Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published December 18th 2012
Paris on 2 wheels
Fancy the romance (and convenience) of cycling around Paris? See yourself as a latter-day Audrey Hepburn, looking elegant and calm as you wheel your way between Paris' famous sites? In fact, it's easier than you think, with Paris' network of bike paths and it's wonderful city bicycle hire scheme, Velib. 'Velib' is a play on the French words for 'cycling freedom' and that is certainly what this scheme gives you.
Paris Velib Stand near the Flower Market at Ille de Cite, Paris
The 20,000 bikes are arranged in 1800 racks at strategic points across the city, mostly near to metro stations. The trick for tourists is that they are not necessarily right next to the main tourist attractions as you might expect, and are often in back streets - so as not to impede the view of the main tourist sites I guess. Though more probably, to ensure they are conveniently located for residents. For this reason, it's imperative that you have a good look at the online maps which shows you where the stations are located. You can download the maps from the website and print them off to take with you, or there is a free Velib iphone app which shows you where each Velib station is located.
The best way to get yourself organised is to go online, where there is an English-language version of the official site and use your credit card to book a one-day pass (€1.70) or a 7 day pass for €8. You can also do this at any station. Make sure you have a pen to write down your subscriber number and pin, which you need each time you take out a bike. For each pass you purchase, a €150 deposit is held against your credit card, which is not debited unless you fail to return or damage the bike. However, keep in mind that if you are renting 4 bikes for a family for example, on the same card, this will mean you have a security deposit of €600 held on your card for the period you are using the bikes.
The first 30 minutes of each and every bike hire (once you have paid for your 'access pass') is free. After that, you pay €1 for the next 30 minutes, €2 for the next 30 minutes and €4 for the next 30 minutes - ie if you have it for a 2 hour block, then you will be up for €7. It is designed to encourage short trips between places, so if you cycle for 30 minutes, drop it at a station, have a break or a look around, then grab another one, you can in effect cycle for the day for no more than your access pass. The big trick to watch out for though, is that you cannot return a bike to a station which is 'full'. As we were cycling out of 'season' in December, we went to 5 different stations before we found room for our bikes, which was a problem (and a bit frustrating, to be honest). The system compensates though as you can log in at each full station, and it will provide you with an additional 15 minutes for free as well as information about nearby stations which have free spots. There is a good Velib article here on 'best practise' for dealing with full stations.
The bikes themselves are pretty bomb-proof, with super comfy seats, lights, a basket and a lock. They are well patronised by Parisiens as well as tourists. Helmets are not a feature of cycling in France, so you may choose to bring your own. My tip with cycling along the Seine is to make sure you are going in the direction of the traffic (it is one-way on each side of the river), and then you can use the excellent cycle lanes. Having cycled in London and Melbourne for may years, I found the Parisien drivers (and pedestrians) to be generally very tolerant and aware of cyclists, which was very welcome. All in all, a totally fabulous way to see Paris. What's not to like about cycling along the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel tower?