Monday, July 26, 2010

Tour de Paris

There's a cool program in Paris called Vélib (a fun porte-manteau mush word of "Vélo"=bicycle and "libre"=free) that allows Parisians who have registered (and put down a 150 deposit against the product) to rent out a bicycle from one of the city's almost 1,700 docking stations for up to half an hour. The idea is to provide commuters, students, etc with an easy, efficient way to get through the city, not to mention a form of exercise and an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving or public transport. Although the Vélib program has faced its share of problems since its beginning in 2007, including overly-expensive bike software, cumbersome/heavy bikes, frequent repair problems and ongoing theft/vandalism, its spirit is still going strong, and it is one of the most successful and well-funded public bicycle programs in the world.

With that said, taking a Vélib ride has been on my list of things to do ever since I got to Paris. However, since you have to have a European bank card and a Parisian Metro pass to rent one out, by the time I was actually equipped to participate I had already become accustomed to traveling by bus and Metro. As a casual, country-trail cyclist, I also found the thought of biking alongside cars through narrow city streets rather daunting, and I couldn't be bothered to pay the trivial fee (1 euro a day, 5 a week or 30 a year) to test it out. And considering that Tom had only ever ridden a bike once in his life, he wasn't about to encourage me.

Until Saturday night. When leaving a friend's house in the wee hours, long after Metro service had stopped for the night, we decided to take advantage of the deserted streets to finally give Vélib a try. The first bike I tried had a flat tire; the first Tom tried wouldn't permit him to raise the seat. After a few minutes of tinkering with the locks and the settings, however, we were finally ready to go:

Verdict? A lot of fun, and a great way to enjoy the night air (and full moon!). Tom had a wobbly first few minutes of experimenting, but after that he seemed to pick it up (and pick up speed) quickly. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we did it again yesterday, and I fully intend to continue. There's going to be a slight learning curve--finding the roads with cycle paths, learning what to check for (maintenance-wise) before taking out a bike, finding the best docking stations (as some tend to always be empty, and some tend to never have docking space available, depending on the desirability of their location)--but it's vacation, and I have time to spare. Ready. Set. Bike!

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