Articles and Photos by David "Q." May All rights reserved ©2001-2012
This page last updated on: October 23, 2012
Cycling in Paris and the Île de France Region
Rent a bicycle in Paris, take your bike on the RER or Metro, cycle in Paris, park your bike.
On this page:
lodging, tourist sights
Touring bicycles of good quality are unavailable to rent in Paris.
For information on obtaining hybrids or Road Bikes in France and Europe , as well as accessories, please refer to the author's site EuropeBicycleTouring.com, specifically the page about renting or bring or buying a bicycle for European tours.
In Paris, while there is a good selection of locations renting city bicycles and tandem city bicycles, and one location will even rent you a racing bicycle or a folding bicycle (Allovelo) it is probably impossible to rent a bicycle that will make you happy for several days of touring out of Paris with panniers. For up to date information on the cycles available, I suggest an Internet search with the terms "velo location Paris". For a suburban rental, use the name of the desired suburb, for example Versailles or Fontainbleau. My recent searches have not turned anything up.
For city bicycles (upright position bicycles with chain guards, heavy frames, and wide tires), there are many choices.
For very short term rentals, consider a clunky bicycle rented by the city government of Paris under the name of Velib see the Internet site in English: en.velib.paris.fr.
This city government system, with thousands of bicycles located all over Paris in "stations", allows you to rent a bicycle for one-half hour or less at no cost, and for longer at rapidly increasing rates, providing you have taken out a subscription (inexpensive). Residents of Paris who wish an annual subscription to the rental service pay a €150 deposit and a $29 annual fee by mail. Those who wish to subscribe by the day or week do so at the automatic computer terminals located at the bicycle stations, paying €1.70 for a day subscription and €8 for a week-long subscription. You need a credit card for the day and weekly subscriptions, and presumably you are charged at least €150 if you don't return the bicycle. You can search in advance for bicycle rental stations by entering your address on the velib internet site mentioned above, but in theory they will soon be located every few hundred meters throughout Paris.
You can usually get from one point to another within Paris by bicycle within the free one-half hour. (There is no need to return the bicycle at the same station that you rented it from.) The second 30 minutes costs €1. The third 30 minutes costs €2 ,and the fourth and subsequent 30 minutes cost €4.
Since you can rent a better quality city bike from many bicycle rental shops for around €15 per day or €10 per half-day (2012), it does not make sense to rent Velib bicycles for more than two or three hours at a time for an extended tour of Paris; However, you can always turn your bicycle in, and rent it back, or another one, immediately thereafter.
There can also be glitches in the Velib system, although the City of Paris is working hard to eliminate them. A station can be out of bicycles when you wish to rent, or full when you wish to return. In this case the station's automatic computer terminal is supposed to direct you to nearby stations with availability, and, if you are returning, give you a time credit. The popularity of the system has made it initially difficult to get a bicycle, but stations are being rapidly added. There are also problems of some bicycles having stolen or broken chains, flats, or bent-up wheels. When a bike is unusable, the emerging convention seems to be to reverse the seat. There are roving teams of repairers, and a boat that plies the Seine for more difficult repairs. The author of this site would appreciate feedback from readers with experience using the Velib system.
City bikes rarely break down, and distances within Paris are small. If you will be biking for more than one day, or taking a city bike out of Paris proper, you may wish to ask your rental company for some tools, or visit a neighborhood hardware store.
The author finds cycling in Paris exhilarating! Paris is beautiful. The streets are very smooth. You move along faster (often) than stalled automobile traffic and even than most buses with their constant stops. Only taxis pass you by. A subway trip across Paris which involved two line changes took 40 minutes door to door. The same trip by bike took only 20 minutes. This is not to criticize the subway: It is very frequent, relatively fast, clean, and convenient. What I find exhilarating, you may well consider harrowing and dangerous. Judge for yourself the emotional and physical risks involved! And by all means be careful to cross traffic only at lights, and to ride out from parked cars! I consider the possibility of hitting a suddenly opened car door to be the greatest risk that city cyclists face.
Personally, when I am a short term visitor in Paris, I prefer walking, buses, and taxis as better tourism options than cycling. I believe you will see and experience much more as a walker, or from a bus or taxi, than you will as a cyclist: As a cyclist you must concentrate on the road, traffic, and pedestrians. However, Velib is a very good option for rapid point to point transportation.
Biking out of Paris is perhaps best reserved for longer-term residents of Paris, and for those staying for several weeks or more who want to make an excursion to the suburbs and the countryside, as well as for those who are making a bicycle tour of France that starts in, ends in, or traverses Paris.
To travel about Paris on a bicycle for business or pleasure, you will use a network of bike lanes (as opposed to separated bike paths), that are often full lanes shared with taxis and buses, and sometimes separate narrow lanes for bicycles only, usually in the street, but sometimes divided off by a one- or two-foot high barrier.. New bike lanes are being added every year. Pedestrians may step out; cars may park illegally; taxis or buses may stop; alertness is required at all times. Watch out especially for motor scooters, which weave between lanes and often ignore traffic rules. When no bike lane exists, which is often, bikers ride with traffic.
A handful of true bike paths, separated from traffic, exist within Paris! They are discussed, along with other well-sheltered bike paths, in this site's detailed directions for biking out of Paris. However, you usually won't find these useful for going around Paris itself.
To see an excellent bike map of Paris, visit the page http://www.paris.fr/viewmultimediadocument?multimediadocument-id=66231
Paris is only a few kilometers across, so twenty minutes on a bike will take you between most destinations. The author has several native French, Parisian friends who use their bicycles for most of their Paris transportation. Surprisingly, accidents are quite rare. When automobiles are parked at curb-side, I personally always ride out in traffic, away from the parked car doors that may be opened unexpectedly. I believe car doors to be the greatest hazard facing cyclists.
If you find the street you are riding on too crowded or dangerous, consider walking your bike on the sidewalk. In half-an-hour or an hour of walking you can cross a large swath of Paris. Walking in Paris is always interesting and rewarding.
Try to avoid riding during rush hours. Also avoid, on non-summer weekdays, the 2nd, 3rd, and 10 arrondissements, starting about 10 blocks north of the Seine (north of Chatelet) and running north to the Gare de l'Est and the Gare du Nord railway stations. This is Paris' main wholesale garment and notions district. The bike lanes can be choked with traffic and parked cars. If it is necessary to bike to these railway stations from the Seine, the best choice is to follow the Canal Saint Martin from the Bastille, and cut across west to the stations. Or, despite its many lanes and traffic, take Boulevard de Strasbourg, which usually does not have parked cars blocking traffic. In summer, however, it is fine and even enjoyable to ride the side streets.
The best way of avoiding traffic on Paris streets, and pollution as well, is to ride early in the morning, before 7:30 a.m., or even 8:00 AM on weekdays and Saturdays, and before 9:00 or even 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. Riding early through Paris can be a magical experience.
Special Closures and free, patrolled, Group Biking
On Saturdays and Sundays, from March to November (possibly now year-round: check) and always during July and August, the lower highway on the Right Bank of the Seine is closed to motorized traffic from the Tuilleries to the Pont Charles De Gaulle. Bikers share the highway with "rollers" and pedestrians. Since the views along the Seine are spectacular, this is a popular outing. A "beach", complete with sand, palm trees and parasols is established along the lower highway during July and August (since, 2002); this attracts so many visitors that it is practically impossible to walk, much less to cycle.
Additional closures take place along the left bank quai in the 7th Arrondissement, and in the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes.
For planning, obtain a métro, RER, local train map, available in all métro stations, or perhaps as part of your Paris guide book.
As of this writing (October 2012), bicycles are not allowed on the métros (subways), except on line 1 (Vincennes – Defense) on Sundays and holidays until 4:30 PM (and never at stations Louvre–Rivoli and La Défense). Fortunately, RERs cover much of Paris.
For the RERs (regional express network), the situation, described in the following three paragraphs, is complicated:
For all Ile-de-France regional trains and RER C, D, E (which are part of the train system), bike entry is permitted at any time on weekends and holidays; and on weekdays towards Paris except between 6:30 and 9:00 AM, and away from Paris except between 4:30 AND 7:00 PM. You can change from these lines to RER A and B (which are managed by the subway-bus system) except during both rush hour periods.
With RER lines A and B you must put your bike in cars at the extremities of the trains, which have a bicycle pictogram. You can travel any time on weekends and holidays. On weekdays, you may not travel in either direction during any rush hour period.
Good news! The RER has now opened all stations to entry and exit by bicycles, providing that you don't take your bicycle on the escalators.
However, many RER platforms for lines A, B & D are without elevators and deep underground, so you would face countless flights of steps. You don't want to take your bike into them without reconnoitering. For Line B to the airport, suggested Paris stations are the Gare du Nord on the right bank (elevators) and the Port Royal station on the left, where the platforms are very close to the surface . Not all Line B trains go to the airport. Check the video terminals.
You are responsible for your bike. You must always walk your bike in the stations You should ask the ticket seller or any other official to open the gate that bypasses the turnstiles. You need your ticket both to enter and to exit the RER system.
Some RER stations now have special entrances and exits designed for bicycles, strollers and major luggage. You roll your bike into a large glass-enclosed space and a door closes behind you. You put your ticket into a slot and remove it to cause another door ahead of you to open. Very nifty.
For a discussion on how to transport or ride your bicycle from either Charles De Gaulle Airport or from Orly Airport into Paris, please go to this page.
Are you bringing your bicycle to Paris and looking for a place to park it out of harm's way? Three options are: 1) lock it on the street; 2) store it at a railway station; 3) keep it at your hotel.
In many neighborhoods of Paris, bicycles are found locked to the grills along the street, or to the specific poles for that purpose in some special parking areas for "two wheels" (used mainly by motorcycles). However, except occasionally during the day, you will not find a top quality bike locked up this way. The ones that are locked up would probably not fetch much if stolen and sold. If you plan to lock your bike on the street, you probably ought to bring two fairly heavy u-bar or chain locks, one for the front wheel and one for the rear wheel and frame, and a third lighter weight lock for the seat (or remove your seat). Then strip your bike of any easily removed or valuable accessories. Chose a spot to lock your bike in plain view of passers by. Leave your bike there for only a short time, and not overnight.
The second alternative is to lock your bike at manned luggage room (consigne) in either of two railway stations. The information below is believed to be correct in the winter of 2012.
A few other railroad stations have automatic lockers for bags, but these cannot store a bicycle.
3) The third alternative is to store your bike at your hotel. This is an excellent solution, that works almost without exception in the countryside, but in central Paris only a few hotels will accept bicycles, because there is no place to put them. I asked around a bit some years ago, and found several moderate priced and inexpensive hotels that will accept one or two bicycles. Do try calling several hotels personally, being very polite, and probably you will find one accepts bikes. Hotels with a small courtyard or luggage room are possible candidates. Even after an inti tal "no", people may empathize with your situation, if it is explained. Explain what you are doing and ask the hotel if they have any suggestions. Maybe they will.
You may start your trip from the center of Paris, or leave Paris by a regional train. To get to and from the railway stations from your lodging, or to get to any of the bike routes leaving Paris, you must ride or walk your bike in Paris. Once at the start of the bike routes described on this site, you will be mainly sheltered from traffic, and often on a bike path.
Because the routes suggested below avoid traffic and use bike paths, they generally do not pass food stores. One good method for avoiding hunger is to leave Paris with a bottle of spring (or regular) water, a sandwich, and some energy food. Another is to deviate from the route to a nearby shopping area -- perhaps to buy a chocolate éclair, or other tempting, usually fattening alternatives. Some cyclists may prefer to visit local restaurants or snack bars. The itineraries occasionally mention such alternatives.
For information on bringing bicycles on long distance trains to reach a cycling destination, please see my sister site EuropeBicycleTouring.com.