Paris scatters about 20,000 bikes at about 1,500 racks all across town so people (locals and tourists) can essentially borrow a bike for a quick one-way ride. Bikes are free for the first half hour, and you pay a small fee for longer rentals. It’s designed to alleviate traffic congestion by giving people a reason not to drive their car for little trips.
To borrow a Vélib’ bike, download the free and easy-to-use Vélib’ app on your smartphone. This app knows where you are and shows the nearest rack locations — including which ones have loaner bikes available and which have parking spaces available. This is important information for Vélib’ users as racks are often completely full or empty.
Locate the nearest bike rack. At the payment machine, you’ll simply dial English, follow the prompts, and after inserting your credit or debit card, the machine will print out your one-day or seven-day membership ticket with your ID number. Once you have your Vélib’ ticket, you have access to any available bikes anywhere in the city. (There’s a more complete explanation of how to do this in our Rick Steves Paris guidebook.)
Picking Up a Vélib’ Bike: Survey the bike rack and decide which bike you want (note the number). Return to the machine and find the screen meant for bike rental (it’s the simpler panel, likely the one with the map). Click “other languages” then “English” and then “Short Term Ticket” (or some similar wording). Enter your 8- to 10-digit ID number, then follow with your four-digit PIN. Then enter the number of the bike you want. Wait for it to verify. When you get the OK on the screen, go get your bike. Press the grey metal button next to the bike to release it, and you’re ready to ride.
Returning Your bike: Refer to your Vélib’ app to find the nearest or handiest rack with empty stalls available. Simply plug your bike into an empty stall and be sure it engages.
Vélib’ Biking Tips: Bikes are accessible 24/7. Survey your bike carefully before choosing it (make sure it has its hand grips, etc). Remember that a seat turned backwards indicates a broken bike. If you get a bad bike, return it and take another. Adjust your seat for comfort. Take advantage of the three speeds and bike lock. You can check out a bike as many times as you want while your ticket is valid. There’s no charge for taking a bike for less than 30 minutes. Then charges start racking up: €1 for the first half-hour, €2 for a second half-hour, and €4 for each half-hour after that. So, a two-hour rental would cost €7 (in addition to the initial cost for your membership). Be careful riding in Paris traffic. Vélib’ provides no bike helmets (and I never saw anyone wearing one in Paris). Bon voyage.
This is Day 59 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.