Today we try the velib'

Sunday 28 September 2008 17:55 | Personal

Velib' We obviously knew about the famous Velib' scheme (for the ones who don't know, it is a Self Service bike hire system available 24/7 with a pick up/drop off location every 300 metres or so) but haven't had a chance to try it.

Since the weather was very nice and we wanted to visit the tower of "John-Without-Fear" [Tour Jean sans Peur] not too far from where we live, it was a very good opportunity to test the Velib'.

In theory, this is an excellent idea... in practice, all is not perfect...

Our biggest grudge is certainly the fact it is very, very hard to find a bike in working order... Almost all the ones not in use have a (usually small but impeding) problem. If there are two (or more) of you, by the time everybody has found a good bike, you have probably lost 5 minutes of your 30-minute allowance. Problems are usually flat tyres, saddle clamps, chains/pedals. In short the usual problems with a bike but I can't believe there are so many broken bikes!

We figured out that the best way to have a good bike, is to use the one just dropped off by someone else. If a bike is in its rack, it is probably because it doesn't work (well) :-(

One thing: Why don't the hooks have 2 additional buttons: one green to say the bike is fine, one red to notify a problem. When you bring your bike back, you could have 10-15 seconds to "vote". Then if a bike receives more than a couple of red votes, it is locked and the problem is notified automatically to the HQ! (apparently in Lyon there is a notification system but I don't know how it works).

The second problem is that the streets of Paris can be very complicated. This applies to drivers as well I suppose (but I try to avoid this kind of exercise if I can!). There are countless streets/junctions where you ride on the left hand side of the road! This should not be complicated when you have spent years in the UK but actually it is; you end-up not knowing what to do to stay safe. Also most of bus lanes are open for bicycles but these lanes can be in the middle of the road or on the left and not always on the right hand side. And taxi drivers are allowed in them so you hardly have less traffic than on the main road! I think it is just a question of getting used to it. Cycling routes are signposted and have loads of markings on the ground so at least someone made the effort to provide an infrastructure.

Conclusion for this first attempt: Good but quite hair-raising!