There are plenty of ways to get around the City of Light. Paris has one of the most efficient and user-friendly underground metro systems in the world, in addition to a commuter rail line that provides exceptional coverage of the city and suburbs. Taxis aren’t nearly as expensive as their counterparts in London, and now the city is availing itself of Uber, which makes on-demand car service a snap.
Still, using the city’s bike-sharing system as your main mode of transportation provides you with an entirely unique experience. Something about riding a bike in Paris made me feel very French. I threw a baguette and some cheese in the bike basket and cruised along the Seine, gazing up to see the Eiffel Tower from an angle impossible in a taxi cab or a tour bus.
Riding bikes around Paris allows you to see the Eiffel Tower from practically every angle.
At first glance the Parisian streets may seem dangerous — but take a look at the well-dressed Parisians of all ages confidently navigating the roundabouts and alleys and you’ll see that a little courage and common sense go a long way.
Not confident on a bike in a busy city? Try it out in the bois (forest) or work up your confidence on quiet side streets.
Here’s the thing about biking in Paris: You don’t need your own bike and you don’t need to spend a fortune renting one for the duration of your trip. Paris is one of the top cities for bike sharing programs in the world right now.
The bikes in the Paris bike-sharing system, instituted in 2007 by the Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë, are called Vélibs. There’s no advance booking of Vélibs. You simply turn up at one of the parking stations, go to the terminal, follow the on-screen instructions, select a bike and go. You choose the rental option that suits you best — a long-term subscription or a one-day (€1.70) or seven-day ticket (€8).The first 30 minutes of each trip are always free. The Vélib system has more than 20,000 bicycles and 1,230 bike parking stations located around Paris.
You can check out the Vélib map here.
Traveling by Vélib is fast. I swear we never took a ride longer than 20 minutes while zipping from one end of Paris to the next, confidently riding past streets clogged with traffic. We peering in car windows to see frustrated tourists grimacing at the thought that line at the Musee de Orsay was growing each minute they sat in the back of that car.
Vélib, derived from a combination of the French words vélo, for bicycle, and liberté, for freedom, is a lovely word to say because it sounds downright exotic and a little pretentious at the same time.
Paris feels like a smaller city when you navigate it by bike.
Vélibs do represent freedom. On our way past the Gran Palais I was able to hop right off, park, and pet a very small French bulldog as his owners looked at me with very French disdain. When I spied a vintage Air France poster I bellowed to my boyfriend, entreating him to stop and purchase it from a stall outside of the Louvre, nearly causing a minor pileup. Still, that poster is now ours. The city becomes yours on a Vélib.
On a bike you will never be stuck on the inside lane of the world’s largest roundabout.
You still hold walkers in high regard, but you feel a certain sympathy for the Segway riders, chugging along at a few miles an hour. “Either ride a bike or don’t,” you think with the proper amount of superiority.
Vélib becomes a noun, as in “let’s ride the Vélibs,” and a verb, as in “we shall Vélib,” which makes the act of riding a bike sound like some exotic dance, and in a way it is.
We were easily accosted by manic sellers of “love locks” as we crossed every bridge, even those without a support beam on which to properly lock a lock. One jingled his ring of shiny new locks and nearly hurled himself in front of my Vélib, hooting, “Lock your love.” I stared at him, uncertain how to respond, and looked over at my boyfriend. “I do love you,” I said. He shook his head, and we peddled on to the Île Saint-Louis.
Related: The Single Girl’s Guide to Paris
Much, much easier to stop for some snackies on a Vélib than in a taxi.
Depending on what kind of a person you are, the Vélib parking stations either remind you of your unoriginality or reward you with the affirmation that you are doing things French people also do, like riding your Vélib from the quieter, more residential, parts of town to the hip Rue du Temple. We found ourselves circling the Marais neighborhood looking for a free parking space and found one on our third try. It’s a very first-world problem, frankly, and not the worst one to have.
Riding Vélibs makes the visitor to Paris feel as though they’ve accomplished something other than smoking a pack of cigarettes — even though they officially quit smoking a year ago — and consuming too much red wine.
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