October 31, 2008
Vélib’ is the name of the rentable bikes that are stationed all over Paris (Vél = Vélo = bike, Lib’ = Liberté = freedom). Really, the system is delightful. In the streets of Paris, the shelf-life of a bicycle one actually owns and leaves locked up is approximately 24 hours. It will be stolen, full stop. Knowing the thieving ways of the French (not chicken thieves Xavier, bike thieves), the mayor of Paris instituted an ingenious system (also implemented previously in Lyon) of rentable bikes.
There are these stations all over the city - literally every couple of blocks or so. The bicycles line up and wait for their turn to be taken. One simply registers for a card, pays an annual fee of about 30 euros and receives a card with a chip in it. By placing the card on top of this little cubicle, to which the bike is attached, the light turns yellow and then green and then the bike is released and off you go.
With the influx of so many bicycles in the city (and an abundance of tiny medieval roads), the city has made an effort to designate lanes to bikes. Usually you get to share with buses, and as Stephen said as we were biking along when he came to visit last year - at first you are absolutely terrified of being passed by these huge buses, but then you realize they are a little bit like whales - massive but harmless...they even sound like they have blow-holes.
So, the city has worked to accommodate bikes, but with this accommodation comes rules to follow. Traffic laws. I never stop for red lights unless it is necessary. The police don't like this approach and now there are police stationed to stop cyclists who don't obey the laws of the land.
Not surprisingly, Xavier is also one of these cyclists. He has an interesting technique when he is caught breaking bicycle laws though. When pulled over for running through a red light or for cycling on the sidewalk, he immediately whips out his Australian driver's license and speaks in English to the French policeman. The policemen are usually convinced (how, you demand?...a very good inquiry) and they just try to communicate with hand gestures and little bits of English that, in Paris, one cannot behave that way on a bike. Le renard.
This is a Vélib’ map of my area of Paris; the little purple circles indicate where stations are. As you can see, they are plentiful.
The only problem with the system is the fact that destroying public property is a national past-time. The French are experts. Bikes are often found strangled by the rubber of their own tires, or just dented and mangled like this one.
Dad, I cycle so much I am probably going to beat you on one of your 10-mile loops in Enumclaw when I come home for Christmas (Mud Mountain Road/410 preferably - there we encounter the steepest incline). I hope you are up to the challenge. Get training.