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I’ve been eyeing the Velib bike stands on every trip to Paris. The city’s bike rental system, Vélib ‘Métropole, is one of the ways of getting around Paris. Just watch. The green and aqua bikes fly along the designated bike lanes and dart amongst the hectic pulse of city traffic.
I eyed the Velib bike stations longingly. Sometimes every bike was gone. Other times cyclists would race against the clock to park their Velib bike. How did the Velib system work? Was I brave enough to cycle in Paris? Would I rent the green standard Velib bike or a light aqua electric bike?
Paris is a walking city after all. My favourite method to connect with Paris is on foot. It is then that I can step into my alter-ego of flaneuse and observe Parisians and city life.
I also love the Paris Metro and feel quite confident, as you can read in this post, in sharing how to use it like a pro!
During the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 when Paris was locked down, nobody was going too far with the one kilometre limit on travel distance. Even the Velib bike system was off-limits.
I looked at the Velib stations. I observed the empty streets of Paris and decided that one day before life returned to normal, whatever that may be, I needed to get this Velib bike rental figured out so I could join the thousands of Parisians who cycle their city. It seemed to be an integral part of the Parisian culture that I wanted to connect with.
And so I did. The Velib bike system is not easy to figure out with a foreign credit card but once I got sorted out, I started to rent Vélib bikes and gradually gain some confidence in cycling in Paris.
After a few successful trial runs, I headed out to the 20th arrondissement to find rue Saint-Blaise, one of those unique Paris streets, which was once the heart of the village Charonne. I love discovering the different villages that constitute Paris and had heard that the magnolia trees on rue Saint-Blaise were stunning.
There is a lovely church, Saint Germain de Charonne, at the top of rue Sainte-Blaise and I leant my Velib bike against a tree and took a few photos. I headed down the virtually empty cobbled street and delighted in the small boutiques and galleries, empty during this time of confinement.
The street art was a must to photograph.
I once again leant my Velib bike up against a building and turned to take a few photos. I was completely immersed in the experience. This little corner of Paris felt like it was all mine.
I stepped away from my bike for three minutes, maybe four. Just enough time for it to disappear.
I was incredulous.
It is such a shocking experience to be robbed. I know there are many scams in Paris and I have been fooled once before. I try my best to be street smart on the Metro. But on this quiet laneway where I felt like I was in the country, I was stunned.
I walked up and down rue Saint-Blaise looking for the Velib bike, with a sinking feeling in my gut. I felt like I was going to vomit. This was not happening.
But in actual fact, it was. And what I didn’t know at the time was that apparently 1000 Velib bikes are stolen or vandalized every week in Paris.
I was part of a game I knew nothing about.
I finally accepted a few facts:
- The Velib bike was gone.
- I was going to be paying for the stolen Velib bike.
- I was living in a big city where you can’t let your guard down.
- It was a beginner’s innocent mistake.
Still shaken, I realized how fortunate I was.
I had left nothing in the basket.
I was not harmed in any way.
And thank goodness, I had just received a new SIM card in the mail. One that gave me a proper French phone number and data.
I called the Velib bike rental and in my not so polished French explained the situation.
She “returned” the Velib bike in the system so that I could rent another one to get home and explained that I had to go to the police station to report the theft.
I was pretty rattled.
I had gone further than the one-kilometre distance right at the end of confinement and now I had to go to the police station and report a stolen bike.
Hello, Paris. I get it. You are a big city and big cities have an underbelly. I ‘ve seen a mere glimmer of it. Tents pitched as homes in a corner or alongside a church wall. Drugs being exchanged and filthy outdoor living conditions. My guess is that someone was watching me. At the top of the street taking the photo of the church and followed me down rue Saint-Blaise.
How Not to Get A Velib Bike Stolen
Don’t leave your Velib bike unattended, even for a second. And whatever you do, never leave it in the perfect getaway position as I did – on a street corner, facing downhill. So simple for the thief. Nonchalantly walk by, hop on the bike and go…
How to Pause Your Bike Journey
- If you need to stop and get something like a tasty baguette ( you are in Paris, after all) or you want to take some photographs, pause your Velib journey.
- Use the hidden lock. Push the end of the left side handlebar and a lock pops out of the right side handlebar.
- Watch this handy video to see how the process works:
Cost to Replace a Velib Bike
It says on the Velib site that the cost for replacing a bike is €300. I resigned myself to the cost. Ten days later, when the Velib bike had still not been returned, I was charged €200 for the standard bicycle. Possibly it is €300 for the electric bikes.
Other Velib Tips
- due to fraud, foreign credit cards cannot be used online to book a Velib bicycle as of fall 2019.
- at the station, you can tap your credit card on the bicycle touchpad or at the pay station. A Canadian VISA card does not work. Velib assures me that American Express cards work.
- French friends come in handy. It is how I have managed (using a French credit card) to get a Velib account.
- the Velib app shows you where the stations are located and how many bikes are available.
- when choosing a bicycle, the ones that have the seat turned backwards indicate there is a problem with the bike.
- if you rent one and there’s a problem (believe it or not, I have tried to rent five in a row that all had the chains missing) park the Velib bike and turn the seat backwards.
- the Velib app also has the phone number to contact in case you have a problem.
- never leave the station unless you have received the STOP signal on the bicycle touchpad otherwise, you will be charged for the journey endlessly (another Velib bike story… )
Honestly, despite the credit card challenges and the stolen bike, I have to pinch myself as I cycle in the designated bike lane alongside the Seine.
Have you given cycling à Paris a try?
Don’t want to head out on your own? Try one of these bike tours to experience cycling in Paris.
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What a story! I would have felt sick to my stomach too! But a good learning experience! Enjoy the cycling 🙂
Alison Browne says
What a learning experience indeed. Thank you – I love cycling around Paris.
I can just imagine how shocked you were, what an awful situation. I’ve never ridden a velib’ in Paris but ride the equivalent vélo bleu in Nice quite often and so far have never had a problem. Fingers crossed….
Alison Browne says
I think Paris is well known for its scandals and bike vandalism and theft. It took me quite a bit of courage to get on a bike in Paris and now I can’t stop cycling everywhere! Will have to try the blue ones in Nice.
I am quite astounded at how many Velib bikes get stolen! Great tips there! I can just imagine the sinking feeling you had to discover the bike was gone.
Alison Browne says
Yes, it was quite a shock that the bike was gone. The stats are quite incredible around bike theft and vandalism for Velibs and personal bikes too.
Sad and perplexing how much vandalism and anti-social behavior you see in Paris. Many of those bikes end up in the river.
Alison Browne says
Yes, I have been photographing bikes that have been dragged out of the Seine. There are always one or two on the quays….. I never let my bike out of my sight for a second. Even taking a photo… I learned the hard way…