Velib' Paris 'Liberty ' Bikes - Road Cycling UK

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Velib' Paris 'Liberty ' Bikes

Comes complete with cable lock

List of commandments on handlebar

On a sunny Sunday morning in September, the streets of Paris are full of promenading cyclists. There are numerous reasons for the popularity of the velo on such a beautiful day, including the joys of riding alongside the Seine on temporarily traffic-free roads. Since 15 July 2007, of course, there has also been the added attraction of the French capital’s new Velib’ (Velo Liberte) cycle hire scheme, which kicked off with 750 stations and over 10,000 bicycles. Since then it has expanded to 1,000 stations and more than 14,000 cycles, with a further 450 stations and 6,000 bikes planned to be in service by December.

It has been, by any standards, a resounding success, to the extent that many Parisien cyclists, tired of having their machines stolen or of having to find storage space, have simply given up on ownership and taken to renting as a more practical proposition. This is feasible largely thanks to the incredible value for money Velib’ offers. The best value option is to subscribe to a 12 month ‘Carte Velib’ at a cost of €29. There is also a one-day ‘Ticket Velib’ costing 1€ and a seven-day ‘Ticket Velib’ for €5, but in each case the first 30 minutes of any hire period by a card holder are free. Thereafter, the next half hour costs €1, the half hour after that €2 and each subsequent consecutive half hour or ‘part thereof’ €4. You can sign up at any Velib station using a credit or bank card; this also helps deter theft and carelessness with the bikes by providing ready identification of the hirer.

Docking joint sits on down tube

Velib’ main terminal ready for your credit card

Keep your rides shorter than half an hour, and you get a year’s hire for about £15! The system is designed to make travelling around Paris quick, cheap and easy, hence the half hour hire periods. The idea is to find a station, which can be done by WAP phone, extract a bike, adjust the seat height if so desired and jump on it to get somewhere within Paris itself, rather than hire the bike for a whole day. To this end, the machines themselves are designed for short-hop urban riding and feature hub brakes, gears and dynamo-powered lighting and a partially-enclosed transmission. Weight is clearly not seen as an issue, since all-up weight including front basket, integral cable lock and centre stand is around the 20kg mark. Not surprisingly, few Velib’ bikes are to be seen atop the steep slopes of Montmartre.

Getting hold of a bike is simple. Each station has a main terminal and a number of attachment stands. These are operated by the magnetic Carte or Ticket Velib’; the shorter duration cards are obtainable from the main terminal at the station, while the one-year card must be applied for in advance. Minimum age for hiring is 14. One year subscribers can simply pass their card over the stand of the particular cycle they fancy at the station, while short term cardholders must first attend the main terminal and choose the preferred cycle from the screen menu before swiping the card. This frees the docking joint and releases the cycle from the stand. On arrival at the destination station, the cycle’s docking joint is placed against a free attachment stand, which bleeps to confirm the cycle is locked. If the station is full, swiping the card gives an extra 15 minutes of free time to find another. The system requires outstanding hire fees to be paid before a cycle can be removed from a station, so it should be impossible to build up significant outstanding credit.

Bike rank an impressive sight

Chain appears vulnerable

The problem of theft has been addressed partly by the design of the bicycles themselves and the provision of a substantial cable lock. Subscribers also pay a non-collected deposit of €150 and are liable to one of three penalties: the whole €150 if the cycle is not returned, €35 if it is stolen and the theft reported, and €10 if the key to the cable lock is lost.

The machines themselves are not unattractive, despite a colour scheme unlikely to appear on any other cycle – ever. The handlebar cowling carries a series of commandments that, judging by the conduct of many hirers, are largely ignored, but the integral lighting, lock and basket make for a high level of convenience, while virtually bomb-proof tyres should stave of the utility cyclist’s greatest fear. Only one problem was evident at the time of writing; several parked cycles were missing their chains. Theft of this, er, valuable component? Apparently not; one broken chain had been left draped over the handlebar. Judging by the Velib’ leaflet, the chains are adjusted way too tight, and they probably just snap at the split link.

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