The Velib stations are truly everywhere. At the beginning, I struggled with the terminal and its small keyboard. Surprisingly, the system has been working for a couple of years now, but you still don’t get a touch screen. Otherwise, it’s all pretty straightforward – you pay a 150-euro deposit, you get a 1-day access to the service (1.70 euro) with a PIN code, choose a bike from the rack, which then unlocks for a limited amount of time, you collect your wheels and there you go.
The first half-hour is always free, so I got to admit I just did a short test ride and took it to the nearest terminal. I parked it back to the rack, the system recognized the bike instantly and locked it within five seconds.
The first time I just chose the bike closest to the terminal, but it’s better to have a quick look at the offerings before you take one. It’s not common, but you can still come across a bicycle with a broken chain or even without a seat. After doing that, you just punch your PIN code into the terminal again, and off you go.
Paris is a truly bike-friendly city. There are loads of cycle lanes, traffic lights specially designed for cyclists, and the bikes just kind of belong there. The drivers and pedestrians don’t mind them at all, so Velib truly is an ideal way to get around the city.
The bikes themselves are tough and heavy, built to withstand the sometimes harsh treatment they get. The construction itself is oriented towards simplicity and uses internal hub gears, but you get the practicality of mudguards, a carrier over the front wheel, and the lights turn on automatically when there is poor visibility.
I faced some minor issues with two terminals temporarily out of service, and during the time I waited for them to be rebooted, they only communicated in French, which really confused me the first time. All in all, the system works great, though, and not only for tourists. You can get yourself a special card as a local and use Velib every day. Quick and easy!