More than four thousand red and white Velo-Antwerpen bikes are available for spontaneous short-term rentals at over three hundred docking stations throughout the city of Antwerp. They are intended for short trips around town.
To use the Velo-Antwerpen system, I registered online at their website for a one-day pass, using my German credit card. This entitled me to unlimited rides on a single day, as long as each ride was not longer than half an hour. For longer rides there are additional charges, but these can be avoided by docking the bike, waiting five minutes and checking it (or a different bike) out again.
I used the bikes intensively on that one day — it was a hot summer day in 2012 — and at the end of the month my credit card was billed for all of three Euros. Since then, the price for a day pass has gone up to four Euros, but that’s still a tremendous bargain. You can also get a weekly pass for ten Euros or a yearly pass for 49 Euros. The bikes are available 24/7, all year round.
The Velo-Antwerpen system works very much like Vélib’ in Paris or Vélo’v in Lyon, though it is run by a different company. The main difference is that Antwerp does not give you an extra fifteen minutes for riding uphill, as Paris does, simply because there aren’t any hills in Antwerp, so they don’t have that particular problem.
At each bike station there is a vertical column with a map, an LCD display and a numeric keyboard. The maximum number of slots to lock bicycles is 36, but some of the stations are double-sided.
The locking system is easy. You just lift the bike slightly and let the two rods fall into the two holes, and then the bike is locked and registered as returned. Gravity helps, and in my experience the mechanism works every time. In fact I found this easier than the docking system that was in use in Paris and Lyon at that time, where you sometimes had to resort to brute force if something was bent out of shape or you don’t get the metal tongue into the slit of the docking stand at the correct angle. (Paris has since changed to a new system that works better.)
The height of the bicycle seats is easily adjustable (as in most such bike sharing systems), so one standard bike can be used by people of all sizes.
While I was riding around Antwerp on the Velo-Antwerpen bikes, I never encountered a bike station that was completely empty or completely full. That is, I always found a bike if I needed one, and I always found a free docking space if I wanted to return my bike.
The distribution of bikes is mainly self-regulating, because people are constantly checking out bikes in and out at various stations. But in case of a serious imbalance, there is also a truck that redistributes the bikes as needed. It also picks up bikes that are in need of repair.
In case a station should be completely empty, the screen on the terminal will show the nearest stations with available bikes. You can also get this information from the Velo-Antwerpen website or from their app on your smartphone. If a station is full, you are given an extra 15 minutes to ride to another station where parking slots are available.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.