The Royal Velíb


During my month in Paris, I casually thought which bike ruled the road. Could it have been the vintage 650B mixte, which appeared everywhere? The B-Twin fendered ‘cross-style bike from Decathlon? What about the poor-riding Velíb?

Velíb from the handlebars.


My riding partner.

After careful consideration, and a couple of weeks astride dozens of Velíbs, I decided that that latter rules the road. Not that its the best bike. The 650B mixte appears best suited for the streets of the city. But the Velíb has changed Paris for cyclists. One local I spoke with remarked that before the Velíb, the city had become a horrible place to ride. The Velíb changed all that – or at least the city is in the middle of a transformation.

Everyone rides it – and my wife particularly enjoyed the ease of the system. One thing that should be considered is the sheer number of bicycles and stations. I don’t know the number, but there must be tens of thousands of them, and hundreds of stations. Less ambitious efforts are likely to have very limited impact on a city. You need a lot of these to make it work and change the space. Plus, there were dozens of work crews repairing, moving, and monitoring the bikes.

A crew repairing flats in the 13th Arr.

Of the dozens of individual Velíbs I rode, about 75% had some kind of issue — from a poor-shifting hub to a lumpy tire and creaking pedals. But if you got a good one, it was worth keeping the whole 30 minutes.

So, cheers to this ungainly, heavy, and ill-fitting bicycle.

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6 comments

  1. david

    Did you have any problems with your credit card working the kiosk? Last I heard, US cards didn’t play well with our Continental cousins.

  2. david

    So there’s a work around, but still not a pure compatibility. Maybe someday we will get these vaunted smart-cards that have only been out a few decades…

  3. Luis Belmonte

    I was some weeks ago also in Paris and I was surprised by the ease to get a code and start using the bikes.

    As you say in your post, most of the bikes I tried had some kind of issue, anyway it was a pleasure to ride the city of Paris.

  4. Adam Lander Alpern

    I tried out Velib on our last trip to Paris in 2007 – back then an American Express card worked at the kiosks when North American VISA cards didn’t. My impression was that they were heavy, somewhat difficult to handle, had horrible saddles, were prone to mechanical issues, and riding them was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bicycle. It’s really an incredible system.

    (and it’s really impressive when you see a Velib with that beefy downtube crushed like a beer can – gotta wonder how that happened!)

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