I Vélib

I recently became a véliber.

Vélib is the rent-a-bike system in Paris.  After a year of missing my bike but being wary of biking amongst the zooming scooters, cars, and buses, I finally signed up for a year’s subscription after an especially lovely bike ride along the Canal St-Martin.

On Tuesday morning I received my Vélib card in the mail.  Although my intention was to ease into biking in the city, perhaps by trying it out on a quiet Sunday morning or late at night, I couldn’t wait to use it and instead chose baptism by fire.  Tuesday night, I biked during rush hour from the busy Invalides area to the Luxembourg Gardens.  I ended up circling Invalides for a while, not yet having the instinct of where in the lane to position myself and therefore just following the flow of traffic because I was in the right lane and didn’t know how to cross in front of adjacent cars to switch over to the left.  After I reoriented myself in the right direction, I had no problems, and it was a successful trip.

The next morning, I biked over to the seventh arrondissement and discovered that the bike station I knew of was full, so there was no spot for me to return my bike.  Well, to be more accurate, there was one spot free but it made an angry beeping noise every time I tried to insert my bike.

Vélib stations are everywhere, but I didn’t know which side street might have one, so I continued along the road across from the Seine River until I came upon one.  It wasn’t very close to my destination, but at that point I was just happy to find one with open spots.  I quickly returned my bike and started walking to my destination.

Halfway there, I realized that I had forgotten my helmet on the bike handle.  I walked back, and to my dismay, it was no longer there.  I thought, did someone really take my dinky little helmet with yellow flowers that quickly?  It’s an old helmet, but I had brought it from the United States so I wouldn’t have to buy one here.  I walked back and forth past the dozens of identical gray bikes, hoping my helmet would materialize.

I caught sight of one of the city cleaning staff by the bike station, and I asked him if he had seen a helmet by any chance.  “Si, si,” he said, he had just put it in the garbage bag on the corner.  He walked me towards it.  Happily, I retrieved my helmet.  There wasn’t that much in the trash, so it was in fine condition.

Lesson learned: Those city cleaners are really good at their jobs!

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6 thoughts on “I Vélib

  1. Glad you found your helmet!

    Do French wear helmets? Canadians do but I can’t remember seeing a lot of French biking when I lived there (that was pre-Vélib and all).

    • Thanks! In Paris there are a lot of French (and non-French) bikers. Many of them, maybe most of them, don’t wear helmets. It’s like that in the States too. Because you can just hop on and hop off the vélib, I can see how it’s not convenient to carry around a helmet all the time. I’m going to try to when I can, though—-guess I have a little Canadian in me.

  2. You’re way braver than I am, I can’t ride a bike at the best of times, let alone in Parisian traffic. Glad your helmet was only lightly misplaced instead of stolen!

    • I’m not going to lie, it’s a little scary sometimes. The good thing is that there are often bike lanes. Of course, they’re often combo bike/bus/taxi lanes. Still, I prefer this kind of scary to doing paperwork here or trying to get a carafe d’eau.

  3. I’m glad it was a successful trip! Melbourne based their bike system after the Parisian one. However it’s against the law in Australia to bike without a helmet, so it hasn’t quite taken off in the same manner, because not only do you have to rent the bike, but you either need to bring your helmet or find a place to rent them. They also very very very slowly are adding more biking return/rent stations and so they aren’t super convenient yet.

    • That’s very interesting! It just goes to show you that one tweak to a model can greatly influence the results. I wonder how they clean the rentable helmets. Biking without a helmet has some element of risk, but so does wearing headgear that may have been donned by someone with lice or who knows what.

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