, I only saw men and boys riding around in the rain, but no women or girls. Perhaps they have more sense than we do?
Fourth photo: Heavy rainfall on Place de Roubaix.
Vélib’ 10029, 10033 and 10028
GPS 48°52'48.77" North; 2°21'8.28"E East
Next review from September 2011: Hôtel Cujas Panthéon
Deliveries are a necessary part of urban life, and it's hard to get angry at the poor delivery people who are just doing their job. But they do mess things up when they block the bike and/or bus lanes, even though in some streets (clearly signposted) it is legal for them to stop at certain times of day.
Here in rue Saint-Jacques in the Latin Quarter (which otherwise is a beautiful street, by the way) this delivery van slowed bicycle traffic to a crawl while we all tried to squeeze our way through between the van and the lane of cars to the left.
Second photo: Cyclist and delivery vans in the Rue aux Ours (third arrondissement).
One of the scariest things about cycling in Paris is trying to get through some of the huge intersections with cars potentially coming at you from eight or nine different directions. Personally I am not too proud to get off my bike and walk it across the pedestrian crosswalks if the situation looks too dangerous.
Of course the local cyclists know the traffic patterns and just zip on through, but you shouldn't try to follow one of them because they also know the timing of the traffic lights, and they are liable to slip through just before the lights change, leaving you in the middle of a huge expanse of asphalt with cars coming at you from some direction you wouldn't have thought possible.
Second photo: In some places the city is starting to deal with this problem by painting these conspicuous markings on the asphalt, to show cyclists where to ride and to alert motorists to the fact that cyclists are likely to be there.
Third and fourth photos: Cyclists following the markings on Boulevard Henri IV, near the Place de la Bastille.
Fifth photo: Here's another example of how cyclists are guided through a once-dangerous intersection. The sign says "Cyclists to turn left follow the arrows", and these arrows of course have the additional effect of warning motorists to look out for cyclists. The building in the background is Les Invalides, by the way.
In pre-Velib days I used to rent my bicycles from Roue Libre (= free wheel), which is an organization owned and operated by the regional transit authority RATP, and I might well do so again on days when I want to do a lot of extended cycling.
I was a bit worried in 2008 because the Roue Libre website was down, but thanks to VT member pfsmalo (Paul) I found out that they were still (or again) in operation. Paul wrote on March 10, 2008: "Just had Roue Libre on the telephone and they have just opened since the 1st of March. Les Halles is the only point open for the moment, told me he didn't know when the site would be up and running but it was causing havoc with reservations. If you want to call them the number I had was: 01 44 76 86 43 by the oo-33 of course."
In 2006 Roue Libre had a special rate of 32 Euros for eight days including one weekend, which is what I took from Monday to Monday, and later extended it for one more day. I reserved my bike a few days ahead of time at www.rouelibre.fr.
In 2007 that eight-day rate went up from 32 Euros to 39, but it was still a bargain.
The bike I rented had three gears (unlike the ones in Amsterdam and Strasbourg) and had handbrakes (unlike the one in Amsterdam which only had a coaster brake).
It also had a loud bell and a good lock-and-chain, and at my request they provided me with a helmet, front and rear lights, a basket and a free cycling map.
Second photo: The shop window of Roue Libre at 1, passage Mondétour. This is in the Les Halles pedestrian area, at the corner of rue Rambuteau and rue Mondétour, telephone 01 44 76 86 43.
Third photo: In August 2008 I went by Roue Libre again and found that they are indeed still open, though with reduced opening hours, mainly for groups and for longer-term rentals.
Fourth and fifth photos: When I was there in August 2008 they were busy outfitting a group of teen-agers with bicycles and helmets.
GPS 48°51'44.76" North; 2°20'51.60" East
1, passage Mondétour
People who use the Velib' bikes more than five weeks a year are better off getting a yearly subscription for 29 Euros (first thirty minutes free) or 39 Euros (first forty-five minutes free). These are mostly people who live in Paris or the nearby suburbs, and they have the option of adding the Velib' function to their Navigo cards, so they can use the same card for renting bikes that they use for riding trains, buses or trams.
The rest of us can take out one- or seven-day subscriptions at the computer terminal which is found at most Velib' stations. You need a bank card or a credit card for this, preferably a European card with a chip in it. There have been problems with chipless American cards, but I have just downloaded the General Terms and Conditions from the Velib' website, and it says in Article 5.2 (3) that they accept AMEX and JCB cards.
It takes a few minutes to go through the procedure in which you agree, among other things, that they can take up to 150 Euros from your account if you fail to return a bike.
The young Portuguese ladies in this photo are taking out one-day subscriptions at Velib' station 10011 (or 10-11, the eleventh station in the tenth arrondissement) on rue du Château d'eau near Place de la République. I was happy to show them how to find the English-language menus and to answer the one question they had about the procedure. When it asked for a secret four-digit PIN number, they didn't realize that they were supposed to choose this number themselves, any four digits that they could easily remember.
According to the official statistics there were 277,193 seven-day subscribers and 3,683,714 one-day subscribers during the first year of Velib' operation. As of 2014 there are more than 274,000 annual subscribers.
Second photo: There are two sides to each computer terminal, and to subscribe to need to use this side that has a slit for your credit card and another slit where your Velib' ticket comes out when you have successfully completed the subscription procedure. Caution: it spits out your ticket very vigorously, so hold your hand by the slit to catch it, or look for your ticket on the ground nearby.
Third, fourth and fifth photos: People riding Vélib' bikes near Les Invalides.
Update 2012: It is now possible to sign up online at http://en.velib.paris.fr/ for long- and short-term Vélib' subscriptions. I have done this several times (for seven-day subscriptions) and it worked fine. Online registration is quick and easy, and it doesn't matter if your credit card has a chip or not.
Here at the annual bicycle fair at the beginning of June 2007 a Vélib' organizer is explaining how the system works.
Each rental station has an electronic vending machine which was originally intended to have instructions in eight languages: French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. As of 2014, only five of these languages have been implemented: French, English, Spanish, German and Italian.
Select your language, insert your credit card or European bank card (your card won't work if it doesn't have a chip, by the way, so that eliminates some American cards) and decide if you want a one-day ticket or a seven-day ticket. You also agree that they can deduct up to 150 Euros from your account if you damage a bike or fail to return it.
It is now possible to sign up online at http://www.velib.paris.fr/ for long- and short-term Vélib' subscriptions. This seems to have solved the credit card problem.
If you live or work in Paris you can also get a yearly ticket, but not from the machine, which thousands of Parisians have already done. As of 2014, Vélib’ has 274,000 annual subscribers.
A one-day Vélib’ ticket now costs 1.70 Euros (same as for one ride on the bus, tram or Métro), a seven-day Vélib’ ticket costs 8.00 Euros and a one-year subscription (= Vélib’ Classic Card) costs 29.00 Euros. All of these include unlimited rides of up to thirty minutes each.
There is also such a thing as a “Vélib’ Passion Card” for 39.00 Euros. This is a one-year subscription which includes unlimited rides of up to forty-five minutes each, intended primarily for people who live at the edges of Paris or in the suburbs.
With your ticket you can pick up a bike at any station, ride it to wherever you're going and leave it at any other station. The first half hour is "free", meaning included in the price of the ticket, but after that you get charged extra: one more euro for the second half hour, two for the third and four for each half hour thereafter. So if you want to ride around all day as I do you would have to change bikes every half hour -- or just rent a bike from Roue Libre in the traditional way.
Before using a Vélib' bicycle, please be sure you understand the pricing system. For a half-hour ride it's a great bargain, but if you were to get a one-day ticket and keep the same bike for six hours, it would cost you 40 Euros, which is more than it would cost to rent a bike for an entire week from Roue Libre.
Second photo: Vélib' sign at the bicycle fair.
Third, fourth and fifth photos: People on Vélib’ bikes.
If you are not accustomed to city cycling, but still don't want to miss out on the fun of touring Paris by bicycle, you might consider taking a guided bicycle tour, where you will be in a group and be looked after.
The tour in the first photo has stopped in the courtyard of the Palais Royal. This particular tour was in French, but the same company also offers guided bike tours in English, as do several other companies in Paris.
I have never taken this kind of tour in Paris, but I listened in on this one for a bit, and the guide seemed very friendly and knowledgeable. Their website: www.parisvelosympa.com.
Second photo: The same group turning to leave.
Third photo: Tag on one of their bikes.
Fourth and fifth photos: Another guided bicycle tour near Les Invalides.
Here are some more companies that offer guided bicycle tours of Paris:
• Fat Tire Bike Tours
• Blue Bike Tours
• Bike About Tours
• Paris Bike Tour
Update: In April 2011 I took a guided bicycle tour in Prague and was very satisfied with it.
When I returned to Paris in February 2014 I was pleased to find that the Vélib' bicycle transit system was in very good shape and still going strong after six and a half years of operation.
Like most Vélib' users I am in the habit of taking six or seven seconds to check the tires, chain, brakes and sometimes lights before I borrow one of the bikes. In 2008 I often had to reject a bike and try another, but since then I have found that a high percentage of the bikes are in good repair.
An article on the Vélib’ website Vélib’ et moi has since confirmed my impression that there was relatively little vandalism in the years 2010 and 2011. There was a sharp increase in 2012 and 2013, but in those years the vandalism took place mainly in the north-east corner of Paris, in certain troubled neighborhoods of the 18th and 19th arrondissements and in the adjoining suburbs.
The vandals, when they are caught, often turn out to be teen-age boys who have little or no understanding of how much damage they are doing. In an experimental program started in 2013, some of them have been offered an alternative to legal prosecution and a police record. During the school vacations, if they and their parents consent, they are taught the basics of bicycle repair at one of the Vélib’ repair shops and are then put to work repairing the bicycles. For most of them, this appears to be their first encounter with a structured work situation. Apparently the program has been a success so far, and will be continued.
Next Paris review from March 2014: Saint-Germain-des-Prés
Of the eleven signposted bicycle routes in Paris, route # 1 is the only route that goes around in a complete circle.
On the right bank, route # 1 goes through Place Clemenceau, Rue de Provence, Place de la République and Sully Morland. On the left bank it takes different streets for east- and westbound cycling between Sully Bridge and Invalides.
The entire length of route # 1 is about 16 km. It is slightly longer going clockwise than going counter-clockwise (or anti-clockwise as our British friends would say). I have cycled most of this route at one time or another, but I have never made it all the way around in one go because there are so many interesting things to see and do along the way.
Come to think of it, routes # 4 and # 5 together would also make a – much larger – complete circle. Route # 11 will also make an even larger complete circle if it is ever finished.
My first photo on this tip is at the corner of Rue de Provence and Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. What I especially like here is the lovely caryatid on the right-hand side of the photo, the statue of a lady who seems to be supporting the cornice of the first floor on the façade of the building at 71, rue de Provence.
Later I looked this up and found that the architect of this building was Alfred Leroux and the sculptor was Edmond Lormier (1847–1919).
Actually there are two caryatids on this façade, but I only got one of them in my photo. The two are identical except for the folds of their dresses.
One of the signs in this photo points to the Théâtre Mogador, a large and sumptuous music hall dating from the year 1913. For many years this theater specialized in French operettas, but lately they seem to prefer French-language adaptations of Broadway musicals. VirtualTourist member mindcrime once attended the musical Mamma Mia! at the Théâtre Mogador and he has written an interesting tip about it. He liked the theater building, but was not very impressed by the performance.
Second photo: Rue de Provence is a one-way street for cars, two-way for bikes. The direction for cars has been reversed for two blocks in the middle, which has the effect of reducing motor traffic and making the street safe and convenient for bicycles. The Vélib’ station on this photo is station 9104 at 115 Rue de Provence, behind the Au Printemps department store.
Third photo: Route # 1 goes past the town hall of the 10th arrondissement on Rue du Château-d’Eau (literally ‘Street of the Water Tower’).
Fourth photo: Route # 1 at Répu = Place de la République.
Fifth photo: Route # 1 eastbound at Place Maubert, Boulevard Saint-Germain. (Westbound is via the parallel street Rue des Ecoles.)
Next review from October 2013: Signposted bicycle route # 2
The city of Paris has now implemented twelve signposted bicycle routes, which are a big help in finding our way when cycling across the city. These routes are shown on a small map which the city distributes for free called “Paris à Vélo, Le bon plan” and on the city’s website (scroll down to the third map).
Eleven of these bicycle routes are numbered, and the twelfth is called N-S for North-South (Nord-Sud). Those who have used these numbered routes before 2012 will notice that the new N-S route has replaced what used to be the southern half of route # 6 and the northern half of route # 7.
My first photo shows signs on route # 7 at the southern edge of Paris, near Porte de Vanves. This route goes roughly northeast via Montparnasse to Saint Michel, where it now ends.
Second and third photos: Route # 7 following bus and bike lanes on the way to Saint Michel.
Fourth photo: The new N-S route is marked not only by signs but also by markers on the surface of the streets.
Fifth photo: Signs on bicycle route # 5 pointing to Place de Clichy and Salle Pleyel. Route # 5 takes roughly the form of an arc through the north and east districts of Paris, from the Arch of Triumph via Pigalle, Belleville and Père Lachaise to Vincennes.
Signposted bicycle route # 1
Signposted bicycle route # 2
Signposted bicycle route # 10
Bicycle route # 2 has been extended in both directions and now goes from the Suresnes Bridge in the east to the Château de Vincennes in the west, a distance of about 20 km.
In the center of Paris, near the Louvre, it goes westbound on Rue de Rivoli and eastbound on Rue Saint Honoré.
The building in the background of my first photo is the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre.
Second photo: Vélib’ bikes at Café de l’Échelle near the Louvre, 3 Rue de l’Échelle. (Vélib’ station 1014.)
Third photo: Route # 2 sign at Porte Dorée, at the eastern edge of Paris near the Museum of the History of Immigration.
Fourth photo: Vélib’ station 12032 at Porte Dorée.
Fifth photo: Route # 2 on Avenue Daumesnil.
Next review from October 2013: Signposted bicycle route # 10
When I first saw these signs I thought they were unnecessary, because bike route # 10 follows along the Seine River for its entire length, from Bir-Hakein in the west to Porte de Bercy in the east. After all, you can’t get lost if you just follow the river.
But it turns out that the signs do serve a useful purpose, because in some places the bike lanes are better on the left bank and in other places on the right. And there is a stretch of about 4 km (between the Concorde and Sully bridges) where you are best off taking the left bank if you are going west but the right bank or the islands if you are going east.
So following the signs really can give you a faster and more pleasant ride, at least until you get your own favorite route worked out.
Additional photos: People cycling on bike route # 10.
Next review from October 2013: Vélib’ book with sightseeing tours
Hardly anyone in Paris wears a bicycle helmet, except me and these ladies in the first two photos.
As I have mentioned on some of my other pages, I consider bicycle helmets to be a sensible precaution especially for children and for us elderly folks, but I am not in favor of compulsory helmet laws because they dissuade people from cycling, and the damage caused by not cycling far outweighs any slight increase in safety that a helmet might provide.
I have discussed this in more detail in a tip on my Amsterdam page called Why the Dutch don't wear bicycle helmets.
Also I have written a tip called Why I still wear a bicycle helmet even though the Dutch don't.
In any case, there are other precautions that are MUCH more important than wearing a helmet, and the main one is:
Don't try to pass motor vehicles on the inside!
Five Vélib' riders were killed in Paris in the first two years of operation. In all five cases the situation was the same. The cyclist tried to pass a truck or bus on the right, got into that vehicle's blind spot and was crushed to death when the truck or bus made a right turn.
Wearing a helmet would not have prevented any of these deaths.
Since then each Vélib’ bike has a warning notice with a diagram showing how to avoid getting into the blind spot of a large vehicle.
For more on how to prevent this kind of accident, see "Collision Type #3" on the website bicyclesafe.com, which is all about "How to Not Get Hit by Cars".
These five Vélib' deaths were front-page news in the Paris papers, unlike the traffic deaths of pedestrians, motorists, motorcyclists or non-Vélib' cyclists, which are barely mentioned.
In fact, bicycle safety has improved considerably since the beginning of Vélib', simply because there is safety in numbers. The more cyclists there are on the streets, the safer we are.
I noticed this particularly the other day at the tricky intersection by the Hotel de Ville where Rue de Rivoli, Rue du Renard and Rue de la Coutellerie all come together. I used to get off and walk this one, but now I was in a group of about a dozen cyclists all going the same direction, so it was no problem to ride through the intersection together.
Statistically, bicycle use has gone up by 24%, but injuries only by 7%.
Second photo: Cycling on Rue Réamur -- with a helmet.
Third photo: Cycling on Rue de Rivoli.
Fourth photo: Cycling across the Seine.
Fifth photo: Near Beaubourg.
Most of Paris is reasonably flat, but there are some hilly places in the north (Montmartre) and northeast (Buttes Chaumont, Belleville) parts of the city.
This has proved to be something of a problem for Vélib', since more people ride downhill than up, so the stations at higher altitudes quickly lose all their bikes and don't get as many back.
One thing they do about this is to have electric trucks circulating to redistribute the bikes, but another thing is that all stations at an altitude of 60 meters or higher have been declared "Vélib' Plus" stations, and the software has been amended to award an extra free fifteen minutes ("indivisible") to anyone to returns a bike to one of these stations.
So I seem to have earned an extra fifteen minutes simply by riding up to the top of this hill in Belleville (not a very challenging hill, frankly) and docking it here at station 20113 on Rue Piat at the top end of Belleville Park.
Those extra fifteen minutes came in handy the next day when I went to Passy, where I had never been before so I had to keep stopping to look at the map.
Second photo: You can tell which stations are "Vélib' Plus" because they have a special logo with a white plus sign in a red circle, at the top of the computer terminal.
Third photo: Here's the same terminal from the other side, also with the "Plus" logo.