The Great Parisian Biking Option

Concern for the environment and healthy lifestyle choices are changing the French way of life, with Parisians now passionate about a new kind of bike: Le Vélib’ 

By Aurélie Grossemy, June 06 2016 

Parisians try on a new positive attitude. Ecology and healthy lifestyle choices are changing the French way of life. It’s time to think different and act! They are now passionate about a new kind of bike : Le Vélib’. 

© Sharing Solutions Publications

The beautiful concept

Vélib’ is an innovative concept of sharing bikes, organised by the Paris Town Hall and the Parisian Transport Authority (RATP). With the help of a well-known French company JC Decaux, a team from the Paris Town Hall came up with this new concept.


The bicycle looks quite classical, similar to a Dutch one. It is a unisex bike with an adjustable seat. The Velib’ has a nice design — akin to a big toy for an adult —in spite of the matte grey colour on the large metallic frame. It is rather heavy, weighing just above 21 kilos. But it comes with all safety features, brakes, yellow reflectors on wheels, red lights and a useful centre stand. The last important detail is the shiny metallic basket placed in front, enabling the cyclist to put their bags or belongings into it.

All this comes with an original name inspired by the contraction of vélo (the French word for a cycle) and liberty: Vélib’.

The Town Hall instated this self-service bike system by setting up bicycle stations at outdoor parking areas in Paris. Velib’ bicycles have a locking system from a point at its centre, and by which it is connected to the station. Each Velib’ is equipped with artificial intelligence and has a memory. The bike sends information about the time of use and distance covered in each trip. The connection between the bike and the station assists in calculating the rent.

Designed for popularity

Velib’ was formally launched in July 2007. Parisian commuters who wished to use these cycles found them parked at every metro station. There are 1,800 bike stations within the metropolitan area of Paris now. That is, about one every 300 meters inside the city precincts. Close suburbs have now installed bike stations. You can use Vélib’ for short trips and park it at a different bike-station.

Le Vélib’, © Sharing Solutions Publications

Le Vélib’ cycles parked at  George V Avenue in Paris

The Vélib’ service is not expensive. The first 30 minutes are free of charge. After that, you pay about 1.5 Euros for each additional half hour. Long-term users can subscribe to a card with an annual fee of about 29 Euros. A terminal is installed at each parking station for the user to enter specifics about the booking.

I am a commercial representative and I travel mostly by car for all job-related purposes. Sometimes, I use the Paris Metro, as I am familiar with it despite the queues. The bus, to my mind, is a more precise means of transport. But it is hell for me! I am unfamiliar with its schedules, and I get confused because the route taken to a destination point is often not the same on the return trip. I have to be so cautious that often I’d rather go by foot! Now I use the Vélib’. It is simple and I can choose routes familiar to me.


My friend William is currently working as a real estate agent and finds Velib’ very pleasant in summer. He does his professionals trips with Vélib’ mainly because he can’t stand the bad odour in the Paris Metro when the weather heats up.

Jean-Marc, self-employed in the communication industry, uses Vélib’ frequently. He views it as an opportunity to stay in good health with well-toned muscular legs. Whenever he visits Paris, he reaches his destinations quickly and easily. Paul is a young student who uses Vélib’ at the end of his metro journey, particularly when he comes home drunk at night after a party, and taxis do not accept him as a passenger!

Vélib’, to my mind, is a great way for tourists to view Paris.

Avoidable imperfections

It is not all perfect though. What I understand from experiences and interviews, is that the main problem of Vélib’ is the lack of good manners by Parisian drivers who do not pay adequate attention to two-wheelers. Cyclists must therefore be particularly careful not to be caught in the blind spot of cars and other four-wheeled vehicles if they do not wish to do a pirouette on the hood of a car.

Le Vélib’, © Sharing Solutions Publications

Parked at a street corner in Paris: Le Vélib

During peak hours, and at lunch times, the Vélib’ bike stations are empty as everyone hires bikes given its very affordable rates. Then there are rough cyclists who end up inflicting damage on Vélib’s. Some Velib’s have been stolen and others have even finished their career in the St Martin Canal (yes, the romantic river that you can see in Amélie Poulain!).

It appears that France is not a very safe place for bikes. The Prefecture of Police announced 500,000 thefts in one year. Cyclists may consider the ease of such appropriation an advantage, but this is of particular concern for Vélib’ managers.

If you choose to ride a Vélib’, rest assured that it is equipped with a number of security features. So there is no reason for anxiety. Lack of civil behavior and road safety are the main issues against this environment-friendly concept of transportation in Paris.

Velib’ users increase day by day. That is the main demonstration of its huge success. With 20,000 bikes, this is the most important ecological service in the world! About 40 towns in France are now equipped with the bike-sharing concept.

Accepted the world over

About 900 such services have subsequently been launched all over the world. Unfortunately, some towns found no customers and stopped the service. The most ardent followers of this concept are New York City where 8,000 bikes were pressed into service in 2013, and Montreal, Canada, where BIXI launched around 5,200 bikes.

In the Middle East too, there is talk of starting Vélib’! Qatar is passionate about promoting cycling and has launched the Tour of Qatar. It was probably because the idea caught on, that in February 2011, JC Decaux was chosen to install the Q-bike concept in Doha. Only 20 bikes are currently available, and these are free of charge. Qatar is also looking at the proposition of teaching residents how to ride a bike. Beautiful cars, high temperatures, and cheap fuel seem to be the only enemies of this new ecological way of transport.

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