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Monday
Jun172019

Using the Vélib Bike Service in Paris


Now that the weather is (mostly) conducive to getting around Paris by bicycle, I thought it would be a good time to update the information about using the City of Paris’s municipal bike-share system known as Vélib. It’s had a rocky few years after switching service providers, and while there are still a few bugs to work out, I’ve found them to be pretty reliable for the casual cyclist.

Whether you’ve used them before or are a first-timer, here are a few useful tips on the bikes, how to set up an account, and how to use them.

Most Important Takeaways:

  • Vélib has regular bikes (green) and electric-assisted bikes (blue)
  • Sign up for ALL passes (including 24-hour or 7-day passes) online, NOT directly at the bike station “bornes” (there have been issues with people putting in their credit card info and then not receiving the account number or passcode to be able to check out the bikes).
  • There’s a FREE pass for residents that only charges you if you actually use a bike (this “pay as you go” option is slightly more expensive, but great for the occasional user who wants the option to grab a bike at any moment without fuss).

About the Vélib Bikes

There are two kinds of Vélib:

  1. regular bikes (green)
  2. electric-assisted bikes (blue). These still need to be pedaled to work, but they give you a little push, especially going uphill, and can reach 25kph.

Both have baskets, mud guards, headlights, and locks for when you need to pop into a shop quickly. Unlike the many “dockless” bikes that you might see around Paris (although they’ve been almost completely replaced by electric scooters now), the Vélibs are all docked bikes, with several hundred “stations” situated throughout Paris and the immediate.

Subscription Options and Passes

There are 2 “one-off” passes that anyone with a credit card can use, and 3 “subscription” options that are for residents or long-term visitors.

1. The one-off passes for casual users are the 24-hour “V-Découverte” and the 7-day “V-Séjour”. Both of these passes allow you to take up to 5 bikes at a time with one account, so it’s perfect for small groups or a family who want to pay with one credit card. There are two fees to take into account, the fixed “pass” fee just to sign up (charged right away whether you ever use the bikes or not) and the actual rental fee for the time you use the bikes. The 24-hour pass is €5 per bike, and the 7-day pass is €15 per bike. You get an account number and a PIN you need to keep for the duration of your pass to be able to take a bike.  The rental fee for the actual time used is the same for both passes:
      
  a. Green bikes are free for up to 30 minutes. If you don’t return your bike to a station after 30 minutes, your credit card will be charged €1 for each additional half hour. You can use the bike as many times as you want without paying more than the pass fee as long as you switch bikes every 30 minutes. 
 
      b. Blue electric bikes are €1 for the first 30 minutes, then €2 for each additional 30-minute period. It’s cheaper to keep switching bikes, but more convenient to keep the same one (since there are far fewer electric bikes available, they’re harder to find, and sometimes the ones you find aren’t finished recharging).
     
2. There are three different subscriptions that are for those who live in Paris, adapted to the frequency of use. All three work with a physical card that will be sent to you (or added to your Navigo card): 
     
  a. “V-Libre” is a pay-as-you-go account for occasional users. It costs nothing to subscribe, but charges you €1 per 30 minutes for the green bikes and €2 per 30 minutes for the blue bikes. If you never use the bikes, you aren’t charged anything at all. I recommend everyone to get this even if they think they’ll never use the bikes, because in a pinch you’ve got the card to grab one and go. 
     
b. “V-Plus” is a monthly (€3.10) or annual (€37.20) subscription for those who use the bikes more than four times per month. With this subscription you get 30 minutes for free on the green bikes, then €1 per additional 30-minute rental, and €1 for the blue bike rentals plus €2 for each additional 30-minute rental.
     
     c. “V-Max” is a fixed monthly (€8.30) or annual (€99.60) account for regular users that includes 60-minute rides on green bikes and 30-minute rides on the blue bikes. After that, the additional times is €1 per 30 minutes for either bike. This is an awesome deal if you want to use the electric bikes every day of the year for short journeys (less than 30 minutes each trip). 
     

Getting Started

Before you start, you’ll need to get an account (even for a Day Pass) and – especially if you’re planning on using it more than once – the smartphone app. For both (available in English), visit: https://www.velib-metropole.fr/

NOTE: As of June 2019 they are still having “issues” with registering for passes directly at the bike stations (I confirmed this by testing it with a friend and then calling the customer service number), so to avoid any unhappy surprises, sign up online and WRITE DOWN YOUR REGISTRATION ID# and PIN! .

Once you have registered online for the pass you have chosen, you will immediately receive an eight-digit subscription ID# and a PIN (the PIN is chosen by you). WRITE THESE DOWN (or store in your phone), as you’ll need them to check out a bike (for the monthly or annual pass holders, you’ll need these until your card arrives in the mail).

Regular (green) and electric (blue) bikes at a docking station (tip: don't use that "borne" terminal on the right). 

Check Out a Bike

Once you have your ID# and PIN, you can check out a bike(s). You can find available bikes using the website or the smartphone (updated in real-time), although they are pretty easy to spot around Paris (TIP: the bus shelter maps show the nearest Vélib stations).

Do a quick check to make sure the bike you want isn’t broken:

  • Both wheels have air
  • All parts including pedals, seat, and handlebars are intact
  • Spin the pedals backwards to make sure chain isn’t blocked
  • Make sure the seat can be adjusted if needed
  • If the seat is facing backwards, it means the last person who used it found an issue (so don’t check this bike out!)

Once all looks good, you can checkout the bike directly on the bike's electric display unit known as the “V-box” (DO NOT try to use the "borne" terminal to check out a bike!). It will then ask for your eight-digit ID#, and then the four-digit PIN (push the green check button after entering the numbers). For those who have a physical card, you just wave this in front of the V-Box and it reads the info automatically, so you don’t need to enter any numbers. If all is good, it will display “Go!” and you can remove your bike from the docking station and start riding.

Adjust the seat and make sure the brakes work before you go flying down a hill into traffic. Et voila!

Note: If there is an issue with the bike (ie an electric bike not charged completely, or a regular bike that hasn’t been returned correctly) it won’t allow you to check it out, just try another bike. Sometimes whole stations are blocked (for example, if it’s on a parade or protest march route that day).  

This is the "V-Box" on each bike. You checkout your bike right here, using the green checkmark button.

Locking the Bike for a Temporary Pause

If you want to pop into the bakery or otherwise leave your bike momentarily without returning it to a station, you can lock your Vélib in two ways (see this video to get a better visual: https://youtu.be/gLBd4Pe9-RY):

  • Once stopped, put down the kickstand and push the tip of the left handlebar to eject the cable lock cleverly hidden in the tip of the right handlebar. You lock this into the little slot at the “neck” of the bike where the handlebars meet the frame. Then push the green checkmark and you’ll see “Pause” displayed; you will need to confirm this with your card or enter your PIN. You’ll then see a padlock symbol to confirm.
  • You can simply block the handlebars from moving (a bit like when you lock your car’s steering wheel) without using the cable lock. Just press the green checkmark and you’ll see “Pause” displayed; you will need to confirm this with your card or enter your PIN. Turn the handlebars until you feel it block into locked position. You’ll then see a padlock symbol to confirm.

To release your bike again, push the green check button and use your card or enter your PIN again to confirm, and it will release the cable and the locked steering, so you’re ready to continue rolling.

Returning the Bike

When you’re ready to return your bike, just find the nearest station (you can find stations with open spaces listed on the app and website) and slide the front wheel back into the docking station slot. Keep your eye on the V-Box display: it will show the time you used the bike then a “Stop” sign, and then the display will turn off. Give the bike a little tug to confirm it’s locked in there, then you’re good! You’ll receive a confirmation email each time you return your bike.

If you want to use it longer than the free time you have on your pass (usually 30 minutes) without paying, simply stop at a station and plug it back in, confirm it says “Stop” on the screen, and then just check it out again (unless the bike sucks, in which case you’ll want to grab a different bike).

Note: Don’t forget to turn the seat around if your bike isn’t working properly to signal to other riders and the Vélib staff that it’s broken.

For V-Plus and V-Max subscribers: Hate it when you can’t find a free spot? The new Vélibs give you the special option of returning your bike to “full” stations by locking the bike cable to another bike in the docking station. Watch the video here to see how it’s done: https://youtu.be/jaHzRHFmyHs.

IF YOU HAVE ANY ISSUES: call customer service (open 8am-10pm on weekdays, 9am-10pm Saturdays, and 9am-7pm Sundays and holidays): 01 76 49 12 34

Ride safely!

I know none of you are wearing helmets or yellow safety vests, but at least don’t forget one rule: never ride 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.

Even if you have priority, be sure to look out for pedestrians (use that bell!) and electric “trottinettes” (we call them scooters in English, but they aren’t the same as motor scooters), which are everywhere in Paris now and often driven by people who have no idea what they’re doing (or the rules of the road).

PS: The "bornes" at each docking station are useless for getting your pass or checking out a bike, but they DO serve one great purpose: charging your USB devices! 

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Reader Comments (3)

Looks like a lot has changed, transportation-wise, in Paris since we last visited late 2012, but even then we saw many locals on bikes and a wide lane many used (along with the buses it seemed). We mostly took buses back then, and walked of course, but it’ll be interesting to see how this has changed mobility :)
June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFelipe Adan Lerma
The real problem with the Vélib is (for the most part, as far as I can tell) there are really quite few bikes available to take out for a ride. The few Vélibs in the stands have been, as you mention, vandalized and useless…
June 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Henry
@David: There was certainly a lack of bikes available when the new Vélibs were put in last year, but they've really improved in the past six months. I have always found an available bike at one of the stations near me (there are three within a two-block radius). The app really helps to see where they are all grouped, which is handy!
June 18, 2019 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler

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