Paris is a city known for its style. Stylish monuments, stylish people, stylish dining, stylish dogs, flower boxes, handbags, alleys and cobble-y streets. One of the more recent developments that add character to this beautiful capital is the Vélib’ – a smart system of city commuter bikes.
Users pick up a Vélib’ – the name comes from ‘vélo’ (bike) ‘libre’ (free) – at one location, pedal to their next destination and check the bike back in provided there’s an empty spot. Designed for short commutes, the first thirty minutes is always free. Having arrived in Paris as destination one in a European cycling adventure, I was more than a little excited to jump on board and have a taste of life in the city of love.
The bikes are designed to be used (a lot) and to last which means the weight is a bit of a surprise if a race bike is your regular pick. It’s a fair bet that you’ll find more free bikes at the bottom of a hill than at the top. They are surprisingly difficult to track stand, but their comfortable upright riding position adds to the sense of freedom you feel rolling through the city streets. Bright lights come on when you pedal making the Vélibs a safe, exciting option once the sun goes down as well.
Vélibing our way through the city cycle network, it was hard not to imagine how life in Sydney could be. Imagine catching a train to Central and swapping a twenty-minute walk to your next destination for a quick pedal on an elegant, shared machine. Or jumping on board for a quick commute from any one place to the next. Or racing your mates along a designated route as part of a good night out. Have a mechanical? No worries, just dock it, report it, and jump on board another. Seeing so many people – old, young, suits, heels – using these bikes to get around made me want to go exploring even more. Jumping on the back of a conga line of other riders at peak hour is one of those holiday moments that give you a wonderful taste of what a place might be like to live.
The Vélib turned out to be a great way to see some of Paris’ other main attractions. First up was the Champs Elysse. Tour de France riders report a whole wave of excited feelings as they arrive on the Champs having pedalled around 3000kms for the honour. All I had to do was swipe a card. It felt like cheating.
An hour later I found myself sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower eating a baguette while Alicia Keys’ ‘New York’ boomed out of a stereo somewhere in the background. Cruising home from dinner on a summer evening was a chance to see the details of large, iconic buildings jump out under the magic of lights. As I flick back through life memories when I’m older, I imagine Paris by Vélib’ will rate right up there with one of the best. Unexpected, slightly surreal and with a style all of its own.