Before arriving in Paris I kept hearing, “Oh the best way to see Paris is on foot, walk the whole city, it's really the only way to experience it.” I'd rather be shot and thrown into a dumpster by the Seine. Walking is not for cyclists – it sours the guns, it's slow as hell. We are not walkers, we are rouleurs.
Enter the Velib – the word is an amalgam of velo and liberty, 20000 bikes, 1800 stations spread around the city. This was conceived to get cars off the streets and judging from the number of people using the bikes, it must be doing something right. These are not intended for sightseeing as much as they are a 24/7, nearly free way to get from point to point without a car and its associated pains. The bikes were custom-designed, 3 speeds, adjustable seat, a cable lock, basket, front and rear lights driven off the hubs. The coolest part is the sturdy male tab that easily mates with the base station. Post-ride you dock your bike into any open base, it locks, and you walk away. Brilliant.
Having been here for two days makes me an expert in all things Parisian, of course. The city is rather flat so the three gears are enough, the tires are tough, it's no speedster but really who cares? It's not your bike. No emotional attachment; use it and walk away. There is always another just like it waiting for the next ride. I've ridden a few of these bikes that needed some love but almost all of them have been great.
One subscribes to this kind of service. I bought a one week service for 8 euros. A whole year is only 29 euros. The first half hour is free, the next is 1 euro. You log in, grab a bike, adjust the seat, no time lost in adjusting the helmet as none are provided. Then you accelerate into the maelstrom that is Paris traffic; a torrent of motos, scooters, trucks, buses and bikes. Exciting and dangerous-absolument. But I figure I'll still last longer than that cyclist with headphones and cigarette.
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