Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Cycle Paris like a local (Or the Vélib experience step-by-step)

Cycle Paris like a local (Or the Vélib experience step-by-step)

Aug 12th, 2010, 04:50 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2010
Posts: 2
Cycle Paris like a local (Or the Vélib experience step-by-step)

Riding carefree through the streets of Paris—with or without the warm wind in your hair —is no mean feat for locals, never mind intrepid tourists enticed by the supposed ease of renting a free bike for touring the City of Lights. On my recent round of encounters with Paris' Vélib system, I made a few key discoveries that may make your journeys smoother.

Yes, the first half hour is free, but you need to pay up front the 150 euro deposit and obtain a subscription. Here's what this part of the process looks like:
1. You must have a credit card to book a bike. (This info is on the terminal as well, but it's helpful to know in advance too.)
2. If you're not fluent in French, specify the language of instruction on the terminal before going further. (If you're reading this, my guess would be English.)
3. To book a bike, you have to subscribe: one day or 7.
4. After choosing a subscription option, insert your credit card and follow the prompts on the main screen (press "Validate" to continue).
5. Here's where I needed help: once your card is inserted, direct your gaze from the main screen to the smaller LCD readout for instructions regarding your card (PIN, approval).
6. Once your card is approved, you are prompted to create a 4-digit pin and re-enter it.
7. The system now issues a subscription number on a small card.

With your PIN, the subscription number enables you to use vélibs for the duration of your subscription period. You DO NOT need to go through the cumbersome credit card procedure each time you want to release a bike (which is what I realized by the end of my multiple day usage).

RELEASING A BIKE (for the first time)
8. Once you're done subscribing, you're ready to release a bike, so choose "Take a Bike immediately" from the main screen.
9. Key in your PIN at the prompt. Once accepted, safety instructions pop up and then you are shown the numbers of the bikes available for rent.
10. Key in the bike number you want and press "Validate."
11. Go to your bike's stall number, press the release button and yank the bike out. (You have 60 seconds from the time the button is pressed.)

If all goes well, you're on your way! If not, read on ...

(as happened to me on a few occasions)
12. Key in your subscription number at the terminal. (TIP: key in "1" which prompts the LCD display to ask for your subscription number.)
13. Key in your PIN.
14. Try steps 8-11 again with a different bike number.

If you're still with me after what seems like an ordeal to do what ought to be a breeze, fear not. I actually went through these many steps several times a day, and yes, it was worth it. Really, truly, honestly.

Vélibs come with front paniers and front and rear lights, and three speeds. As I was never able to figure out the locking mechanism (those instructions weren't available in English), I always returned my bike to the vélib station closest to my destination. This was generally a block or less away so no problem. This is one of the pluses of the vélib network: lots of bikes and stations full of them, all over the city.

To help plan your route, it's worth acquiring a vélib map, available from newspaper kiosks for a few euros. The map highlights vélib stations and identifies "pistes cyclables" or bike paths throughout the city.

Happy (urban/e) trails!
(August 2010)
VancouverBeverly is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 07:24 PM
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 2,911
Thank you Beverly.

Is American Express accepted?
spaarne is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 07:57 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 8,862
Yes Amex is accepted. Actually for a while there were folks here (?) saying that Amex was the only card that's accepted. I did use an Amex myself earlier this year.

I'd just add that you should be sure to try to return the bike within one hour. The rate after the first hour more or less rises exponentially. I found this out the hard way myself, when I couldn't find a spot to return my bike one afternoon -- I think it was on a Saturday.

You wouldn't have thought it was that difficult, but it was that difficult! I tried bike stations on both the left and right banks.
111op is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 08:03 PM
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 49
Thanks for the information, how do you get your deposit returned?
Magsbags is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 08:14 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,421
If a station is full, you get another 15 minutes no charge and the location of the nearest station with openings and how many spaces are available.
djkbooks is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 09:17 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,302
Yes, a lot of people don't know that if you 'check-in' to the machine of a full station, it will give you those 15 minutes and the necessary information. In an extremely busy area, you can just wait until somebody comes to remove a bike and use the place they vacate. At places like Bastille or Les Halles, you will sometimes see people waiting in line with their bicycles to get a space.

Never leave a station after returning a bike until the light on your post has returned to green.
kerouac is offline  
Aug 12th, 2010, 09:18 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,302
Magsbags, it is not a deposit. It is a guarantee that is not debited if all goes well, the same as for a rental car.
kerouac is offline  
Aug 13th, 2010, 12:29 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,658
FWIW, I've used Vélib a lot over three or four recent trips. My record is 46 trips in two weeks, costing at most €16.

When you return a bike, it's worth keying yourself in again to get a printed receipt. You can also check your account to see how much they think they're going to charge you in total.
PatrickLondon is online now  
Aug 13th, 2010, 12:44 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,302
I haven't paid a single charge in more than a year now, and on top of that I have 120 free minutes on my account which I can use at anytime if I want to keep a bike longer. You receive bonus minutes for returning a bike to a higher altitude station. (They are marked Vélib+ instead of just Vélib.)
kerouac is offline  
Aug 13th, 2010, 01:36 AM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,552
This is great information, Beverly. Somebody really needed to post this thread so hats off to you for taking the time. The Vélib system was intended for use by Parisians but I think if there is a way to get people out of cars, trains, buses or taxis that its use should be open to all. Does the system accept any type of credit card, even the ones without chips (which seem to be lacking in American credit cards)?

I think the trick is to keep switching bikes before your first 30 minutes is up if you're trying to keep it free. Sort of a pain to have to always think about but there are so many stations around that it is at least convenient.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Aug 13th, 2010, 02:06 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,658
>>I think the trick is to keep switching bikes before your first 30 minutes is up if you're trying to keep it free.<<

Exactly so. I think of it as a self-powered taxi rather than a hire scheme the way you would rent a car. Ride, File, Forget.
PatrickLondon is online now  
Aug 14th, 2010, 06:05 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 663
Query: Can you ride a bike sans helmet without breaking a municipal regulation?
How dangerous is it to ride a bike on a crowded roadway? Is it legal to ride a bike on the sidewalk?
RJD is offline  
Aug 14th, 2010, 09:41 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 19,658
1. Yes

2. I've had no problems, and I've ridden a Vélib bike round place de la République and place de la Concorde (there is a designated cycle route along the back streets around the outside of Etoile!). The key thing is to ride as you drive - think ahead, make your intentions clear, don't wander between lanes or swerve all over the road, and obey the traffic lights. Drivers don't like uncertainty when they see a cyclist; and in my experience, Parisian drivers aren't the aggressive lunatics we traditionally expected them to be. If in doubt, get off and walk.

3. I assume not, unless there is a marked cycle lane (which do sometimes take up a bit of the sidewalk - as on Blvd Magenta). In many parts of Paris, of course, there wouldn't be room anyway.
PatrickLondon is online now  
Aug 14th, 2010, 01:40 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 21,302
You can be ticketed for riding a bike on a normal sidewalk, but I see it quite often and have done it myself when I just need to cut across one block or something.

Helmets are not required for riding a bike in France (except in bicycle races, where it is now obligatory). Less than 10% of the bike riders wear a helmet, and they are usually people with small children (also in helmet, of course) or 'serious' cyclists. You must wear a reflective vest at night in any rural area.
kerouac is offline  
Aug 15th, 2010, 07:26 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 8,862
"how do you get your deposit returned?"

I don't think you need to do anything special. Once you have securely returned your last rental, that's it.

Thanks for the reminder that you can check in to avoid the "penalty" charge.
111op is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 06:00 AM.