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Paris Bike Rental: How to Rent Vélib’ Bikes

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Bonjour!  Do you want to plan active Paris travel? I am Dvora Citron, RN MS, a Plant-based Nutrition and Longevity Enthusiast. I have as much fun planning for my trips as I do taking them! I’ve planned two great trips to Paris so far, this last one in Spring 2023.

We rode the Vélib’  Bikes in Paris to get exercise and see more of this beautiful city!        In this post, I will tell you how to rent a Vélib’ bike in Paris and how Vélib’ Metropole worked for us.

Many metropolitan cities have shared-use rental bicycle systems, popular with both locals and tourists. Paris is a very bike-friendly city and is one of the top cycling cities in the world. The Vélib’ Métropole service has almost 20,000 bicycles in Paris – you can’t go more than a few blocks without seeing a docking station, or someone riding one of the easy-to-recognize green or blue bikes!

Stock image from unsplash showing vellib bikes docked at station near Tuileries Garden in Paris.
Velib Bike Station near Tuileries Garden

Why We Used Vélib’

  • To be more physically active during our vacation trip
  • To save time  – biking is faster than walking to farther destinations, sometimes it’s even quicker than driving when there is a lot of traffic!
  • To have more flexibility and be able to stop when and where we wanted to
  • To remain outdoors during nice weather
  • Minimizing use of hired rides is cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly
  • We wouldn’t have considered renting a bike due to the required storage and lack of flexibility

Why We CAN Use Vélib’: Active Aging

My husband and I are a healthy and active middle-age couple in our 60’s.  We love walking a lot when we travel, and also enjoy bicycling.  Being in a pair (vs. a bigger group) makes it easier to use Vélib, as availability of bikes and docking spots is really random.  We don’t have young children and so we have the flexibility of not being tied down to a strict schedule or someone else’s agenda.  While it was initially challenging to figure out the system, riding the Vélib bikes in Paris turned out to be one of our favorite highlights of this adventure. We rented bicycles on our Day in Giverny too!

Getting Started:  How to use the Vélib’ Bike Rentals

  • Download the Vélib’ app which you’ll find at the bottom of the main Vélib’ Metropole page. You can do this before you arrive in France.
  • Look at your itinerary to decide which plan you want to choose.  We chose the 3-Day Pass each time.
  • Determine which Vélib’ bike station terminal you will visit first.  I bookmarked this Paris Vélib’ Station Map on my digital itinerary. We almost always started from the station closest to our hotel. 
  • Preview your bike trip route from your starting point to your destination. Use the Vélib’ app to determine where you will dock your bike. I describe later how you can also use the CityMapper app.

You can and should do all the above steps before you arrive at the Vélib’ bike station terminal.

  • When you arrive at the Vélib’ bike station terminal, register for your account at the bike station terminal screen. Trust me – If you are not from France, you’ll have to wait until you are in Paris and are physically present at a Vélib’ bike station terminal for the first time to register for your account. 
  • Make sure to have your credit card ready and be sure to have your camera ready to take a photo of the ID# and pin code – you will need it every time you use a Vélib’ bike.
A map showing all of the Velib stations from the Velib mobile app.
Velib app Map of Bike Stations
The menu screen from the Velib mobile app.
Velib app Menu
This appp shows how many bikes are available at each station.
On the Velib app you can see how many bikes are available at each station.

What to Know before You Ride

  • The green bikes are standard and the blue bikes are electric and slightly more expensive
  • Check that there is no flat tire
  • Make sure the seat is not facing backwards (which means the previous rider has deemed it in disrepair)
  • The bikes are 3-speed and you can change gears with the right hand grip.
  • The brakes are controlled by the handle bars.
  • Make sure you are able to adjust the seat your height.
  • Consider choosing a blue electric bike if your route is uphill.
This screen from the Velib app shoes the access code and PIN.
Using the Velib app, you can see your access code and PIN.
When you use the CityMapper app and chose bike as your transportation mode, they show you several different company options.
Bike Route options on the CityMapper app.

How to Remove Your Bike

After you finish the above process, find an available and functional bike to use at one of the docking spots.  The screens on the bike can be tough to see.  

  • Start by pressing the green check mark to power on the bike first.  
  • Then enter your unique 8 digit code into the screen, press the check mark and then you will be prompted to enter your 4 digit code*.  
  • You press the green check button again. 
  • f you did everything correctly, a check mark will show up on the screen and then in a few seconds more, a figure will show up with a “GO”.  
  • Then you have to pull your bike out of the slot.  They are heavy so you really have to pull hard.  
Velib Bicycle Station Terminal green and blue (electric) bikes in docks on a Paris street with lots of buildings in the background..
Velib Bicycle Station Terminal green and blue (electric) bikes in docks.

We Had a Rough Start

We arrived in Paris on an early Saturday morning after a 24 hour trip (minus the time change), took a taxi to the Westin Vendôme hotel where we did a quick outfit change and dropped our luggage drop-off. The agenda for our first day was meant to keep us busy to adjust to the time, but there were two priorities:  Figure out the Vélib’ bike system, and get to the 2:00 p.m. Leon Monet exhibit at the Luxembourg Museum. From the Westin Vendôme , we went to the nearest Vélib’ station (less than two short blocks away), which you can see on the Vélib’ app.  It tells you where the station is and how many bikes and open docking stalls are available, which is mostly accurate. You can also access a map on the Vélib’ website. Remember, when it is your first time, you need to be at a station where you can register for an account, not a site where there are just docking stalls.  You need to do this in order to check out and use a bike. At the first site closest to our hotel, we were unsuccessfully because I did not understand that only locals can sign up for a subscription:  tourists need to sign up for single ride or day pass. I also tried from the app on my iPhone but it didn’t work either. We didn’t know if we were doing something wrong or if the machine was just not working.  We went to two other machines before we had luck. Truth be told, it was two maintenance workers on the street who noticed we were struggling and they came over to help us.  

Vélib’ is a Great Deal!

As I explained above, take a look at the passes available on the app in advance.  We signed up for a 3-day pass from one of the stations) with our credit card (not from the app).  The 3-day pass costs 20 euros per bike, plus the 300 euro per bike deposit you are charged in case to protect from bikes not being returned.  That charge is refunded once you finish the length of your pass. If you ride less than 30 minutes, you do not incur any additional charges.  Beyond 30 minutes per ride, you pay a per minute charge. 

First Stop – Fromage! Or a Patisserie…

Paris cheese shops or fromageries, are on most tourists must-visit lists and the best are the ones frequented most by locals.  In my quest for vegan delicacies in Paris, I learned about the popularity of Jay & Joy’s vegan cheese. I planned it as one of our stops on that Saturday we arrived, as I read it was closed on Sundays and Mondays. I wanted to have some for our wine + baguette + cheese spontaneous picnics that we were hoping for this time in Paris.  If I realized how far it was, I’m not sure I would have planned it for the first day.  But because we finally succeeded in renting the Vélib’ bikes, we journeyed all the way from the 1st to the 11th arrondissement. We rode through some beautiful residential areas that we otherwise would not have seen.  I was, however, quite dejected when we arrived to see that Jay & Joy was shuttered. Seeing the long line of locals at the Terroirs d’Avenir Boulangerie across the street, we got some goodies and found out that the closure was due to a public health issue.

At the corner in front of the vegan bakery Land & Monkeys.
At the corner in front of the vegan bakery
Land & Monkeys.
This is a view of the pastries inside of the vegan bakery Land & Monkeys and a reflection of the building across the street.
My favorite bakery in Paris, Land & Monkeys. We went there almost every day!

Crossing the Seine:  From the 2nd to the 11th

I am not going to review each day of our trip in this post, but if it weren’t for riding the Vélib’ bikes, I’m not sure we would have covered so much distance on this first day.  We needed to get from the 11th Arr. to the Musée du Luxembourg by 2:30 p.m.  We lucked out!  The ride took us over and along the Seine and past so many notable sites, and the weather couldn’t have been better!

How to Prepare for Riding the Vélib’ Bikes

What to wear while riding Vélib’

Knowing the weather is warm in late spring, I didn’t wear pants in Paris. I had skorts and casual dresses and did fine. It was helpful in the morning when it was cooler to have a light weight pullover. When it was sunny and hot, it’s important to have sunglasses and sunscreen on.  I was worried that any hat I wore would fall off, so I didn’t have a hat (though if you could fasten one that might work).  Sunscreen is obvious.  At first I tried putting my AirPods in so that I could hear navigation, but again I was really worried about them falling out so I didn’t do that. It’s not a great idea to wear headphones when you’re driving or bicycling anyways…

A large intersection in Paris with cars, people walking, people on bicycles and scooters.
A Paris Crosswalk with cars, pedestrians, bicyclists and scooters.
Taking a rest from bike riding on a Paris street with a group of school children in the background.
You can stop whenever and wherever you want (almost!) when riding the Vélib’ bikes.

What You Need for Your Vélib’ Ride

The Vélib’ bikes come with a basket in the front, a lock, and most have a clear plastic pouch meant to be available for your cell.

Make sure you have these items:

  • Appropriate shoes
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses and/or hat (that are secure and won’t easily fall off)
  • Cellphone (I keep my iPhone secured in a Bandolier case and strap that I wear crossbody)
  • Light weight jacket or sweater
  • A pack that straps to you – there is also a basket in the front of every bike. You can stores some things in there, but be cautious about securing them during your ride, and not forgetting them after you dock and leave the bike!
  • Helmets?  No… We did not wear helmets and did see some bicyclists wearing helmets in Paris, but not most.  Since with Vélib’ you pick up and drop off your bike at various locations, you’d have to schlep your helmet with you everywhere, which we did not want to do.
Flexible and ConvenientThe bikes are big and heavy
Low costSafety – no helmet
Physical activity – exerciseInconvenient if you can’t find a bike or docking station is full or not close by.
No bike storage required
300 euro deposit (refunded after rental is returned and completed).
Environmentally-friendly
Using the app gives you fun statistics and gives you a record of your bike trips.
Pros and Cons of Using the Vélib’ Bikes

Navigating with Vélib

This map gives you a real-time status update on how many bikes/docking spots are available at each station, and this Bike Share Map is another real-time resource.

Vélib’ also has a set of tutorials.

This is a map of all official bike lanes in Paris.

Need to stop to pee?  Here is a map of Public toilets in Paris (free and paid).

Dvora in front of the Basquiat Warhol Exhibit at the Louis Vitton Foundation.
We rode our Velib bikes all the way to the Louis Vitton Foundation to see the amazing Basquiat Warhol exhibit.
Dvora in front of the Lancome store on the Champs Elysee.
On the ride back, we stopped off at the Lancome Store on the Champs Elysee.

Using the Vélib’ app

Once you register and then sign onto the app on your cell, you can keep track of your rides, viewing the distance, time (minutes), the actually geographical map of your journey, and even the kg. of CO2 saved.  You need to keep your credit card active to use all features of the app, but even after I’ve been home for over six months, I can still see all the features of the app. Again, downloaded it before you depart to France so you can get familiar with it.

Using the CityMapper app to create a route to a destination and then choose the mode of transportation.
Using the CityMapper app to create a route to a destination and then choose the mode of transportation.
Using the City Mapper to see a route and when choosing Velib, you can see the closest stations and how many bikes are available at each one.
Using the City Mapper to see a route and when choosing Velib, you can see the closest stations and how many bikes are available at each one.

Use the CityMapper App to Help You Navigate

Some of the map apps on your phone may have bike routes as an option. I think the CityMapper app is a must for travel.  Put in your destination and it gives you multiple choices of how to get there. If you choose subway, it will even specify which car to get in and which station exit to leave from.  The CityMapper app integrates with Vélib’, so you can choose that option and it will show you the amount of time it will take you to reach your destination, where the closest stations are, at which stations you can dock, and finally it will direct you to walk to your final destination. Here are some screenshots of the app showing you the route info if you are staying at the Westin Vendome and want to bicycle to the Dior Galerie.

Tips and Tricks for using Vélib’ Bikes

  • Take a look at your route before starting your ride.  You shouldn’t (and realistically can’t) look at your cell while you are riding.
  • Traffic:  there is a lot of traffic in Paris and you may find that you want to get off the busy boulevards and go on smaller streets. However, it’s really hard to ride on cobblestone, and sometimes there is not much room on a narrow road. 
  • We did not use bikes at night due to decreased visibility and more traffic.

Pedestrians Beware!

In our experience, car drivers were very tolerant of bikes.  All that said, there are a LOT of bicycle riders in Paris and a lot of locals use the Vélib’ system.  During the weekday and especially during the commute hours, the bicycle lanes are crowded and busy with locals riding at fast speeds. Pedestrians should always be careful and look both ways when crossing the street, as it seems clear that bicyclists always have the right-of-way. But even bicyclists need to enter a busy bike lane with caution.

Finishing Your Ride and Docking Your Bike

Once you reach your destination station, simply park your bike into a free stall.  You will hear a strong click. Make sure you look at the screen to see that the length of your ride in minutes and then a STOP sign show up before the power goes off.  There is a way you can briefly lock your bike without docking at a station, but we never did that so I can’t address that option. Oh, don’t forget to take out anything you put into the basket!

A narrow cobblestone pathway in Paris.
Try to avoid riding on cobblestone roads – it’s bumpy and uncomfortable.
Dvora and the Chef of 42 Degrees vegan restaurant in front of the restaurant in the 9th Arr.
Glad we took the blue electric bikes for this uphill and far ride to the restaurant 42 Degrees. Here is a photo with me and the chef.

Do Your Homework BEFORE Your Trip to Paris

Resources I used (besides the Vélib’ website):

Definitely preview these YouTube videos before you go.  You’ll get some great views of Paris as well as gain familiarity with how to use the Paris Vélib’ Bike system.

We’d Ride Vélib’ Again

This report is based on my research and our personal experience using the Vélib’ Bike system in Paris and has not been checked for accuracy with the actual Vélib’ Metropole company or any French locals.  We definitely look forward to using Vélib’ again on our next trip to Paris and highly recommend it to everyone that wants to be physically active and see more of one of our favorite cities!

Have you used Vélib’ bikes?  How was your experience?  Let me know in the comments.

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