Velib: The Ins and Outs of the Parisian Bike for Hire System

Velib (a contraction of the French words vélo (bicycle) and liberté (freedom)) is a system of bike rentals in Paris and several surrounding communities.  Designed for the commuter and errand-runner, the bikes are free for the first 30 minutes of use, making them an economical way to get around the city.    There are about 20,000 bikes at stations roughly every 300 meters throughout the city of Paris and several of the surrounding communities.  You pick up a bike at one station, drive it to another where you drop it off, and go on about your day.    The system is self service, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

 

How It Works

First timers can purchase one-day ticket from the kiosk at the bike station using a credit card.  (Note: most U.S. credit cards — which do not have a computerized chip — are not compatible with the Velib system.)   Follow the instructions on the screen (there is an English language option) and keep your paper ticket.  You will need it again if you use the system more than once during the day.  Your credit card will be charged 1.70 euro for the day, entitling you to an unlimited number of uses under 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, the rates are 1 euro for the second half hour, 2 euros for the third half hour, and 4 euros for each half hour after that.  It doesn’t take a math genius to realize that you should return the bike before your 30 minutes are up and take out another bike if you want to keep riding.   The fine print for short-term users also includes an agreement that the system can charge your credit card a 150 euro fee in case the bike is not returned.

You can also buy a week-long  (7 day) pass for 8 euros.   It may not save you much money, but it can save you a little hassle when picking up a bike. This is because once you have your pass, you don’t have to use the front of the kiosk to get a bike. During the summer months, especially on nice days, there can be lines to purchase a pass, so if you have already purchased your pass, you can just enter your code and password on the back side of the kiosk and take your bike.

If you plan on using the system frequently, you can buy a yearly subscription for 29 euros.   In addition to being a cheaper alternative for frequent users, the Carte Velib allows you to take out a bike directly from the stand without having to use the station kiosk.    The application for the Velib Carte is online at http://www.velib.paris.fr/.  Although you can fill out certain portions on-line, you have to print it out and mail it in some supporting documentation and the annual fee.   You will receive your Velib card by mail within two weeks.    If you already have a Navigo card for public transit, you can also link your Velib account to your Navigo so you don’t have to carry multiple cards.  

Tips from Experienced Users

  • Carefully inspect the bike before releasing it from the station and before setting out.   A bike seat turned backwards usually means that there’s something wrong with the bike.   A quick check of the pedals, the chain, the tires and the breaks is highly recommended.  It’s worth taking a little ride down the block to see if the bike is ride-worthy or not.
  • When returning a bike, it is vitally important that it is securely locked  into the stand.  A green light will appear when the bike is properly secured. You will be charged for returned bikes if they are not locked back into the stand.
  • Know the locations of several Velib stations at  both ends of your trajectory.   On sunny weekends, bikes can be hard to find.   At other times, the station where you planned to return your bike may be full.   Rumor has it that if you bring your bike to a station to drop it off and it is full, you can type in your code and password into the kiosk and it will give you 15 more minutes to find another station.   There is also map of the nearest stations on each kiosk, so if you do come to a station and it is full, you just need to look on the kiosk to find the next closest station.
  • Maps with all Velib stations are available on the Web site at http://www.velib.paris.fr/Plan-des-stations/Les-plans-des-stations/Imprimez-le-plan-des-stations-par-secteur.
  • For iPhone users, there is a  nifty application that allows users to find the nearest stand and the number of bikes available at each stand, all in real-time.  
  • Wear a helmet.
  • Ride only on the roadway and respect traffic regulations.  It is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk.  If you feel nervous about traffic conditions, either get rid of the bike or walk it on the sidewalk.
  • You must be at least 14 years old to ride a Velib.

7 responses to “Velib: The Ins and Outs of the Parisian Bike for Hire System

  1. Thanks so much for making this blog!! I’m moving to Paris in a few months and this and your other blog have been so helpful giving me a feel for the city. I haven’t found another blog as informative! Please keep posting🙂 Maybe a post about dealing with the French/French culture?

    • Chris: Thanks for reading and letting me know that you’re enjoying both blogs. I’ve got about 35 posts in the works and while I’ve got a few on French culture in that group, I may not get to them in time for your needs. My best advice is to read Polly Platt’s French or Foe?. In some respects, it’s a little bit dated but mostly it’s dead on and will help you with your initial interactions. I also enjoyed 60 Million Frenchman Can’t Be Wrong but it’s not a quick read.

  2. Hi:

    Since most American credit cards don’t have the chip required to use the kiosks, is there anyway for someone with only those credit cards to get a week long pass?

    I’m in Paris in May and for the past few years have seen the number of bike shops dwindle because the Velib program is so popular. I used to rent from SNCF at Bastille and they closed. I found a neighborhood bike shop last year but I’d love to try the Velib program.

    Is there a way to buy a Velib pass at the Metro or train station?

    Thanks,

    • Rumor has it (although I can’t authoritatively confirm it) that American Express cards (particularly the American Express Blue) will work at the Velib kiosks. If that doesn’t work, put the words “paris velo location” into Google and you will get a number of leads for bike rental shops. They may be fewer but they still exist. Sorry, Velib works only with the kiosk; no sales through the Metro or SNCF.

  3. I’ll be travelling to Paris shortly and I have arranged to get a smart card before the trip so that I can use the Velib. The last visit, none of my American Cards worked. You cannot get these in the US and although I understand why they system requires them (security) it is frustratingly impossible to try to get a bike!

    • I second this… We’re in Paris this week and just tried unsuccessfully to get bikes. We had no idea the system required the special cards. It would have been extremely helpful if the Velib website and brochures described this.

      Does anyone know about quickly getting a Parisian credit or debit card? Even putting a few hundred dollars in to a secured card would be worth it… Could use Velib and then use the card for that money later.

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