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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bicycling in Paris

I woke up on Sunday morning thinking: What a good day to go for a bike ride! It's not too hot, not too cold, not too many cars in Paris; many streets blocked off for pedestrians, roller bladers, and bikes.

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I even got a Navigo pass because I read that you can use your Navigo pass to check out bikes at the Vélib stands.

And I've been practicing! I've been making strides in overcoming my irrational fears when I rented bikes in Ravenna, Switzerland, and Annecy.

So today is the day for my Vélib initiation. I set out with my Navigo pass, my credit card, and a bottle of water. Sunscreen? Check.

Vélib' (a contraction of the French words "vélo" (bicycle) and "libre" (free)) is a program whereby the city of Paris has installed over 1200 stations throughout the city with over 16,000 bikes available to pick up and drop off anywhere. The first half hour is free, and the charge is only 1 euro per half hour after that. The program is a huge success and I've seen people of all ages riding them. It's time for me to start!

There is a Vélib station right near my apartment and I go there full of anticipation. I'm excited and ready for some exercise. I hold my Navigo pass up to the machine and follow directions. Nothing happens - the bikes refuse to unlock. I try again, following the directions in English this time. Again, nothing. And no one around to ask for help. I decide to walk to the next station. Maybe there will be someone around, an experienced user, so that I can figure out what I'm doing wrong.

The next station has more more people around, and I ask a friendly looking woman for help. She tries to help in somewhat accented French, but again, no luck. She has a receipt, a white ticket - but the machine still refuses my credit card and she doesn't know why. It turns out that she is a tourist here too.

Finally, another young man arrives and I again ask for assistance. He tries going through the steps, following the instructions. Again, no luck. We finally conclude that my American credit card, lacking a smart chip (called 'puce' in French) is the culprit.

No bike ride for me today. :-(

Fast forward to Thursday: I really would like to get this bike thing sorted out. I've explored the idea of getting a French credit card with the requisite smart chip, but that will be nearly impossible. What to do? I've also looked online for longterm bike rentals - with no success.

Then suddenly, an inspiration: Craigslist! I look up bikes for sale and find one at the right price and within walking distance of my apartment. I write to the seller who responds immediately. Within 30 minutes of going online, I've met the seller, checked out the bike and concluded the deal! Woo hoo!

I now have a NEW BIKE to explore Paris!!

Here it is in front of my apartment building:

Oops! Here it is wedged into my tiny elevator (I live on the 5th floor). Maybe I haven't thought this through?? But I'm happy!!


  1. Nothing convenient is accessible in France without a carte a puce (train tickets/ velib / you name it...). I've missed trains and had heated arguments with SNCF staff over that very issue...

  2. Well it's nice that your apartment has an elevator, minescule though it may be. Better than carrying the bike up 5 flights.

  3. Hey Diane,
    You're right! It would be a real pain trying to lug the thing up 5 flights of a winding staircase - especially since it's a heavy bike.
    Glad I got the key to the 'cave'!