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?
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.
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.