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

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.

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

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.


On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists

The French government wants more of its working population to head to work and back by bike. Here’s how they’re gearing up for the plan.

On your bike! How France plans to convert commuters into cyclists
Photos: AFP

The stereotypical image of a Frenchman may be intrinsically tied to a bicycle as much as it is to a beret or a baguette, but the reality is very different. 

Only 3 out of every 100 workers in France commute by bike, with car driving being the primary means of transport for 70 percent of the working population.

On Friday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with the country’s Eco Transition Minister François de Rugy and Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne to try and curb that trend by unveiling the government’s brand-new bike plan.

The mission is to triple the number of cycling commuters in France in the next six years, up to 9 percent by 2024.

Here are the main points the French ministers will lay out in the western city of Angers on Friday:

Cycling lessons at school

France wants to rear a new generation of cyclists by making sure every child can learn to ride a bike at school if they don’t have the chance to at home.

The target is that all pupils know how to ride a bicycle by Sixième (6e), when school kids are 11. There won’t however be any funds for bike purchasing assistance for families.

More cycle paths

France’s government wants to enlist more budding cyclists by expanding the bike lane network nationwide.

The State will give a total of €350 million to French municipalities that “have bike paths interrupted by other road infrastructure”, such as ring roads, slip roads or any other road meant for bigger vehicles and which could pose a danger to cyclists. 

Less dangerous

Under the new bike plan it will become mandatory for all French municipalities to have clear bike markings on the road surface just before traffic lights, giving cyclists a safe place at which to stop and also acting as a warning for drivers.

Town halls will have ten years to comply to the measure and it will also be extended to municipal roads in towns where the speed is limited to 50 km/h.

Safer parking for bikes

Although unlikely to be enforced by law, France wants the country’s SNCF rail system to build secure parking for bikes at its stations. In fact, the government would like municipalities across l’Héxagone to follow suit, all in a bid to stop a longstanding problem in France: bike theft.

According to a 2017 study by France’s National Observatory of Delinquency and Criminal Responses yearly bike thefts have remained at roughly 400,000 for the past fifteen years.

A study by France’s Interior Ministry put the number at around 308,000 bike thefts in 2016, up from 248,000 in 2008, still clear evidence that bike theft in France is rife.

READ ALSO: Forget the Paris Velib' bikes chaos, there is an easy solution

Bike number plates

Another crime-stopping measure set to be unveiled is the introduction of number plates for bikes, or at the very least a clearly marked registration number that identifies the cyclist as the rightful owner.

According to France Info, the measure is focused primarily on the sale of professional bikes but can also apply to older second-hand bikes as well.

French police will have access to a record of these bike registration numbers when trying to catch thieves.

Bike expenses paid by employers

Cyclists will have the right to a transport expenses allowance paid for by their company, in the same way as commuters’ train, bus and petrol costs can be claimed back from their companies under the current indemnité transports en commun regulations.

The French government wants cycling to get the same treatment as other means of transport and will replace this new measure with the already existing bicycle mileage allowance.

This “sustainable mobility fee” will see commuters using bikes get up to €400 a year from their companies, whilst the government itself will also offer €200 packages to its workers.

SEE ALSO: Ten roads in France you just have to cycle