Navigating the Paris Vélib’ Bike System

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Paris has so many sights to see, but you don’t want to rent a car, be stuck underground on the metro or try to figure out the complex web of bus routes. So join thousands of Parisians and use the city’s well-developed Vélib’ bike system. It’s like a co-op bike rental program: you can take and return any of the 20,000 bikes strategically placed at 1,800 stations all over Paris. It’s as easy as, well, riding a bike.

Don’t fret if you don’t have a French credit card with a chip on the back. It just means you can’t grab a bike directly from one of the Vélib’ machines on the street—yet. A few simple steps in advance will have you cruising through the City of Light in no time.

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Your first stop is the City of Paris information desk, open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., from Monday to Saturday, at 29, rue de Rivoli, to pick up a free Vélib’ Express Card. Next, you’ll log onto the easy-to-use Vélib’ website and follow the simple instructions in English. Hit the “subscriptions and fees” tab and choose the length of time you’d like to use your new wheels—one day, seven days—or will you like it so much that only a one-year pass will do? Prices range from 1.70 euros to 39 euros, and with that you get 30 minutes of spin time included per ride before additional fees kick in. With stations all around, you can always return your bike and get another, but you will have to wait three minutes between swaps at the same station. There are also special stations where you’ll receive 45 minutes of time included. See the online map for details, and also consider downloading the easy-to-use app from the Vélib’ site, which you can use to see the stations that have available bikes as well as available stalls to make a return.

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Once you sign up online and pay, it’s time to go to a Vélib’ station. Bring your express card, as you’ll go to the machine and input your card number and the password you chose online. The machine takes your info, and then activates your card so you’re ready to ride. Now all you need to do is wave your card over one of the stands in front of a bike, wait for the double beep and voilà, your bike is ready to hit the streets. You should literally do some kicking of the tires before you select your bike, as some can be flat, and some seats can be wobbly, and you’ll want to check the brakes, because they’re very important!

A few notes about the rules of the road: you should pretend you’re a car and follow the same rules, like stopping at red lights and waiting for pedestrians in crosswalks. Unlike a car, you don’t have a seat belt or airbags, so use caution, and you might want to get a helmet. Typically, you use the same lanes as the buses and always move with the flow of traffic. The good news is that Paris is very bike friendly, and there are well-marked paths everywhere. Now you can enjoy the city like the locals and see twice as many sights in half the time with the Vélib’ bike system.

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Kelly Page is a recent transplant to Paris. After working for years in television, she began her new life in the City of Light, wine glass in hand. Read her blog.

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