Cycling in Bordeaux

Every two years the website copenhagenize.eu publishes its “Copenhagenize Index”, ranking the world’s twenty most bicycle-friendly large cities (not including smaller cities like Groningen or Münster), as determined by performance in fourteen categories, namely:

  • advocacy
  • bicycle culture
  • bicycle facilities
  • bicycle infrastructure
  • bike share program
  • gender split
  • modal share for bicycles
  • modal share increase since 2006
  • perception of safety
  • politics
  • social acceptance
  • urban planning
  • traffic calming
  • cargo bikes and logistics

(Click here for explanations of these fourteen categories.)

Cycling in Bordeaux

In the first Copenhagenize Index, which came out in 2011, Bordeaux did not make the top 20, but two years later it tied with Seville (Spain) for fourth place in the ranking, just behind Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Utrecht.

As the website explained in 2013: “Every country needs a city that just gets on with it and shows what is possible. Bordeaux is that city in France. For many years, Strasbourg was regarded as the premier cycling city but Bordeaux storms into fourth spot on the Top 20 of the Copenhagenize Index for what it has achieved in the past five or so years.”

They went on to say that Bordeaux “has invested brilliantly in bike lanes and cycle tracks. There are 200 km in the city and 400 in all when you include the surrounding CUB — Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux. In the CUB there is a 5% modal share, but that rises to 10% in the city proper. Up from just a couple of percentage points only 6 years ago.”

They pointed out the connection between Bordeaux’s new tramways and increased bicycle use. “As we often see, a tramway city becomes a bicycle friendly city. Bordeaux’s bike share system VCub is a great success and serves to place bicycles beneath a great many citizens. Bordeaux has figured out how to market its bicycle initiatives to a mainstream crowd, avoiding the narrow and ineffective sub-cultural context.”

In 2015 Bordeaux slipped to number 8 in the ranking, and in 2017 it moved back up to number 6. In its 2017 comments, the website mentioned that “Bordeaux is the only city in France with a gender split that sees more women cycling than men. For example, women made up 53% of the cyclists crossing the Pont de Pierre bridge and the 2017 mobility week is dedicated to women.”

The Copenhaganize Index started in 2011 with a list of 80 cities, and for the 2017 listings they analyzed 136 cities from around the world. One of the cities that was omitted in 2017 was Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. They explained: “It is fair enough if you’re wondering where Eindhoven went. Each time around we make minor adjustments to the city list and we felt it was disproportionate to have three cities from a small country. So we are sticking with Utrecht and Amsterdam. We would love to rank every city in the world but if we did the list would be nothing but Dutch cities accompanied by Danish and some German. Hardly a fair representation of the global situation.”

In 2017 four French cities made the Top 20 in the Copenhaganize Index. Strasbourg was ranked as number 4, Bordeaux as 6, Paris as 13 and Nantes as 16.

A girl on a VCub bike in Bordeaux

VCub is Bordeaux’s spontaneous self-service on-street bicycle sharing system. It has been in operation since 2010 and is similar to Vélo’v in Lyon, Vélib’ in Paris and V’Lille in Lille.

Before travelling to Bordeaux I went online and booked a seven-day subscription to VCub. This cost me all of seven Euros and gave me unlimited rides of up to 30 minutes each.

As of 2019 the cost has gone up by a modest 10 % to € 7.70 for a seven-day subscription.

The name “VCub” has nothing to do with baby animals such as lion cubs or tiger cubs, as we anglophones might assume. The V stands for Vélo (bicycle) and Cub is for the Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux, the Urban Community of Bordeaux and vicinity (now officially re-named Bordeaux Métropole, but the bike sharing system still has the same name as before).

VCub bikes

The bikes themselves are marked “V3, with a large V and a small raised 3. This puzzled me, until someone was kind enough to point out that “V3” is a term from mathematics, “V cube” (= V times V times V) and that in French cube and cub sound the same (not that cub is a French word, but they would say it the same way). I’m not sure everyone in Bordeaux understands this, but that doesn’t stop them from using the bikes.

Bringing more VCub bikes to the station at the conservatory

An unusual feature of VCub in Bordeaux is VCub Predict, a function which predicts up to twelve hours in advance how many bicycles will be available at a certain station at a certain time. This function was developed by a local company called Qucit, which calls itself “a startup inventing new tools to make cities smarter.” (The name “Qucit” stands for “Create Efficient Cities”.)

They say the calculations for VCub Predict are “based on the four years of the VCub network and take into account the history of the occupation of stations (nearly ten million trips since 2010), the action of regulatory teams and specifics such as the date, time and the school calendar.” For greater accuracy, the predictions also take into account the local weather forecast and the number of bikes actually available when the prediction is calculated.

The predictions are can be seen on the computer terminals at all the VCub stations, on their Apps for Android and iPhone and on the VCub website.

VCub stations at Gare Saint Jean

These are the two VCub stations near the railway station Gare St Jean, one in the in the foreground and one on Rue St Vincent de Paul (further back, to the right). I used these two stations quite often because they were right in front of my hotel.

The VCub website explains: “V³ (pronounced VayCoob) docking stations are all next to bus and tram stops or train stations. They help you integrate cycling into your travel plans and get you right where you want to be: V³s mean speedier travel in the mornings, and they’re available at night when there are no trams or buses around. You can also use them to travel somewhere that isn’t served by public transport, or you can just borrow them for fun!”

Bicycle path by the Garonne River in Bordeaux

To travel by bicycle between my hotel and the city center, I often used this bicycle path along the Garonne River. Apparently the river banks have been upgraded in recent years, but since I don’t know how they were before, I can’t say how much has been changed.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Bordeaux, France.
See more posts on cycling in European cities.

2 thoughts on “Cycling in Bordeaux”

  1. This is very informative blog especially at a time when am promoting cycling in Mumbai. I have dropped an inquiry on the Copenhagenize website. Thanks for providing the link Don. I have mentioned that I read about them in your blog.

  2. Fascinating! Great informations! I think Bordeaux is a city, which I want to visit sonn. Thank you!
    Best regards
    Ulrike

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