You’re in Paris. The sun is out, a cool breeze is blowing, café terraces and park lawns are full of sunbathing Parisians. The city is waiting to be explored, and you got up early enough that the day seems endless. Today is the perfect day to ride a bicycle.
Riding a bike in Paris can in fact be glorious, but if you want to cycle in this city, get ready to do some work.
Despite all the romantic pictures you’ve seen of ladies in flowing skirts with flowers and baguettes in their quaint bike baskets, cycling in Paris isn’t always beautiful. It’s often fast, dirty and sometimes a bit harrowing. But it’s also rewarding. Because when the sunlight hits the buildings just right and you get into the flow of navigating a tight Parisian street on two wheels, life feels really good.
Paris is a city of winding streets and grand boulevards; cars, buses, and pedestrians that don’t pay attention; and recklessly antsy scooter riders, ready to dodge a vehicle whenever the opportunity presents itself. Stop paying attention for a few minutes and you can get yourself into a lot of trouble.
This is not to deter you from cycling. On the contrary, I want you to embrace cycling in Paris – the more cyclists the better – but it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into. An added benefit of mastering vélo riding in Paris is that because it’s not always an easy city to ride in, you’ll feel especially accomplished once you learn to make your way through the network of streets and bike lanes. You will definitely deserve that glass of Sancerre when you saddle up to the wine bar later in the evening.
Yes, there are bike routes. Yes, people ride. But this is no Copenhagen or Amsterdam and sometimes you wonder how the bike lanes got designed, with all their odd and nonsensical turns. But you know what? Getting on a bicycle will help to push Paris onto that list, so keep riding! Here are a few tips to get you started navigating the City of Light on your bicyclette:
1. Ride smart
The most important thing to keep in mind is this: ride smart. Assume cars don’t see you. Signal. Pay attention to your surroundings. Be aware of what time of day you are riding (hint: avoid rush hour). If you want a calmer ride, ride on a Sunday, pack a picnic and enjoy a quieter day on the streets. Know that you may be in a lane that has a bike painted on it, but that doesn’t mean you’re only going to encounter cyclists. Chances are, you’re also in the lane designated for taxis and buses, so be on alert for traffic. If you’re nervous about riding in Paris for your first time, consider going on a bike tour. There are several companies in town that can help you master the city on two wheels, like Bike About, Fat Tire Bike Tours and Blue Bike Tours.
2. Get to know Vélib’
While it can come with frustrations, there are some great things about the Vélib’ bikeshare system:
- You don’t have to worry about bike maintenance
- You don’t need to carry a bike lock
- There is probably a Vélib’ station a stone’s throw away from anywhere that you are standing in Paris
- It’s bikeshare! It’s a program set up to get people on more bikes. What’s better than that?
Vélib’ is a great option for people visiting Paris, as well as locals who don’t want the hassle of owning a bike in town. The important thing with Vélib’ is to know what you’re doing before you start. Vélib’ is a system meant for getting from point A to point B – not for day-long rides – so be aware of how long you have had the bike out. If you don’t have a credit card with the gold “chip” on it (i.e. European bank cards), your card won’t work in the machine, so best to buy your ticket online before you set out to ride. The Vélib’ website is both in French and English and is very user-friendly. Get acquainted with it before you take out a Vélib’ for the first time. And if you’re in need of a route, check out Vélib’s Paris by Bike book, an excellent collection of routes and places to go.
3. Embrace serendipity
If you’re headed out on two wheels in Paris, it’s important to accept that you will get lost, and enjoy the process. Looking down at a map will be much more dangerous than accidentally ending up on a street you didn’t know existed. Cycling in Paris is often all about serendipity, letting the two wheels take you wherever they want to go.
Above all: be aware, know the traffic rules, be respectful, and remember: enjoy!
- Plan your next biking adventure in the city with Map My Ride, and don’t forget to peek at this map of Vélib’ stations in Paris.
- Looking to escape the city for a day? Here are a few great ideas for biking day trips from Paris.
- To take your bike game to the next level and purchase your own ride, here’s our guide to Paris’ Best Bike Shops.