Bike Share in Fwance – “But I am Le Tired!”

Bonjour Bike Commuters!  Have I got a tasty post-Halloween PG treat for you.  Put down your slice o’ wonder bread and pick up your baguettes, because France is killing it on the bike share scene with these two amazing programs:  Velib in Paris and Vcub (V3) in Bordeaux.  I just returned from a jaunt in Europe and was swooned by the cities after stepping off the train and encountering bike share stations at every turn.  Both Velib and V3 are sponsored by the local governments and offer budget-friendly rates with plenty of stations around town that make renting the bikes a convenient and competitive option for commuting and running errands!  The heavy bikes have three speeds, fenders, front baskets, generator-powered lights, chainguard, kickstand, and a bell.  Similar programs are offered in the U.S. of Americans, like Hawaii’s own pilot project of B-Cycle in Kailua. 

Girl on Velib in Paris, courtesy of Lezarderose on Flickr

I couldn’t believe my four eyes as we power-walked the streets of Paris in a mad hunt for signs of the Da Vinci Code, the Velib bikes were EVERYWHERE!  It was a Velib Bike Zombie attack: there were more Velib bike commuters than Parisians on their personal bikes!  This article from the Scientific American (whose author was trolling the streets the same time we visited) gives a logical explanation: 

Vélib’ is utterly inescapable, which is what makes it work so well. Paris has 20,000 shared bikes at its 1,800 stands…spaced about 300 meters apart. The system’s density is so great that a novice does not need any help in finding bikes. Even without a map or a smartphone, my friend and I rarely failed to find a stand of gray cruisers standing at the ready, just by walking a few blocks while keeping an eye out for the glowing LEDs of the bike stands. 

Clever move, la France: bombard your citizens with bikes every 300 meters and there is no excuse not to try one! 

Fire Ze Missiles! Then have a bike.

In Bordeaux the V3 program rents their bikes for free for the first 30 minutes and charges 2 euros for each hour therafter.  A monthly or annual pre-paid subscription reduces the rate to 1 euro an hour.   And – hold on to your butts for this one, loud engrish Americans – the website actually encourages riders to switch bikes every half hour should they need it longer, in order to avoid paying for usage at all.  This puts my capitalist knickers in a twist, but hey, I’m down for some PG-rated V3 bike action.  Bike availability by station can be accessed via the web, and stations are paired with the brand-new bus and transit lines, so it’s easy to switch from bike to bus or bike to tram if needed.  And now for graphic indulgence: 

A cheeky V3 on a sunny Sunday in Bordeaux. Courtesy of Oncle Tom via Flickr.

In Paris, the Velib is only 1.70 euros for the whole day.  My French girlfriends rolled up to the bar on Velibs, and took them to the train station each day for their out-of-town work meetings.  Taking the Velib for a downhill ride is always a Parisian favorite, as the trucks cart them back up the hills and refill stations on a daily basis.  After seeing the popularity of this program in Paris, I am crossing fingers that B-Cycle in Hawaii explodes and takes over like weevils in my oatmeal… With a wimpy 12 bikes and two stations available in Kailua, the one-year pilot is targeted more at B&B tourists exploring Kailua Beach.  (Boo! sad face.)  See this article from the Honolulu Magazine for more deets.  Bike share lust abounded for me in the city of tongue-kissing and croissants! 

I said BRRRR!

Back in Bordeaux, to top it all off like a glass of champagne, I came across this mysterious bike habitat, closed on a Sunday: 

The window showcases piles of bikes... must be source of French Bike Zombie outbreak.

After a bazillionth of a second Google search, I used my high-school French translation skills to decipher that this is a bike library of sorts, sponsored by the City of Bordeaux.  The Maison du Velo’s slogan is:  Ici, le velo est roi, or “Here, the bike is king.”  (Double swoon!)  With 48 bikes to check out for free, an open shop, and classes on safety and maintenance, it is the ultimate stop for new Bordelais riders interested in bike commuting.  Riders must undergo safety training prior to receiving a bike and have the option to check out accessories, helmets, and even baby carts!  So jealous.  Imagine how easy it would be to convince your friends to ride bikes to work with you if there were free bikes available!  A surefire cure for the self-proclaimed members of broke phi broke – who’ve got no extra cash in this down economy to spring for a bike.  Sign me up for socialism and foie gras! 

And for you curious and scrutinous clever BikeCommuters readers, segregated bike lanes in Paris and Bordeaux.  J’adore!  The French bike-share riders don’t seem too keen on helmets, but I suppose you could always bring your own.  

From the Cycling is Good for You blog to you...

Anyone else tried out any bike share programs out there?


  1. Andrew Wilson

    Nice efforts by the bigger cities; but the most bicycle friendly city in France is Strasbourg. Bike sharing is just underway with the launch of Velocation, but a far greater percentage of people commute here by bike than elsewhere already. As for dedicated cycle lanes, the urban community has 500km of dedicated lanes, more than Paris for a city 1/10th the size. More than that there’s several cooperative workshops (Bretz’selle, Velo-Station) where people hang out fixing up their bikes, a renovating old ones for sale. Bravo for Paris and Bordeaux, but don’t forget the Rhine.

  2. Brian Ogilvie

    I use the Vélib’ system in Paris nearly every day. It usually works well, though there are the days when every bike spot at the stations near my destination is full, and I have to use the kiosk to find the closest available place to leave my bike. And you have to check the bike carefully before taking it to make sure that the tires are inflated, the brakes work reasonably, the pedals are both attached…

    Just a slight correction: a short-term Vélib’ ticket costs € 1.70 for a day, but there is a fee on top of that: the first half-hour is free, the next is € 1, the next is € 2, and subsequent half-hours are € 4. It’s cheap if you do short trips, but longer rentals can get expensive. (If you want to rent a bike for more than a couple hours, you can get one for €12-15 for a day at a bike rental shop.)

    I have a year-long “Vélib’ Passion” subscription, which cost € 39 and gives me the first 45 minutes free (a regular subscription, for € 29/year, gives you the first 30 minutes free). In 45 minutes you can get just about anywhere in Paris.

  3. Ghost Rider

    @Andrew — I never rode there, but Strasbourg is my very favorite French city! Good to hear they’ve got good bikey things going on there…we hear so much about Copenhagen and Amsterdam here in the U.S. that it’s easy to overlook other cities “getting it right”.

  4. harry krishna

    hopefully, the vandalism problem of ’09 won’t return. meanwhile, back in usa, it’s cheaper to rent a car for a day than a bicycle. and long term rental encourages a trip to walmart. when you are done, you drop it off at goodwill.

  5. Mir.I.Am

    Cheehoo! @Andrew, never been to Strasbourg… Will have to chalk it up for future itineraries. Compared to the bike infrastructure available here in Honolulu (frainchement, c’est de la merde) I was thoroughly impressed by both Paris and Bordeaux… I think if I visit Strasbourg I just may box my bikes up and move for good! 😉

    @Brian – thanks for the correction on the Velib tarifs. Wow! still impressed by the rates for annual and monthly!

    @Harry… the vandalism problem in 2009? Do tell!

  6. Get Spoked

    We really wanted to try the bike share program (Velopop) in Avignon, France, this summer but circumstances conspired against us. We were impressed with the quality of the bikes, but it was difficult to get the cards that would have allowed us to ride. Here’s the story on my blog:

  7. Mo

    DC has Capital Bikeshare and I believe it’s the biggest bike share program in the country! I don’t use it but I’m looking forward to making visitors use it so I can make them bike around with me. Maybe it’ll be you sometime?

  8. d.d.abs

    cmon ny get with it

  9. Chad Taniguchi

    Another funny, informative blog. Did you get a sense of the % of cyclists v. pedestrians v. motorists in Paris? Would like to know the bike mode share and link between bikeshares in % increase. Mahalo, Chad

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