faire du vélib
September 4, 2013 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be doing two medium-long (6-8 hour) layovers in Paris soon and I want to spend them riding around on a bike using the Velib bikeshare system. What are the best places to do this, using one of the RER B stations as a jumping-off point?

I'll be traveling from Charles de Gaulle, terminal 2E. I've looked at some past questions and it seems like I can take the RER B straight into town and get off at a few different stations: Gare du Nord, Châtelet/Les Halles, Jardin du Luxembourg. I don't know which of these would be the best starting point.

I did all of the mandatory Paris things as a teenager and I can skip the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc. I'd like to avoid anything that will be mobbed with tourists. I'm interested in cool architecture, lesser-known historical sites (I love little plaques like "An anarchist tried to blow this up in 1889" or whatever), neighborhoods with lots of personality, nice parks. I commute by bike at home so I'm comfortable riding in city traffic. I speak decent French.

Will I have trouble using an American Visa card in the Velib machine? It's a pretty new card but it doesn't have the little gold smart-chip that's apparently mandatory for French automated machines. It seems like I can buy a 24 hour pass ahead of time on the Velib website, but it's not clear to me if I still need to swipe my card on arrival if I do that. If this is a problem, is there some way to buy a Velib pass with cash?

(Long shot bonus question) Is there a well-known store for indie comics in Paris? Something like the equivalent of Quimby's in Chicago or Desert Island in NYC?
posted by theodolite to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure about Visa, but my non-chipped American Express has worked fine for me (most recently in June/July), and others have reported success with Amex for years when Visa/MC didn't work. Any chance that's an option for you?

If you haven't visited any of the big cemeteries, I totally recommend popping by Père-Lachaise. People treat it as a peaceful park, and all the tiny "neighborhoods" of mausoleums/monuments are really a sight to see.
posted by ktkt at 3:03 PM on September 4, 2013

Châtelet les halles would be your best starting point out of the three, and it's not too far from my favourite comic book store Album. Getting a bit late now in Paris but will drop back into the thread tomorrow with some more thoughts.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:04 PM on September 4, 2013

You can really cycle anywhere in central Paris. The bike lanes are exceptionally good and the celibate system is amazingly fun. I'd start at the basin de la villette and follow the canal down to the river. Then along the river to the ile de la cite, then back across the river and around the Marais.
posted by mani at 3:17 PM on September 4, 2013

Response by poster: Amex is not an option, unfortunately. Also, a friend has just informed me that Aaapoum Bapoum is the place to go for comix - it looks like it's more or less right between the Luxembourg and Les Halles stations.

the celibate system is amazingly fun

I've tried it, but it's just not for me.
posted by theodolite at 3:23 PM on September 4, 2013

Best answer: When we were in Paris last year, our US Visa cards didn't work at the Velib kiosk, but we could and did use those Visa numbers to enroll online. Worked great!
posted by Sublimity at 4:10 PM on September 4, 2013

You didn't ask about this specifically, but I would warn you that last year when I used this system for a full week in Paris, I had huge problems finding Velib stations that weren't full. So I'd take a bike, and then try to return it and usually have to visit four or five places before I found one with an available stand. Which meant I usually got charged for keeping the bike for longer than whatever the free time is, and also ended up quite a way away from the location where I wanted to end up. It wasn't a total deal breaker, but just something to be prepared for.
posted by lollusc at 10:13 PM on September 4, 2013

Best answer: You can't use a non-chip card at a Velib stand, and some stands don't even have a kiosk, which means you can't check out a bike with a paper velib day pass (you'd have to be a resident and have velib on your navigo pass which you can swipe right at the bike slot itself). But with a paper day pass all you need are the numbers to punch in so I'm not sure why you'd need your credit card at all if you can buy in advance on the website. When you buy a day pass at a kiosk, you get a code and a pin, both of which you enter in order to pull out a bike from a slot. All the kiosks have the option to change the interface language to English.

About the overtime charges, if you go to a stand that is full and want to return your bike, you can enter your pass number and get extra time added to your rental for free so that you don't get charged. You can do this multiple times if for some reason the stands near you are all full. The kiosk will also show you the closest nearby velib locations along with the number of bikes and free slots at each. So this is useful not only when you're trying to return a bike, but when you are at a totally empty stand looking for one. The stands at Gare du Nord are almost always empty, but there are a number of locations in that area. Another velib tip is that when bikes are found to be defective in some way, people turn the seats around (facing backwards) so that you don't waste your time. If you see only one bike at a large stand and the seat is turned backwards, it's very likely that the bike doesn't work in some way (flat tire, etc).
posted by tractorfeed at 11:31 AM on September 5, 2013

Something else to know about the ticket you'll get to go in to Paris on the RER: it also works as a metro ticket, so you are not limited to the RER B stops exclusively. For example, if you wanted to go to Pere Lachaise, you could get off at Gare du Nord and then take the 2 metro line using the same ticket (also note that either way you do have to use your ticket at the end of your RER journey, even if you don't go on to use it on the metro, so don't discard or fold it once on the train). Essentially this means that you can go anywhere in Paris you can get to using the metro.
posted by tractorfeed at 2:59 AM on September 6, 2013

« Older Hazelnuts: Recipes, storage ideas and processing...   |   How do I put my great-grandmother's 'Writing... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.