Tour de France

First Portland, then Madison, and now Paris? The City of Light has recently adopted a free bike system called Velibs, the name combining velo, meaning "bicycle" and liberte, for "freedom." After just 40 days more than 2 million journeys were made.

According to "Free Wheeling: Paris’s New Bike System," in The Washington Post, the French have "have taken to their new mode of public transport like canards to water."

Paris is surprisingly cycle-friendly, and bicycling is statistically the second-least-dangerous way to get around the city (after riding a bus). Most large roads have bike lanes, and since the introduction of the Velibs, many cyclists have noted that drivers have become more conscious of their presence.

Here’s how it works: Velibs can be picked up and dropped off at any of a thousand stations around the capital. Users insert credit cards into a machine to sign up for a day (one euro, or about $1.40), a week (five euros) or a year (29 euros). A fee of $205 is taken from your account if the bike is not returned. (Caveat: At this point, only smart-chip Visa cards and American Express cards are accepted.)

The system is designed to encourage short journeys: After paying your subscription fee and picking up a bike, the first half-hour is free.

The second half-hour costs one euro, the third costs two euros and a fourth would cost an added four euros, to encourage people to stick to the half-hour system.

The bikes can be used several times in one day — and each time the first 30 minutes are free. The Velib managers say that the bikes are for quick trips, not for full-day touring, and advise those looking to explore Paris en bicyclette to go to a rental shop. But for a short jaunt between museums they’re a great option, and they’ll be more of them soon. The Post reports:

There are now 14,197 sleek gray bikes around town. They are elegant, sturdy machines made more for cruising than speed, with three gears, large padded seats and good hand brakes on the ‘sit-up’ handlebars. By the end of the year, there are to be 20,600 bikes at 1,450 stations—or about one station every 900 feet.

Thinking of braving Paris’s wide avenues and crowded sidewalks yourself? Check out the Post’s for navigating safely and without too much embarassment.

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