Cycling in Paris: Using the cycle scheme in Paris
- By Kate Andrews
- 10th Oct 2011
Travelling to Europe by train more often than not means an interchange in Paris. And while changing stations is easy with the excellent Paris Métro, it seems a waste to traverse this fine city on the underground when you could see the sights from the seat of the superb Vélib fleet.
Like the popular cycle scheme in London, nicknamed The Boris after our floppy haired mayor, the Vélib cyclos – or Les Boris in the Loco2 office – are easy to use, cost the same as the metro and above all, give you the freedom to roam at your leisure. Our at-a-glance guide tells you everything you need to know about using the cycle scheme if you decided to join in cycling in Paris. J’adore monter ma bicyclette!
What does Vélib mean?
A portmanteau of two French words, vélo and liberté, the clever folks behind the Vélib scheme bring you bike-freedom. The equivalent in English is something terribly uncool like bikedom, or freecycle, which is a different thing all together.
Finding a bike
Finding a cycle station in Paris is a piece of gâteau. There are some 20,000 bikes scattered around the city, docked in over 1,200 stations. With so many bikes available it’s little wonder the scheme has everyone cycling in Paris, with on average 100,000 rides taking place daily!
If you’re arriving by Eurostar, you’ll find several docking stations within minutes of Gare du Nord station. There are four on Boulevard de Magenta immediately outside the main station entrance, and ten more a 5 minute walk away.
How much does it cost?
There are a number of options depending on what you need, ranging from long-term membership, 7-day access or just a single-day. A 24 hour ticket costs just €1.70 (the same as a single Metro journey) and gives you unlimited 30 minute slots for a 24 hour period. If you exceed your 30 min slot you’ll be charged according to use. For trips up to an hour long you’ll pay an additional €1, for an hour and a half it’s €2 and up to 2 hours it’s €4. Loco2 recommends that you opt to return your cycle and pick another one. After all, with so many bikes available and no limit on the number of 30 minute slots, this is certainly the most cost effective way cycling in Paris.
How do I pay?
You can purchase your access in advance if you prefer to have everything organised before you set off, or use a credit or debit card (chip and pin) at the docking station when you arrive. Payment instructions can be displayed in English at the touch of a screen so there’s no need to fear things getting lost in translation.
The amount will be debited from your account over the next few days at the exchange rate set by your bank.
Je ne comprends pas
Don’t panic if your French has seen better days, the on-screen instructions are translated into numerous languages including German, Spanish and English so as long as you’ve got a handle on at least one of these you won’t have any trouble. Just follow the simple step-by-step guide, using the keypad to make your selections.
What to expect on-screen
You’ll be asked to select the type of access you require: 24-hour, 7-day or annual membership.
Choose a pin: you will need a 4-digit pin code to use a bike throughout the access period so make sure you choose something memorable and keep it with you.
€150 fine?! When you complete your transaction, a terrifying warning flashes up on the screen. Fear not, it’s there to scare you. This is the charge you will incur if you don’t return the bike so don’t go leaving it unattended or riding it into a canal.
Once you’ve completed these steps your access card will be printed. Keep it safe – you’ll need both the access card and your pin number to get your hands on a bike.
Choosing a bike
We recommend you check the bike over thoroughly before use. Check for pumped up tyres and signs of damage before you choose.
All the docking stations have a number printed on the side, so once you’re signed up you’ll be asked to choose a bike and enter its number. This will release the cycle, all you need to do is press the button on the bike you’ve selected and it will be released.
How long can I ride?
Much like the Boris, cycling is free for 30 minute slots so if you’re travelling between train stations you can hop on and off and never pay more than the €1.70 access fee.
This is also a great way to sightsee cycling in Paris, as almost all of Paris’s attractions are within easy cycling distance. You can rent and dock as many bicycles as you like during your access period so you really do have the freedom to roam at leisure.
On the road
The majority of Parisian cycle lanes are dedicated to bikes (push and motor) but many are shared with buses and taxis too so you need to keep your wits about you on the road. In particular, keep your eyes on pedestrians who wander into the road in search of that perfect photo. Helmets are not provided so bring your own.
You may feel a little encumbered if you’re used to a lighter city bike but these heavy duty steel framed bikes are built to last. Every bike has a metal basket on the front for small goods. Clip bags into the basket and avoid leaving valuables, like cameras, in full view.
Changing trains in Paris
We’ve estimated the journey time from the Eurostar hub at Gare du Nord to the most frequently used train stations in Paris. Journey times are estimates so sure you leave plenty of time if you’ve got a train to catch.
Gare du Nord – Gare d’Austerlitz
4.7 km, 25 mins, 180 calories, zero carbon
Gare du Nord – Gare de l’Est
600m, 7 minutes WALK– no need for a bike we say!!
Gare du Nord – Gare de Lyon
4.4 km, 20 mins, 160 calories, zero carbon
Gare du Nord – Gare Montparnasse
6. 3km, 35 mins, 250 calories, zero carbon