Saturday, March 31, 2012

Getting around Paris in Spring

There's nothing like springtime in Paris. The flowers are in bloom, the weather is warming up and in the spirit of renewal, we recommend ditching the usual modes of transport - metro, buses or cabs - and enjoy seeing the blossoming city by Velib! Velib is a clever and virtually free self-service bicycle system, since 2007. If only Sydney had Velib bikes, they are FANTASTIC! They make getting around SO easy! and FUN! and CHEAP!

The idea is simple: grab a bike at any of the many stations dotted every 100m around the city, ride to your destination and drop off at whatever station is convenient - there are 5 Velib stations to every metro station, so there's always one nearby. Locals love these and you will see thousands of them whiz past and they all look like they're having fun.

The bikes themselves are easy to ride and have a nicely hefty, well-oiled feel, but it's the freedom that really does it. Plot your own course, drink in the sights on the way, improvise a quick stop-off en route, and drop your bike mere meters from your destination. The moment you mount that saddle, you cease to be a slave to public transportation. How can being hemmed into a smelly noisy sardine can of a metro car compete with the wind-in-the- hair romance of Vélib?

Sadly, many people refuse to try because of the nature of Paris traffic. But the truth is that Paris is surprisingly cycle-friendly, and bicycling is statistically the second-least-dangerous way to get around the city (after the bus). Most large roads have bike lanes, and since the introduction of the Velibs, many cyclists have noted that drivers have become more conscious of their presence.

Velib Insider tips and tricks:
  1. The heavily subsidized Vélib system is almost free of charge. You can get a subscription for 1 day (1€) or 7 days (5€).
  2. The system is entirely automated and operates 24/7.
  3. To sign up, you need a smart chip equipped credit card. As well as paying the small fee for your subscription (1€ / day, 5€ / 7 days) and for the little extra charge if you ride over 30 minutes in one stint, your credit card acts as a security deposit to ensure that you return the bicycle. Nothing is deducted, unless you completely fail to return the bicycle, in which case you would be deducted 150€.
  4. When you sign up at the automated stand (English language is available), you’ll be delivered a small card with your access code. This, together with the 4-figure security code that you’ll be prompted for, enables you to use the system for the duration of your subscription (1 day or 1 week).
  5. The stands to which you attach the bicycles have an indicator light. Red means inoperable, green means available. When you drop off your bicycle, the indicator will show yellow for a few seconds, before turning green (together with a confirmatory beep). As a precaution you should always wait until the indicator light turns green, as otherwise your bike isn’t properly attached and the system will think you’re still riding it, debiting you accordingly every half hour. In the very rare instances when the light fails to go green despite the bike being properly attached, you must call the Vélib hotline indicated on the central pillar.
  6. Each bike comes with a clever lock system, so that you can tie the bike to a pillar or railing which you pop into a shop on an errand. This works by taking the anti-theft cable from the front basket, looping it around the pillar you want to attach the bike to, and inserting it in the hole recessed next to the big central magnetic clasp used to attach the bike to its station. When you insert the cable into the hole, the key pops out. You then go shopping, key in pocket, and detach your bike with the key on returning.
  7. Despite being very sturdy, Velib bikes are often somewhat the worse for wear. At any given station, you’ll typically have good bikes and poor bikes. Always choose a bike number before going over to the central kiosk to enter your access code. Here’s what to check (it only takes 10 seconds once you’re used to it): give the tyres a quick kick to check them for air, give the pedal a kick to check that the chain is hooked up, check that the handlebar-mounted 3-speed shifter turns and clicks ok, check that the handlebar isn’t wobbly, and check that the saddle clamp is tight (it much easier riding a bike with the saddle mounted quite high, so your legs have room to pump up and down). These cursory checks will weed out 90% of faulty bikes.
  8. If despite your checks, the bike doesn’t work properly, you have a couple of minutes to swap it for another, at the same station, without having to wait the usual 5 minutes before taking another.
  9. We recommend that you grab a compact street map that includes all the station locations. For a handful of euros at a newsagent (or free at the Paris town hall, metro Hotel de Ville), this will take the guesswork out of your navigation.
  10.  ENJOY!!! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment