« Les Halles Sixty Years Later | Main | Summer Food & Fun at Grand Train »

Some Tips on Using Vélib City Bikes in Paris


I love using the Vélib to get around Paris, especially now that it’s so nice outside (read: between sudden thunder showers it’s actually sunny and gorgeous). It looks a lot scarier to ride a bike in Paris than it feels when you’re actually on the bike. Maybe it’s the high of cruising through the capital with the wind in your hair, but it’s very quickly addictive.

I got a native Parisian hooked last weekend when I suggested we grab two Vélib’s to go check out the street art murals in the 13th arrondissement. I have an annual pass (€29), but he was a newbie and needed a day pass (which are currently €1.70; weekly passes are €8). We figured, being locals of average intelligence, that this wouldn’t take us long to figure out. But getting the pass from the terminal was enormously confusing.

Just to give you all a heads up, there are two main steps: creating an account, then checking out your bike.

Map side of terminal if you already have a subscription.Create the Account
First you need to create an account. We did this right at the bike terminal (there's one at every bike rental station). One side has a map on it and a touchpad for those who already have a subscriber number. The other side has an interactive screen and a place to insert a credit card. Go here, touch any number on the keypad to get started, and change the language to English to make your life easier. Note that there are instructions on the big screen but also on the little screen next to the credit card slot. A bit confusing.

To create a subscription account you need to click on 2 to "Buy a Ticket", then select a 4-digit code (pick any code you can easily remember, but not 1234 or 0000). Then you need to pay for your subscription with a credit card (and when it asks for your code, it means your credit card PIN, not the Vélib code you just made up). Once it’s done you get a little receipt (récépissé) with an eight-digit code which is your subscription ID (or abonnement) number. Hold onto this for the duration of your subscription. You can also create your account online in advance, which may be easier (at least you’re not standing on the street with your wallet out!) and is the only option for those without micro-chipped credit cards.

Screen side of the terminal where you get your ticket.Check Out a Bike
Now you go get your bike. Find one that isn’t broken (ie wheels have air, all parts including pedals and handlebars in their right place, spin the pedals backwards to make sure chain isn’t blocked, light is green) and make note of the number. Go back to the terminal and follow the directions for checking out a bike. You can actually do this on either side of the terminal, but when we tried it on the side with the map it said he already was using a bike. So we went around the back to the side where we signed up. Change the language to English and then clock on Access the Service.

It will ask for the eight-digit subscription ID code on your receipt, then the 4-digit pass code you made up yourself. Then it will show the bikes which are available at that terminal (if the number you want isn’t showing, it means it’s broken). Once you’ve entered the number and it says you’re bike is ready, go to the bike and push the silver button on the attachment point (next to the bike number and the glowing green light). The button doesn’t actually seem to move, but you’ll hear the click of the bike releasing from the lock. You may have to pull fairly hard to get it out. Adjust the seat and make sure the brakes work before you go flying down a hill into traffic. Et voila!

Gears not Shifting?
If your bike is broken, don’t forget to turn the seat around when you plug it back in as a signal to other riders that it’s broken. Also, if you’re switching bikes because you’ve run out of time (30 minutes max unless you don’t mind paying the incremental fees for going over time) or because of a broken bike that can't be ridden at all, you often have to wait 5 minutes before your subscription is “active” again to get another bike. Be patient.

Ride safely!
I know none of your are wearing helmets or yellow safety vests, but at least don’t forget one rule: never ride up between a large vehicle like a truck or bus and the sidewalk just before an intersection, because they may not see you when turning right and you’ll get squashed. Stay behind or pass on the left so the drivers can see you. I know it's no fun sucking on exhaust fumes, but you'll have to bear it until you can get to a less congested area to ride or stick to the separated bike paths all over Paris. 

Download the App
The free Vélib app for Android, Windows phone and iPhone is handy for finding both available bikes and available parking spaces without needlessly wandering from station to station.  

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (7)

Does the Passe Navigo allow use of the Velib bikes? We tried to use one last fall but could not figure out how to liberate the bike after scanning our passes over the green light.
June 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMJ
Hi MJ,
You can link your Navigo pass to your Vélib pass (so you don't need two cards), but the Navigo won't work on its own if you don't have a Vélib subscription.
June 21, 2016 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler-Hall
Hi, Can you please tell me if someone from the US can use this service? My credit card has a chip, but no pin.
Thank you.
August 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCathie
Hi Cathie, you'll have to get your password online if your card doesn't have a PIN. Just go to the website before you rent the bike. :-)
August 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler-Hall
I have chained my bike up and i can't unlock it now HELP!
Should it just release when i insert the key ?
November 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSiobhan
Can we take out 2 bikes with one account?
May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLiane
Sorry, you can only take one bike per account.
For the moment, the new Velib's aren't quite up and running, and the workers are so frustrated with the delay they're now on strike (don't ask me to explain that one). I would not count on Velib's as reliable transport at the moment.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.