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.
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. Update: As of 2013, 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.
Update 2011: 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.
Update: As of 2013, a one-day Vélib’ ticket 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 like 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.
On her Barcelona page, VT member karenincalifornia has posted a tip on a similar system for spontaneous short-term bicycle rentals called Bicing (yes, that's how they spell it in Catalan), along with a link to Barcelona's Bicing website.
Unlike Paris, Barcelona does not offer a one-day or five-day ticket, just a one-year ticket for 24 Euros. This is because the Barcelona system is explicitly intended only for residents, and not for tourists. That's why the Bicing website is only in two languages: Catalan and Spanish.
Barcelona inaugurated the Bicing system on March 22, 2007 -- not quite four months before Velib' began operating in Paris. But the Paris system is on much larger scale. Whereas Barcelona is quite rightfully proud to have 100 rental stations in operation, Paris already has 750 stations and plans to have 1,451 running by the end of 2007.
Barcelona has 1,500 bikes available; Paris already has over ten thousand on the streets, and they plan to have 20,600 bicycles by the end of 2007.
Both Paris and Barcelona have already chalked up over a million bike rentals each -- but in Barcelona this took over four months, and in Paris it took just two and a half weeks.
One of the things I really love is cycling home at night after the opera.
This is even more magical in Paris because you not only have the opera going through your head, you also have, well, Paris all around you.
You do have to look out for the taxis, though, because they come out at night like moths. And they are allowed to use the bus lanes just as we are.
Second and third photos: More people cycling at night on Boulevard Sebastopol.
Fourth photo: You have to have front and rear lights on your bike, that's important. By the way, the lights they provided at the rental place are battery operated, which would be illegal in Germany (they insist on a dynamo) but seems to be acceptable in France.
OK, whether it's really a revolution remains to be seen, but it's an ambitious and very promising idea. The plan is to provide 20,600 bicycles for spontaneous short-term rentals at some 1,400 rental stations all over the city -- one every 300 meters or so. (300 meters is the standard distance between tram or bus stops, so that distance has been adopted for bicycles as well.)
When I was in Paris in June 2007 they were busy building the first 700 rental stations all over the city. The one in the first photo is on the Rue de Montreuil in the 11th arrondissement. This is a street which has not had much bicycle traffic up to now, but that will hopefully change as all these rental bikes come into use.
Update: As of 15:23 (that's 3:23 pm to you) on the afternoon of August 4, 2007, this station at 93 rue de Montreuil had two bikes available for rental, and 14 free places for people to return their bikes. You can check this in (nearly) real time on their website or on your cell phone if you have a fancy one that supports this sort of thing. -- -- Whoops, five minutes later only one bike is available, and 15 free docking places. So people really are using them.
The Velib' system went into effect on the afternoon of Sunday, July 15, 2007. Unfortunately I wasn't in Paris on that day, so I can't give a first-hand account (or even second-hand, since my son wasn't there either), but judging from reports in the French media they seem to have gotten off to a very good start.
The new bikes were used more than 50,000 times during the first 24 hours of operation (349,000 during the first week), and there were no accidents during that time, despite the dire warnings of diehard motorists who predicted there would be wholesale accidents as a result of inexperience cyclists being turned loose on the city streets.
Additional photos: Vélib' riders in September 2011.
In the summer of 2008 I took out a seven-day subscription (for a mere five Euros) to the fantastic Vélib' system of short-term spontaneous bicycle rentals and spent the week touring Paris on these sturdy and nearly-free machines.
I didn't keep track of exactly how often I checked out a bike, but looking back I would estimate that I took seven to twelve separate rides per day. Since the first half hour of each ride is free, i.e. included in the subscription price, I usually returned my bike to one of the 1,450 Vélib' stations before the half hour was up, and then immediately took another one (or the same one again) if I wanted to go further. Please have a look at my tip How Vélib' works for more details on the pricing system.
Update: When my credit card statement arrived the following month, it turned out that Vélib' had billed me for all of seven Euros, from which I conclude that only two of my many cycling trips lasted longer than half an hour. (A seven-day subscription costs five Euros, and if a trip lasts more than 30 minutes then one additional Euro is charged for the second half hour.) Only seven Euros for a week of cycling! That has to be one of the world's greatest bargains.
Update: As of 2013, a one-day Vélib' ticket 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.
My first photo shows Vélib' station 10001 aka 10-01 (first station in the tenth district or arrondissement) at Place Johann Strauss, a block from my hotel, where I often started out in the morning.
Additional photos: Here are just a few of the many thousands of Vélib' riders on the streets of Paris. According to city officials there are 120,000 trips on an average day, which works out to about 27.5 million trips during the first year of operation.
Some of the parking garages in Paris now provide free bicycle parking, like this one in the Rue de Rennes, near Gare Montparnasse.
Second photo: This underground parking garage near the Bastille also advertises free bicycle parking.
As in any large city, when you are cycling in Paris you always have to lock your bike whenever you leave it somewhere, even if it's just for a couple of minutes. And you should always lock it to something, so nobody can just carry it off.
Some people claim this is too much trouble, but personally I think that's just an excuse for not cycling. Of course you have to find something immovable that you can lock it onto, then take the lock-and-chain off the bike, thread it around through the frame and if possible through one of the wheels, and then lock it. But after you've done this a couple times it becomes a quick routine.
Second photo: Here I've got my rental bike locked to one of those little fences that they put around the trees to protect them. This is at Place Franz Lizst, in the 10th arrondissment, and the church in the background is Saint Vincent-de-Paul.
Third photo:Someone else's bike locked to a fence. Once or twice I had trouble finding something to lock my bike to, but in general it was no problem.
Fourth photo: Here's someone else's bike chained to a lightpost on the Boulevard du Palais (Ile de la Cité).
Fifth photo: Increasingly, the city is installing bicycle parking places with sturdy U-shaped stands anchored securely in the ground (not like the useless rim-killers you often find in Germany). This bicycle parking place is on the newly re-vamped Boulevard de Magenta in the 10th arrondissment.
In places where it is not feasible to build or mark off separate bicycle lanes, a good compromise solution is to create bus lanes and make them wide enough so that cyclists can use them, too. Buses can then safely pass the cyclists, and cyclists can pass the buses when they have stopped for passengers.
Second photo: These painted checkerboard patterns show where the bus (and bike) lanes are when they have to cross large expanses of asphalt.
Third photo: The signs mean that on this bus lane bicycles are allowed but deliveries are forbidden. And there are low trees bending down over the roadway.
Fourth photo: Here on the upper part of Avenue Jean-Jaurès the bus lanes in both directions are in the middle of the street, but cycling is still allowed on them. These folks are cycling on a Sunday morning, in case you were wondering why there is so little traffic.
Fifth photo: Here on Boulevard Saint-Germain in the Latin Quarter the bus lane is protected by a raised divider, to prevent private motor vehicles from straying out of their lane.