Braving Paris—by Bicycle (Part II)

In Part I, I described some of the catches with Velib’ that makes it difficult and how to get around them. Now I’ll describe how to return your bike and some good routes in Paris.

Returning Your Velib’ Bicycle

The beauty of Velib’ is that you don’t have to return the bicycle where you picked it up. You can park it at any of the Velib’ stations—if there’s an opening. Here are a few tips about returning the bicycle:

  • You’ll learn to keep your eye out for the line of green lights that identify the stations.
  • Be aware that sometimes the stations are full and you’ll have to cycle to another to drop off the bicycle. Each station has a map of the vicinity showing the proximity of other stations.
  • If your destination is time sensitive, plan extra time in case you aren’t able to park right away. I had little trouble with this, but it is a potential concern if you need to be somewhere on time.
  • When you return the bike, slide it into its slot. A yellow light appears for about ten seconds while it registers your return. It then turns green. Don’t leave until you see the green light; otherwise, you’ll be charged for indefinite use. If the light is flashing or you here a buzzer, there’s a problem with the connection. Try reparking the bicycle or move it to a different stand and try again.

What You Can See

The advantages of cycling in Paris are huge. Velib’ is a jump-on/jump-off transportation solution, and unlike the Metro (which is underground), you can experience the incredible excitement of Paris as you go. Also, many of Paris’ great monuments are close to each other—well within the 30-minute free grace period.

Here are some of my itineraries and approximate travel times (all my trips started in the Marais near Place de la Revolution)

  • Pont Sully / Ile Saint-Louis / Bertillon ice cream (famous in Paris) (20 minutes). Caught a beautiful sunset silhouetting Notre Dame by the Seine.
  • Ile de la Cite / Notre Dame / Pantheon (45 minutes) – Night right around these monuments. Each monument has its own distinctive lighting style.
  • Rue St. Germaine backstreets to La Tour Eiffel – (20 minutes). There’s a warren of backstreets with fascinating shops. Lots of Velib’ stations if you want to park and walk for a bit too. I got caught in an insane traffic jam on the Champs D’Elysée with repercussions all the way to Avenue de l’Opéra and Tivoli. Nothing was moving, not even bicycles.
  • Musée Gustave Moreau / Ile de la Musique (45 minutes between the two) – Moreau was an influential romantic painter. His studio and living quarters have been preserved. From there I cycled to the other end of town to Ile de la Musique to see the museum of rare and antique musical instruments.
  • Chateau de Vincennes / Palais du Louvre (45 minutes each way) – this was an epic journey out to the medieval chateau in Vincennes (take in some of the Bois de Vincennes park if you can) and then downtown to the Louvre. Yes, I did this in one day. The cycling was easy compared to all the history and culture I took in. I was exhausted.