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How to Survive a Metro Strike in Paris: Vélib Bike Rentals

Where: Paris, France
September 15, 2010 at 12:44 PM | by | ()

Last week on our trip to Paris, we had a great Tuesday all planned out--grab a croissant and a cappucino and head out to Versailles. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by a 36-hour Metro strike, an annoying but common occurrence in Paris.

So we had to rejigger our itinerary a bit to do some sightseeing instead. But how we were going to get around? We were staying at the schmancy Le Meurice on Rue de Rivoli, which is very central (and near the Louvre) but we were not keen to spend the entire day walking around the city. Nor were we going to pony up for the hotel's chauffeur services or go crazy trying to hail a cab.

Then we spotted Vélib, the city's bike rental system.

For one euro day, you can rent a bike and ride around the city like a real Parisian. The bikes even come with a basket for you to store your baguettes, fresh flowers and a bottle of red wine. Yet, there is a dark side to Vélib. Let us tell you now:

Vélib bike rentals are all over the city. No, really. They are all over the city, especially near every major Paris landmark or tourist trap. Typically, they can be found down a side street near the main drag or just off to the side of a landmark. We picked up our Vélib bikes off of Rue de Rivoli.

The bikes are locked into posts and the way to unlock a bike for use is to pop in a credit card and rent one. The rental fee is, as we said, one euro for 24 hours but the catch is that you must return your bike to a Vélib spot every 30 minutes.

If you don't do this, you will incur extra charges on your credit card. And if you get so drunk off of Chablis that you forget about your bike entirely and leave it chained up near the Tour Eiffel, Vélib will charge your credit card 150 Euros. That hotel chauffeur service sounds rather reasonable now, doesn't it?

If you leave the bike out for an hour, it's an extra €1 and the price increases significantly every half-hour after that. Taking the bike out for five hours can cost you €31.

Naturally, we started to question whether this would really work--could we drop our bike off every 30 minutes? Would there be a Vélib bike rack wherever we were going? The answer is Yes.

It does get a little annoying to always be on the 30-minute time limit but we rode our bikes to Avenue Montaigne in about 20 minutes (once we got over the heebies of navigating up the busy Champs Elysees.) There we found two Vélib stations. We dropped off our bike and explored the area for two hours.

Later, we picked up a new Vélib bike and cycled over to the Tour Eiffel. Later we grabbed yet another bike and headed back to Rue de Rivoli where we dropped the bikes off at a different Vélib rack from where we started the day. Plenty of bike stations and plenty of bikes. Only once did we have to ride to a new bike station because the other was full.

So, as long as you are mindful of the time and the extra charges, Vélib is a great way to explore the city, even when there isn't a Metro strike going on, as it's extremely affordable.

Our only gripe is that the machine to rent a bike is a little fussy with some instructions in English (you have to select for that option) and some in French (even when you select the English option.) There's also no Vélib employee around whatsoever and no call button so you just have to figure everything out on your own. But the photo ops alone are worth it. Us on a bike with the Obelisque de Louxur in the background might be one of our favorite travel shots now.

Insider Tip: Make sure your bike is fully locked in when you return it. A little light on the post will turn from flashing yellow to red to indicate that it is locked. We didn't see this after our first drop-off and we were dinged with some extra charges. C'est la Vélib .

Archived Comments:

vélib and credit cards

I thought that you needed a pin-and-chip credit card to rent a bike in the Vélib system. My primitive American mag stripe Visa cards are pretty much useless in France. Did they change the system, or did you have a way to get a pin-and-chip card from another country?

they do take american credit cards

we did some research online before we actually took out a bike and there are some restrictions on the banks that you can use. however, we used a mastercard no problem. amex was also accepted but i cant remember about visa.