Forget the Paris bike scheme chaos, there is a better solution

The Local France
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Forget the Paris bike scheme chaos, there is a better solution
All photos: AFP

Bike-sharing schemes in Paris have been left in a disastrous state thanks to bad management and vandalism, but there is an easy solution for keen cyclists, writes Ben McPartland. And it's far better than Velib.


The last few months in Paris have severely tested even the patience of even the most loyal of Velib' users.

The city's official bike sharing scheme launched back in 2007 has seen the wheels come off spectacularly following weeks of disastrous efforts by its new operator.

A total of 1,460 stations are supposed to be up and running by the end of March, but the grey bikes remain virtually absent from the city streets, enraging many Parisians who usually rely on the hire bikes for their daily commute.

Only a few hundred stations have been set up so far and fewer still are actually in operation.

The furious mayor of Paris who proudly announced the new operator back in October last year decided last week that City Hall needed to step in and take over the running of Velib'.

Then there was the swift downfall of the Gobee bike hire service, which rolled out thousands of dockless bikes onto the French capital's streets last autumn.

The service had hoped to take advantage of the mess that Velib' was in and bag a share of the market but rampant theft and vandalism quickly put paid to that.

Other dockless bike schemes are still operating in Paris but many report that the smartphone apps are prone to malfunction and the bikes themselves are of low quality. It's common to see the bikes lying around the streets but less common to see anyone actually using them.

So the ambition of Paris to become a cycling city like Copenhagen has taken a huge knock, despite the city vowing to construct more cycle lanes and shift the emphasis from four wheels to two.

But there is a pretty easy and not necessarily expensive solution for those who don't like to take the Metro or buses and for whom walking is just a bit slow, and it's even better than the Velib'.

Just buy a bike.

First of all, here are the (many) positives.

Having your own bike in Paris means no more walking to and from a Velib' station to pick up a bike. You can just take it directly from your own apartment or at least from wherever you lock it in the street.

It also means no more walking to a Velib' station only to find that it's empty or even worse, that all the bikes left are broken. It also means no more searching round for a Velib' station with an empty slot when you want to drop the bike off. You can cycle right to your door or to the door of the bar or you are going to or indeed any destination. In other words its far quicker to get from A to B.

It also means no more screaming out "arghhhh!" as your Velib seat suddenly collapses down as your being overtaken by a bus.

And means no more muttering as your Velib creaks and squeaks along and only has one gear, which means you have to peddle like you're in the Tour de France final sprint just to advance at the pace of an escargot.

And in general it's just nicer riding your own bike rather than something that feels like a tank (albeit the new Velibs are reportedly very much better than the old ones).

Now there's obviously a downside to having your own bike. For a start it's a little bit more expensive that you Velib yearly pass, which costs €37.20 for a basic one (€99 for anyone who wants to make use of the electric bikes).

And then there's the fact that in France as a whole, some half a million bikes are stolen each year  - that's nearly 1,400 per day, with one in two cyclists saying they have been a victim of bike theft.

So the reality is the chances of you having your bike stolen are pretty high.

Theft is one of the main brakes that prevents the growth of cycling as a mode of transport in Paris.

But remember there are ways to reduce your chances of being a victim of theft. For a start don't buy a really expensive bike, unless perhaps you can keep it indoors and your bum never leaves the saddle when you take it out.

I learned this the hard way when my new €800 bike was stolen from outside my child's creche at around 5pm, in broad daylight and despite the efforts of one of the other dads to fight off the thief. I was tempted to buy another good bike, but realized that would be a daft move in Paris.

The solution is to buy a second hand bike that looks pretty rubbish. Budget for between €100 and €200.

The bike needs to be safe of course and get you from A to B, but there are loads of old bikes for sale at second hand bike shops or on Le Boin Coin that thieves will turn their noses up at.

Obviously you need to lock it up to a structure that's permanently attached to the ground (no, not a really thin tree as thieves will just saw through it) and with a decent U-lock.

You also need to check the bike stand you lock it up at has not been sawed through at the bottom, a trick that many cyclists understandably don't spot.

And if it is stolen don't forget to report it to the police. Many don't and it might not seem worth it, but 100,000 stolen bikes are recovered in France each year but most don't find their way home to their rightful owners.

And your house insurance should cover any theft, although there are conditions, the main one being that the bike was locked up.

So all that to say there's no need to fret about the state of the Velib' bike share scheme or the disaster of gobee bike. Having your own bike in Paris is the perfect solution.


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