Cycling in Lyon

Lyon has an excellent bicycle sharing system called Vélo’v, which is a combination of the French word Vélo, meaning bicycle, and the English word Love.

Vélo’v was not the first bike sharing program in France, by any means, but when it was inaugurated in 2005 is was the largest. It was such a huge success that it gave the Paris mayor and city council the confidence to start a similar but even larger program, Vélib’, just two years later.

Checking out bikes at the opera house

When I arrived in Lyon in 2011 I bought a one-week Vélo’v subscription which I made very good use of. I went everywhere by Vélo’v, using dozens of bikes each day, and when I got my credit card invoice at the end of the month I found that they had billed me all of three Euros — even cheaper than in Paris!

Returning a Vélo’v bike at Place Voltaire

Prices have gone up since then, but it’s still quite a bargain. As of 2017, a one-day ticket costs € 1.50, a seven-day ticket costs € 5.00 and a one-year ticket costs € 25.00 — but a hefty price increase has been announced for 2018.

After you have bought a ticket, you can use the bikes as often as you wish, and the first thirty minutes of each ride are free. If you keep a bike longer than half an hour you pay one Euro for the second half-hour and two Euros for each half-hour thereafter. (These prices are also scheduled to change, mainly upwards, in 2018.)

In any case, Vélo’v is still a bargain for short rides but would get very expensive it you kept the same bike for a longer period. Hardly anyone actually does that, however. Before the end of the first half hour you can simply dock your bike at any Vélo’v station, wait two minutes and take another one. (Or the same one again.) And again the first half hour is free.

Vélo’v users at Place Bellecour

All the Vélo’v stations accept “international bank cards”, meaning cards that conform to the EMV norm. EMV stands for “Europay, MasterCard and Visa”, which together have established international standards for cards using an “EMV chip”. In earlier years most American and Australian credit cards did not have EMV chips (some still don’t, apparently) so they didn’t work at the Vélib’ stations in Paris or the Vélo’v stations in Lyon. My German credit card has an EMV chip so it worked fine when I bought my one-week ticket at the Vélo’v station “2025 Mercière / Ferrandière” near my hotel.

Shopping by Vélo’v on Rue Victor Hugo

Vélo’v provides “solid, comfortable bikes, available for anyone to use, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” At last count there were 348 Vélo’v stations in Lyon and the neighboring city of Villeurbanne, with over 4000 bicycles.

Now the Vélo’v system in Lyon gives you an extra half hour of cycling time if you ride uphill and dock your bike at one of the higher stations. (Double the credit you get in Paris.)

Unlike Paris, where the bike sharing system will be run by a new company starting in 2018, the Lyon system will continue to be run by the JCDecaux company for another fifteen years.


Cycling at the City Hall

When I was in Lyon I was told that the use of bicycles for urban transportation in Lyon had doubled since the beginning of the 21st century, which sounded impressive until I realized that they had started out with a modal split for bicycle use of only 1 % of total trips within the city. So they had doubled that to 2 %, but as the Association Déplacements Citoyens (ADC) commented: “This is still extremely weak in comparison with other French cities (Strasbourg, Bordeaux, …) and five to ten times weaker than in certain European cities (in Switzerland, the Netherlands)”.

Just for comparison: Lyon’s German partner city, Frankfurt am Main, claims to have reached its interim goal of 15% bicycle use. Other cities such as Münster, Groningen, Amsterdam and Copenhagen have 30% to 40% or even more, depending on what is counted as what. (Statistics on the modal split are notoriously imprecise, so I’m quoting them only to give a rough idea of the differences.) 

Cycling by the Rhône River

I personally found Lyon a very pleasant city to cycle in, but I was there on a long holiday weekend when there was relatively little motor traffic and lots of people were out on bikes.

Bike up on the balcony at Place Voltaire

One reason for the popularity of bicycle sharing programs in Europe is that people who live in apartment buildings often have no convenient place to store a bike of their own. Here at least someone has found space for a bicycle on a balcony up on the fifth or sixth floor of a building near Place Voltaire. (Hopefully there is an elevator in the building.)

My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2017.

See more cycling posts.
See more posts on Lyon, France.

5 thoughts on “Cycling in Lyon”

  1. I didn’t realise you could take the same bicycle out again after 2mins. If it were the only bicycle there and someone else had been waiting I guess you would be supposed to let them have it?
    By way of note Aussie cards now are all issued with chips (have been for a couple of years) so 90% plus would have chips by now. Mine do.

    1. Hi Linda. Yes, I was surprised about that, too. I was in Lyon on a long Easter weekend when lots of people were out on bikes, but apparently that’s not how it is on normal work days.

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