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In 2007, the mayor launched a municipal bike hire scheme – Vélib. There are now over 20,000 bicycles available 24 hours a day, at nearly 1,500 ‘stations’ across the city. They feel sturdy, have a handy basket for transporting your groceries, and best of all, are available every 300 metres, so even if a stand is empty, you should find a bike at the next one. If you’re not resident in France, you’ll have to overcome the ‘right-hand-side-of-the-road’ issue.
Just swipe your travel card to release the bikes from their stands. The mairie actively promotes cycling in the city and the Vélib scheme is complemented by the 400km (250 miles) of bike lanes snaking their way around Paris. You buy a 24-hour pass with your credit card at an access terminal for €1.70 (you’ll have to authorize a €150 deposit, which is retained only if the bike gets stolen or damaged). There is no additional charge for every journey that doesn’t exceed 30 minutes. You can return your bike to any stand in the city, but will have to wait 5 minutes before taking another bike from the same stand (or head to the next one) if you want to continue your journey for another 30 minutes. There are also weekly cards (€8) or an annual pass (€19-29): apply online.
The Vélib scheme even has a handy iPhone application, which gives details of how many bikes and parking stands are available at each station in real time.
The Itinéraires Paris-Piétons-Vélos-Rollers – scenic strips of the city that are closed to cars on Sundays and holidays – continue to multiply; www.paris.fr can provide an up-to-date list of routes and a downloadable map of cycle lanes. A free ‘Paris à Vélo’ map can be picked up at any mairie or from bike shops. Cycle lanes (pistes cyclables) run mostly N-S and E-W. N-S routes include Rue de Rennes, Avenue d’Italie, Boulevard Sébastopol and Avenue Marceau. E-W routes take in the Rue de Rivoli, Boulevard St-Germain, bd St-Jacques and av Daumesnil. You could be fined if you don’t use them. Cyclists are entitled to use certain bus lanes (especially the new ones, set off by a strip of kerb stones); look out for traffic signs with a bike symbol. Don’t let the locals’ blasé attitude to helmets and lights convince you it’s not worth using them.