Reverence: Velib-The Paris Free Bicycle System

Jeune Fills on Velib Bike. Photo by Gianni

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.

[dmalbum path=”/velominati.com/content/Photo Galleries/[email protected]/velib photos/”/]

 

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67 Replies to “Reverence: Velib-The Paris Free Bicycle System”

  1. We’ve used it. It is really quite cool. Although I only barely got to test it because I was pushing a then 3-year-old around in a scooter.

    The Amsterdam system of paying a junkie for your choice of bike is also very efficient, if less than ethical.

  2. Great read Gianni. Must say I am jealous. Paris or shoving the kid off for the first day back to school? I’d take Paris.

    Have fun!

  3. Nice lead picture. Too many violations to list, but I’d certainly look long and hard to try and count them all.

    London has a similar set up with bikes sponsored by Barclays Bank. They are nicknamed “Boris Bikes” in honor of the flaxen-haired, adulterous, Bullingdon-boy, goofball mayor Boris Johnson.

    As Wikipedia puts it: “Johnson is known for his love of cycling and regularly cycles to work. He has been the victim of several bike thefts and has expressed his desire to plant “decoy bicycles throughout Islington and send Navy SEALs in through the windows of thieves”.[103] He introduced a bicycle sharing system modelled on Velib in London in July 2010.[104] However, since becoming Mayor of London he has cut £10m off the budget for new cycle lanes in London.[105] A spokesman for Johnson said that the overall investment in cycling in London had been increased to a record £55m in 2008, up from £36m the year prior.

    A mixed bag there, but I do like the idea of sending Navy Seals after bike thieves.

  4. Gianni – do you own a gun? I need to be shot. Been walking for 1.5 weeks while away from home on work. And walked for three full fucking weeks back in July for the same reason. Thank Merckx I don’t travel much. I might need a Dahon! Or a Ritchey Break Away.

    I knew I’d reached my limit this morning when I realized I was timing my walks to the bus, seeing if I could best my previous walk. How horrible and sad! I’m mulling over my average walking speed. The horrors.

    I’m just outside DC at the moment; they’ve started a bike rental program in the city. Saw it in July, thought about trying it out.

    Thankfully I’ll be home on Saturday. My VMH, my pets, and my bikes await! I’m counting the hours. Walking sucks. First proper cx training workout on Saturday morning too, after an overnight bus ride. Gotta shock the guns back to life.

  5. And nice one, Gianni! Hope you enjoy/ed the trip. That shop looks awesome! Nothing better in the world than a really cool, really stuffed bike shop.

    And yeah, superb lead photo. Is there anything better than gal commuting on bike? Some nice shoes, a nice outfit, and spinning those legs. What a sight!

    Oh, and why is it that the shittiest cyclists think it’s a good idea to toss some headphones on? Buddy, you need every single one of your senses working overtime in order to not get blasted by a car. Please turn off the music and quit texting. Or, are they twatting about how they are mere seconds from getting smashed by a dump truck? “Hey everyone, just almost killed by tons of moving metal & concrete! Wee!!!”

  6. I would have loved to have something like this available when I was in Japan. I of course didn’t have my bike, and the process of renting a bike from a bike shop was less than ideal, since they have to be open for you to return it.

  7. @Ron

    Buddy, you need every single one of your senses working overtime in order to not get blasted by a car.

    yeah, after one of these rides my wife asks, “did you see that store, or those shoes?” Fuck no I didn’t, I’ve got every sensor on trying to pick up the hurtling black scooter coming in at 3 o’clock low.

    And traveling without your ride, it’s bad. Either a Dahon or Ritchey could save your soul on a bidness trip. Make it a business expense. This whole vacation trip is without bikes and never again, just dumb of us. I’ve borrowed bikes but ya have to have your own steed. Or a nice Pinarello if someone gave me one. That hasn’t happened yet.

  8. @wiscot
    Yes please-sending in navy seals after bike thieves. One of my extremely thin and wee bike racing friends had a bike stolen so he drove into the bad part of town and actually saw his bike. But he was such an extremely thin and wee bike racer he didn’t have the balls to get out of the car and take it back from the bad boys. He did get the bike back but having a navy seal in the back seat would have made it much easier and fun too!

  9. Thanks for the belly laugh. I hate walking. As Woody Allen once said about “mellow”, “I can’t do mellow-I ripen and then rot”. I call hikers “trail snails”, so walkers in the city must be “sidewalk snails”…….especially in France.

  10. @wiscot
    The juxtaposed coal-burning Mercedes says it all.

    Nice article. It’s good to know you are enjoying a nice vacation with your lovely bride. What’s the story on the bike shop in the picture? And do the French people know about us?

  11. Nice Gianni. I was in Cycles Laurent a couple of months ago looking for retro jerseys while on a sock budget. Got socks. Cool store though.
    Those Velib bikes weigh a fuque-tonne, but that keeps it all at a genteel pace, a nice change from the Mad Max attitude of some bicyclists closer to home.
    Great write up and pictures.

  12. @Ron
    You should really try working on high-cadence walking, focusing on the heel-toe-push off, like you’re trying to wipe parisian sidewalk dog shit off your shoes, without bouncing.

  13. Gianni has been hard at work in Switzerland as well, worshiping at the UCI headquarters. The bottom picture is pure fucking class. The best bit of it being the full on perfect kneel form in fucking flip-flops.

    Gianni continues to be my hero.

  14. @Souleur
    Boston just started a program modeled on Velib — Hubway, sponsored by New Balance. Taken off like crazy.

  15. @Nate

    Each rental bike comes with a complementary whistle, pair of tight black jeans, and a stick-on ironic mustache. Ne helmets allowed.

  16. We have these rentals in our town too. Not sure which bank sponsors them but every time I see one it is in need a many repairs. I seen one where the front brake didn’t even work and the person riding it had no clue. Not even sure if they even have lights on them.

    fasthair

  17. @frank

    Gianni has been hard at work in Switzerland as well, worshiping at the UCI headquarters. The bottom picture is pure fucking class. The best bit of it being the full on perfect kneel form in fucking flip-flops.


    Gianni continues to be my hero.

    Merckx Will Be Done. Note the sign on the wall containing original velomiskrit teachings describing the location of the Bidons that to this day hold water carried upon His Bike. Legend tells us the water in these Bidons is considered sacred to all Velominati, and thus could not be trusted to any one rider. Hence, they were distributed in various locations about the world, and only by deciphering the clues (from the original Velomiskrit) could their locations be found. A map to these locations is rumored to be inscribed in invisible ink upon a map buried beneath the Roubaix velodrome.

  18. @eightzero

    Merckx Will Be Done. Note the sign on the wall containing original velomiskrit teachings describing the location of the Bidons that to this day hold water carried upon His Bike. Legend tells us the water in these Bidons is considered sacred to all Velominati, and thus could not be trusted to any one rider. Hence, they were distributed in various locations about the world, and only by deciphering the clues (from the original Velomiskrit) could their locations be found. A map to these locations is rumored to be inscribed in invisible ink upon a map buried beneath the Roubaix velodrome.

    All you need is Nicolas Cage (ugh) or Tom Hanks (meh) to star in it, and you have the makings of a summer blockbuster.

  19. I like the Velib. Anything to get a 20-something-year-old Parisian girl in a sundress to ride around Paris on a bike. The only things missing in the basket are a baguette and some flowers.

    Merci, Gianni.

  20. @Gianni its cool shit like this that makes me want to actually visit another country. I may do so some day. But I get so nervous I get the shakes when I think about traveling outside the US. Eddy H. Merckx, I don’t even like to visit some places IN the US. Like Texas. Or “the South.” Makes me nervous and I begin to cry a lot.

    Hate to say it Frank, but the site has become all too popular. All us assholes chiming in at once. We need a new section at the top (along with the aforementioned “the Rides”); we now need “the Bullshit” – a place of general bullshittery.

  21. @marko

    And do the French people know about us?

    I got nothing! No respect with my Velominati shirt. If we had an instant French translation dongle (Frank?) some might read it.
    I was on a cycling sock budget there too and came away with a chapeau cyclisme (?). Amazing shop utterly packed with nice bikes, the stem and bars turned to fit more in and make them harder to ride away with.

  22. @Nikolai
    No one cares about helmets, double parking, smoking, dogs in restaurants, or diet foods. People here are healthier, thinner, and more content than in the US. What does it all mean, besides the fact we are all doomed in the US?

  23. @Nikolai

    I thought they were talking about bringing one in Melbourne ?

    There was a recent post on Cycling Tips suggesting they should waive the helmet laws for users of the bike rental system, which of course caused precitable shock and horror.

  24. Montreal uses the bixi system. It seems rather popular there, and looks to be a success there.

    However when I visit that city later this month for the GP cycliste I will be riding my own bike.

  25. Off topic, but how do I change the avatar on here? While I still have facial hair, I no longer rock hair to my shoulders. I have no clue how the current photo got there.

  26. @mcsqueak
    Ok, so we’re casting a Merckx movie. I’ll put Clive Owen in as Merckx. Daniel Craig as Anquetil. Javier Bardem as Ocana.

  27. There’s a clothing shop on Republique called OH LUMIER, there you will find a couple wool jersey’s on the cheap and it’s not too far from Cycles Laurent. Good post. Thanks. I spent 6 months in Paris and I didn’t realize how much i missed it.

  28. @Gianni

    @Nikolai
    No one cares about helmets, double parking, smoking, dogs in restaurants, or diet foods. People here are healthier, thinner, and more content than in the US. What does it all mean, besides the fact we are all doomed in the US?

    Just came back from Nice, southern France, where they have the same system. And shitloads of fantastic roads to cycle. To add to the above they have really good food there – more or less everything is organic by default and actually has taste! Unlike in London where I live.

    You might want to check the following written by someone whos eems to have left the US for France: http://livinginfrance.mon-coach-langues.com/post/2010/03/31/Cycling-in-France.

    Very relaxed too. On one day I had a couple of hours to myself as family preferred to stay in the apartment and so decided to check the local bike shop. It just happened that it was during lunch time, and all shops other than supermarkets or chain stores close for 2 hrs for lunch.

    best regards,

  29. I was in Seville yesterday and they’ve got the same bikes. They’re a bit different from the Boris bikes in London. It’s great to see all these cities getting into biking. It’s so much nicer to cycle to work than to cram into the tube – especially being a short bloke, armpit level…

  30. @PeterP
    Grazie for the link to the France article. Very interesting. I also love the way all businesses close and everyone has a relaxed 1-1.5 hour lunch, talking, a glass of wine, some espresso after. It’s better than the 0.5 lunch I’d take by myself, in my office, at my computer, reading cyclingnews…what a loser.

    @Oldschooly

    There’s a clothing shop on Republique called OH LUMIER, there you will find a couple wool jersey’s on the cheap and it’s not too far from Cycles Laurent

    Thanks for the tip, we just rode by Laurent Cycles again today as my wife had lost her new cycling hat, maybe one last trip to Oh Lumier will happen tomorrow, our last day here. I loves me the cycling swag.

  31. If we are sharing photos of how we pay homage to Him (bless his name)… you’ll have to ignore my gurning, but how about this one:

    Went to a dinner earlier this year for the launch of Maglia Rosa, and the Prophet himself came to bless the occasion

  32. Gianni and Mrs. Wife – Great read up, I got to go on them for an hour last year and have also tried them in Montreal. It really is the way to go in a city. In Montreal I have seen a maintenance truck hauling off the damaged ones and all that I rode were in good nick – perhaps because they spend the winter out of use they are in better shape?

    What a great trip – you made it to the shrine of shrines (in proper obeyance) and looking extremely fit and at your ultimate climbing weight – an attempt at the Volcano when you get home – Neh?

    Travel and bikes are the last frontier of cycling. I do take my little home chopped 16″ fixie Dahon when I travel so at least I am riding and not walking. I am always in muftie, never in V kit and of course look like a complete wanker but who cares I am on my bike… and I love urban gorilla riding!

    @roadslave
    And now I post that with Himself staring at my post… Redfaced and cringing – THANKS Roadslave (so jealous)! It looks like you were at the part of the evening where the cigars and stories were going to begin?

  33. @roadslave

    If we are sharing photos of how we pay homage to Him (bless his name)… you’ll have to ignore my gurning, but how about this one:

    Went to a dinner earlier this year for the launch of Maglia Rosa, and The Prophet himself came to bless the occasion

    It’s pretty much the same look.

    Top marks, Roadslave. Judging by the timing, it looks like this may have helped you when grinding up the Kapelmuur.

  34. @Rob

    What a great trip – you made it to the shrine of shrines (in proper obeyance) and looking extremely fit and at your ultimate climbing weight – an attempt at the Volcano when you get home – Neh?

    I decided I’m working on Gianni for my next assault in January. He’s so fucking trim and it’s only at most a half-day’s suffering. Who gives a shit? Sure, you want to die while you’re riding up, but as soon as you step off the bike the suffering eases.

    Besides, he did it so long ago, I’m sure he’s bound to do a better time now that he’s lighter than ever. I don’t think getting older really matters much in a climb this long.

  35. Gianni – Ah ha ha, @Gianni

    @frank
    @Ron

    The best bit of it being the full on perfect kneel form in fucking flip-flops

    I wish I was wearing boat shoes.

    Ah ha ha. No you don’t. They’re awful.

    I don’t even know what to make of that site Frank linked to yesterday. How can there be that many of those types in the world? It’s baffling. But yes, that photo of the plaid shirt dick was spot on.

    Nice photo, roadslave! I seriously don’t know what I’d do if stood next to Merckx. People like that aren’t real to me, too super human, too incredible, too mythic. I’d probably just smile a huge one like you though and feel lucky as.

  36. Gianni does look fit & trim for a climb! I think if we keep on building him up, and challenging his lemur-sized manhood, we can get him to ride with you next time, Frank!

    Maybe we could start a no expenses paid contest and the winner could act as the DS for you two? The VMH can only do so many duties. Maybe the VSP #2 has to buy his own ticket to HI and then fill & carry bidons all day.

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