2017 was the last year of the original, first-generation Vélib’ bike sharing system in Paris. The JCDecaux company, which had run the system since its inauguration in 2007, was willing to continue but failed to win the bidding. The new contract, for the fifteen years from 2018 to 2033, was awarded to a consortium called Smovengo, led by the French company Smoove, which already operates several bicycle sharing programs in smaller cities.
When I heard about this decision I was worried, not because of any particular prescience on my part, but merely because I had once tried unsuccessfully to access one of Smoove’s bike sharing systems, namely Vélopop’ in Avignon. As I wrote at the time, the problem was that “the Vélopop’ system accepted neither my German credit card nor my German debit card nor my German mobile phone number. To use Vélopop’ you have to have a mobile phone number with a maximum of ten digits — which means in effect that you have to have a French number, because any foreign number is bound to have more. My German number, when called from a French telephone, has fourteen digits.”
I briefly considered buying a French SIM card (SIM = subscriber identification module), which would have given me a French number, but that would have been rather expensive and would have caused other problems, so for my stay in Avignon I simply rented a bike from a local bicycle shop.
(Much later, for other reasons, I actually did buy a French SIM card, which I still carry with me for use as a backup when I am travelling.)
In any case, the JCDecaux company went on running the first-generation Vélib’ system for the rest of 2017. I visited Paris twice that year, and made good use of the bikes both times.
My first visit was in April, when I stayed in the 6th arrondissement at the Hôtel de l’Avenir (Hotel of the Future) on rue Madame, just a short block from the Luxembourg Gardens and the Vélib’ station 6009 on rue Guynemer.
My second visit was in July, when I stayed in the 5th arrondissement near the Sorbonne at the Hôtel Cujas Pantheon, which I knew from a previous visit.
From my photos, you might get the impression that nobody in Paris wears bicycle helmets — and that impression is very nearly correct. Helmets are not required for cycling in Paris, and hardly anybody wears them, though according to the Vélib’ website they are ‘strongly recommended’.
Personally, I do wear a helmet while cycling, but only because of my advanced age. I am well aware that if I were to be run over by a car or squashed by a right-turning truck, a helmet would not offer the slightest protection. But as an older person, I might just fall off my bike for no reason, or have a blackout or a dizzy spell or whatever. This has not happened so far, but if it does, I want to have at least a bit of protection for my head. So I always bring a helmet with me from home when I travel, and carry it in a small rucksack when I am walking around in Paris.
Nonetheless, I am happy that Paris does not require helmets, because that would lead to a huge reduction in the number of cyclists on the streets and make cycling all the more dangerous for the rest of us. I have discussed this further in one of my Amsterdam posts, called ‘Why the Dutch don’t wear bicycle helmets’. As I wrote there, “I have come to agree with the Dutch that mandatory helmet laws are totally unproductive, because the damage caused by not cycling far outweighs any slight increase in safety that a helmet might bring.”
My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2017. I wrote the text in 2020.
Next: Vélib’ 2018.