I'm back in Vancouver...
Well, ok, so I didn't end up doing much riding in Paris. There's just WAY too much other stuff to do! If I had all the time in the world you bet I would have gotten in to it more there, but hey, we do what we can...
OK, so here's the Paris bicycling scoop:
- The Velib system rocks, it's very heavily used - probably 70% of the bikes on the road are Velibs. Only downside is you can't use credit cards without a chip in them (ie pretty much all the cards in the US and Canada). You CAN sign up apparently at the Metro station ticket windows, but I never had the time to get that happening
- Paris is changing big time with regards to bikes. There's bike routes going in everywhere and cars are starting to get used to bikes, probably mostly due to the Velibs
- Actual bike shops are nowhere to be seen! I'm sure they're around somewhere but I never saw one...
- You could easily make a living off of scavenging old bikes off the street - they're EVERYWHERE
- Drum brakes and internal gear hubs rule around here. Derailers? What are those?
The only riding I actually did in Paris was our bike tour out to Versailles, courtesy of Fat Tire Bike Tours. These guys have a bunch of different tours and a really good attitude. Our tour met up at their office where we grabbed bikes then took the train out of town. Rode to a nice market, grabbed lunch stuff and then rolled out to the palace. Lunch with wine on the palace grounds, feeding the carp in the palace canal, beat that!
I did try to get a bike from the Velib system, but the whole credit card problem stopped me in my tracks. The Velibs, for those who don't know, are a public bike system run by JC Deux (same company that does the bus shelters/ads in Vancouver) and RATP (the Paris transit system). The bikes are locked in to Velib stations located all over the city in key places like near Metro stations, employment districts, shopping, you name it. Velib has been designed so you're never more than 300m away from a Velib lockup point so there's not really any reason to keep a bike for longer than it takes you to get where you're going.
The bikes do have built in bike locks that can be used if you need to run in to a store or something quickly, but they're certainly not going to stop a real bike thief. The key to the lock is kept in the lock itself and is securely locked away when the bike is returned to its station.
The Velib bikes are all identical of course - they all have a Shimano dyno hub with roller brake on the front, and a Shimano Nexus 3-speed with roller brake on the back. The bikes are equipped with bells and lights (powered by the dyno) so there's no need to worry about anything. All the bikes get checked over and serviced on a regular basis but are set up with tamper resistant nuts and bolts - there's no way for you to do anything like change a tire yourself as you can't remove the wheel nuts. This is good really - if you get a flat or have any other sort of mechanical problem you just drag the bike to the nearest lockup and get another one!
It's nuts just how successful this program has been. You see everyone, and I mean EVERYONE on the Velib bikes. Business men in suits, kids, adults, tourists, ladies in dresses, you name it. The bikes are set up with good fenders and even built in skirt guards! Hopefully we get new credit cards over here before the next time I go back (whenever that is) as I'd love to actually be able to use the system!
So what does it cost? Well the system is pretty neat in that regard! You need a subscription to use the service, but the subscription options are tailored for just about any user:
- 1 Year - 29 Euros
- 7 days - 6 Euros
- 1 day - 1 Euro
For the duration of your subscription a 150 Euro charge is held against your credit card in case you fail to return a bike. Only fair, otherwise you'd just buy a one day subscription and never bring the bike back! Should you manage to get your Velib stolen you must fill out a police report and also report it to the Velib system, they will charge you a nominal fee (think of it as a stupid tax) - I can't find the exact amount now but I think it's about 45 Euros.
Now, the actual rates to use the bikes:
- First 1/2 Hour: Free!
- Second 1/2 Hour: 1 Euro
- Third 1/2 Hour: 2 Euros
- Fourth and any additional 1/2 Hour Periods: 4 Euros
So the longer you keep the bike, the more expensive it gets. 1/2 hour or less, it costs nothing. 1 hour is only 1 Euro, but 4 hours is 23 Euros. You get an unlimited number of "free" periods in a day so there's absolutely nothing stopping you from popping in to a Velib station every 30 minutes on a longer ride and checking a bike in and out, it just takes you some time.
The Velib bikes are absolutely everywhere and the system has only been running for a year. We NEED something like this in Vancouver, although I think Velib might have something to do with all the abandoned bikes everywhere - why have your own when you can just grab one whenever it's convenient!