Bicycling in Paris

You've seen those 1930s photographs of Paris—men in berets bicycling the streets, a baguette tucked under one arm; elegant women in billowing skirts gliding past the Eiffel Tower on two wheels. Until recently, though, it was difficult for visitors to the City of Light to do the same without signing up for a bike tour. That changed when Paris introduced a bike-rental program called Vélib' (01–30–79–79–30 www.velib.paris.fr), whose odd-sounding name is an amalgam of vélo (bike) and liberté (liberty).

Even if cycling across the French countryside is your dream, taking to the streets of Paris can seem like a nightmare, with motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, delivery vans double parked, pedestrians texting while walking—you get the picture. But the resounding success of Vélib' has meant that dedicated bike lanes have been popping up in the center of the city to accommodate all the new cyclists.

You’ll encounter several different types of bike lanes in Paris: bike-only lanes completely separated from vehicular traffic (these are well worth seeking out); lanes divided from traffic by white lines (you can easily be cut off by turning cars or buses making a stop); lanes shared by buses, taxis, and bikes; and lanes where you’ll pedal against the flow of traffic. There are also lanes running adjacent to sidewalks (watch out for crossing pedestrians).

There’s always safety in numbers, and many seasoned cyclists opt to join the group Paris Rando Vélo (www.parisrandovelo.fr) every Friday evening for a free ride through the streets of Paris. Rendezvous at 9:30 pm at l'Hôtel de Ville. On the third Sunday of each month there’s also a morning ride at 10:30 am.

Take to the Streets

So you’re ready to rent a Vélib' bike? You can't miss the silver-and-purple cycles at more than 1,800 docking stations spread around the city, from the Champs-Élysées to Montmarte to the Louvre. Logging more than 60 million trips, they are showing some wear and tear, so check yours over thoroughly, especially to ensure that the bell is fully functional.

There are several stands near the Eiffel Tower, four of which form a not-quite-symmetrical square around the landmark: one on Quai Branly at Avenue de la Bourdonnais, another on Avenue Rapp near the corner of Bourdonnais, a third on Rue de Suffren off Avenue Joseph Bouvard, and the last on Avenue Octave Gréard where it intersects with Avenue de Suffren. This neighborhood is ideal for cycling: the roads are wide, there are several dedicated bike lanes, and, most importantly, the terrain is gloriously flat. Try a relaxing ride across the Champ de Mars, along Rue St-Dominique, and around the Invalides.

You'll pay €1.70 a day—or €8 for a seven-day pass—to use Vélib'. If you ride for less than 30 minutes at a time, there's no additional fee (you get a code to use throughout the day, which allows you to take out a bike whenever you want one). If you keep it for more than 30 minutes you pay an additional €1, then €2 for the next 30 minutes, and €4 for each half hour on top of that. If you're spending a lot of time in Paris, opt for the €29 annual pass. A combination Navigo métro–bike pass is also available. The system accepts debit or credit cards that contain an electronic chip that can be read by the French system. Bike helmets can be rented for €2 a day or €10 a week from Alternative Bike (01–44–61–56–76 www.alternative-bike.com).

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