Biking in Paris
Biking in Paris may appear daunting; we have all seen the heavy traffic, you may already know about the confusing ‘priorité à droite’ (those coming from the right have priority, often when you least expect it), and there are plenty of scary stories about the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe! But so long as you know the rules and stick to the safe roads and cycle routes biking can be a fun and liberating way to see Paris.
Here are tips and things to know if you want to get on to two wheels in Paris.
Renting a bike
Whether you are trying to go from A to B without cramming yourself into a metro or bus, or whether you are looking for a more leisurely cycling tour in and around Paris, you are sure to be able to find the right bike rental option for you.
Using a bike as a means of transport
For short hops around town you can’t do much better than a velib. This urban bike rental scheme, the name appropriately meaning bicycle freedom (vélo-liberté), was launched in 2007 and has become a default transport option for both Parisians and tourists ever since. It has arguably made Paris a far more bike aware city. There are hundreds of Velib stations distributed around Paris which allow you to use a credit card to buy a daily or weekly subscription. The subscription cost is under 2€ per day although you must also agree to a 150€ deposit that is only taken if you do not return the bike. Once you have paid you will be given a ticket with your subscription number, each time you return a bike this subscription number will enable you to log in to other docking points to release a new one. Use the bike for less than 30 minutes at a time with a 30 minute gap between trips and you will not pay any further charges. Keep the bike all day and you will be charged extra for each hour but this may still be cheaper than other bike rentals options and you can also secure the bike with the built in ‘chain’ when you are not using it. For more info you can check out the website: en.velib.paris.fr. (NB. helmets and high visibility jackets aren’t included – if you feel more comfortable having them then it may be best to bring these with you, or you can pick them up relatively cheaply in a sports store like Decathlon or GoSport).
Essential Velib tips:
- If you are not given a subscription ticket after payment you may need to poke your finger inside the slot to release it. Blowing inside can also work well. Failing such DIY techniques there is a helpline number indicated on the screen after you have made payment. Without this ticket you will not be able to release further bikes.
- Always check the bike briefly before selecting it at the docking station. Flat tyres, missing chains, handle bars that are not straight can all be an issue. If you release a bike that you then see has a problem you should immediately redock it in order to log back in using your ticket and select a new bike without additional charge. If the saddle is turned backwards then there is a good chance that a previous rider is trying to signal an issue.
- If there are no docking spaces where you want to stop, and especially if you are trying to complete your journey without paying additional charges, you can log into that docking station using your ticket to receive an extra 15 minute allowance for you to find an alternative docking station.
Using a bike for tourism or sport
If you want to go further afield, or if you just plan to keep a bike for a few hours or even a few days, we would recommend the more traditional bike rental shops. There are likely to be various options around the area of your stay but here are some places to try:
- BikeAboutTours (www.bikeabouttours.com) rent bikes from their central office (just behind the Hotel de Ville), and they also recommend routes and areas to explore.
- ParisBikeTour (www.parisbiketour.net) rent bikes from their central office (13 rue Brantôme, 75003) and can also deliver and pick up from your door.
- Paris Cycles (www.pariscycles.fr) rent bikes in the Bois de Boulogne, you can find them at the roundabout in front of the Jardin d’Acclimatation. They have a recommended route around this big park for you and your family. Baby seats are also available.
- Gepetto & Vélos (www.gepetto-velos.com) rent bikes from the 5th arrondissement, not far from the Arenes de Lutece (59, rue du Cardinal Lemoine).
- Neovelo (www.neovelo.fr) rent electrically assisted bikes from the 15th arrondissement (27, rue de Cronstadt). These are ideal if you need a little extra help.
- Holland Bikes (www.hollandbikes.com) rent bikes from the 16th arrondissement, near the Arc de Triomphe, and from the 15th, near Porte de Versailles. Electric bikes and ‘cargo’ bikes (for transporting children?) are available here.
- Paris à velo c’est sympa (www.parisvelosympa.com) rent bikes in the 11th, between Bastille and République (22 rue Alphonse Baudin).
Choosing a route
With around 400 km of dedicated bike lanes, riverbanks and canal paths, mazes of cosy back streets and all of these options in a city that is relatively flat, Paris is certainly a city to see on two wheels.
Whilst we advocate just exploring and getting lost in the backstreets of Paris, it is still wise to have an overall plan in mind, if only to make sure you don’t stray too far from cycle friendly zones, and/or out of your own comfort zone. The Mairie de Paris has issued a map of the cycle paths in the city and its parks. It is certainly worth downloading a copy if you get chance: available here. Otherwise, keep our map of Paris handy and follow the signs for bike paths wherever you see them. If you have experience of urban biking then you are probably confident enough to just go and explore but if you are a nervous biker, or if you don’t have much practice, then it may be best to start off slow in one of the two big parks (Bois de Boulogne to the west or Bois de Vincennes to the east) and see how you feel about venturing into town afterwards. Rush hour is obviously to be avoided by all but the most confident urban cyclists whilst, at the other extreme, Sundays are incredibly quiet for a big city and even the most cautious cyclists should feel comfortable getting in the saddle.
Some route suggestions are:
- Along the Seine: Why not bike from the Eiffel Tour to the Cathedral de Notre Dame along the banks of the Seine? It is particularly safe on a Sunday when the riverside roads are closed to cars. This can be one of the highlights of a visit to Paris. Bring a french picnic and sit next to the river when you get hungry.
- Along the Canal St. Martin: Bike paths follow the canal along its entire length. It is a beautiful and relaxing place to explore.
- Through the Marais: The maze of narrow streets is perfect for exploring on a bike. They are lined with some of the oldest buildings in Paris, and there is very little vehicle traffic. The area is pedestrianised on Sundays making it even calmer, but cyclists should also only travel at walking pace, and give way to the pedestrians.
- Around the Bois de Bologne or the Bois de Vincennes: These two big parks are the largest green spaces in Paris and offer many kilometers of bike trails. NB: cycling is not allowed in most of the central parks.
There are some official waymarked bike routes that connect the different parts of the city. These are numbered and color-coded; you will find the signs around the city, and well as the routes marked on maps.
Bike tours of Paris
The thought of navigating round an unfamiliar city and traffic system can be a little daunting. It is also fair to say that you can get bogged down in the navigation and forget to look at what you are riding past, or simply not know what to look out for. To help you get the most out of your adventure, you may prefer to be guided around Paris, and you will have no shortage of options.
Free ‘guided’ bike rides
A free, no booking necessary, bike tour takes place every Friday night! It is run by biking enthusiasts, and has been going since 1998. The ride starts at 22h sharp from Hôtel de Ville (aim to get there at 21h30 to make sure you don’t miss the start) and lasts around 2h15, covering approximately 20km. The route changes each week, with a map and description of the route posted on the website (in French) – it is a great way to see Paris by night, without having to worry about getting lost! If you want to join the 100s of cyclists that take part each week all you need to do is turn up with your bike and follow the staff! There is also a ride on the 3rd Sunday of the month, meet at 10h30 for an 11h start. For more details check out the website: www.parisrandovelo.fr. (NB: the ride can be cancelled for safety reasons of any kind: either the lack of security staff or extreme weather conditions – remember it is for your benefit!).
A selection of Bike tours
We haven’t actually tried all the bikes tours, so the only first hand experience we can share with you here is seeing streams of happy faced bikers as they follow their tour guide around the city. A selection of the tour operators that we have had recommendations for are:
- BikeAboutTours (www.bikeabouttours.com) offer tours for relatively small groups, provide insider tips and secrets, and have English-speaking guides. Whilst you meet in front of Notre Dame and will get to see the sights of Paris, these tours also take you off the tourist trail and on to the charming back streets and into areas that many tourists miss. The tour stops for lunch at a favourite local boulangerie. They also provide tours of Versailles and the Champagne region if you are looking to go further afield.
- ParisBikeTour (www.parisbiketour.net) offer the traditional bike tour, or a bike and market tour with food tasting, and even a bike tour with museum access. Their bike tours can follow a classic route through central Paris, a themed tour or be tailor made for you. The bike and market tour lets you taste and experience Paris like a Parisian. You can also combine a bike tour with a guided museum visit. These are great ways to spend time with people who know and love the city, and want to share it with you. They also provide walking tours (including a chocolate tour) if you fancy exploring a little bit of Paris with a Parisian.
- FatTireBikeTours (paris.fattirebiketours.com) offer both day and night tours of the city. On the day tour, you will see the famous sights, get your bearings on the city and hear interesting information and stories as you go. The day tour stops for lunch in one of the cafes in the Jardin de Tuilleries. The night tour takes a different, and longer, route with a little less information but all the fantasy of the city lit up at night; this one doesn’t include a stop for dinner, but you do stop for Berthillon icecream and go for a boat tour with wine! They also offer tours of Versailles and Giverny (famous for Monet’s paintings) if you are looking for a day trip out of the city.
- BlueBikeTours (www.bluebiketours.com) offer the classic, night and secrets tours. They have a very good reputation. The ‘Best of Paris’ takes you up close to a lot of the main monuments with a local guide, you will also stop at a local french market. The ‘hidden treasures’ tour takes you to hidden courtyards and ancient ruins. The night tour shows you the lights of Paris, including a trip up the Montparnasse tower for a fabulous view, with a guide. They also offer full and half days tours of Versailles if you are looking for a different adventure.
- Paris a vélo c’est sympa (www.parisvelosympa.com) offers three tours: the ‘Heart of Paris’ in the historical centre, ‘Unusual Paris’ looking at artists’ studios and the ‘villages’ of Paris, and ‘Paris Contrast’ with nature and modern architecture. You can do the ‘Heart of Paris’ tour either in the day or at night. The programmed tours are over the weekend, but you can request other times and dates for a group tour.
- Holland Bikes (www.hollandbikes.com) offer the classic tour of the main sites or a tour of the secrets of Paris. They also offer a tour at night, and private tours. You are invited to take along a picnic and drinks.
For around €30 they each provide you with a bike for their tours (around 4h), a guide, and insurance – an easy, stress free way to get in the saddle for a day.
Rules of the road
Respect the rules of the road to stay safe. Some rules to know:
- In France, we drive on the right (pretty basic stuff, but it has to be said!),
- Priority is given to the right (cars coming from sideroads on the right have priority, as do those entering a roundabout),
- Never pass a vehicle on the right hand side, especially lorries and buses who have a bigger blind spot,
- Make clear arm signals when turning and changing lanes,
- Do not ride on pavements (unless these are clearly marked as being shared bike lanes, or you are under 8 years old),
- Do not go the wrong way down one-way streets (unless it is clearly marked that you are allowed to do so),
- Respect traffic signals and lights. Whilst you will see a lot of cyclists completely ignoring red lights throughout the city, this is clearly both unsafe and illegal. You risk both your life and a fine of 90€ if you adopt this same practice. If a light turns red for you then sit back and relax, and take the opportunity to have a good look around you, you may be surprised by a detail that you may otherwise have missed.
Other things to know to help stay safe:
- If there is a dedicated bike lane, you should use it,
- Be careful not to ride too close to parked cars, you never know when someone is going to open a door causing you to either swerve in front of other traffic, or ride into it,
- It may be easiest to pull over and get off the bike to use a pedestrian crossing than to navigate across multiple lanes of traffic to turn left,
- Don’t assume that just because you have right of way that you will be given it – stay alert and stay safe. Some (not all, thankfully) taxi drivers and bus drivers can be very obnoxious and put you in potentially dangerous situations – this is a problem with their attitude, not yours. Rise above it, let them go on ahead and continue you ride in peace.
- Helmets and high visibility jackets aren’t needed legally unless you leave the city itself, but it is probably worth using them if you can.
- Many of the bike lanes are coupled with pedestrian paths, if you are coming up behind someone walking, don’t assume that they know you are there – ring your bell gently to let them know so as to avoid any unnecessary accidents.
Other things to know
Biking has become a little subculture of its own in Paris. Don’t be alarmed if other cyclists pull up alongside you at the lights and try to strike up a conversation, they are just being friendly so smile and say ‘Bonjour’.
You can take bikes on to trains and RERs for free outside of commuter rush hour times. However, you cannot take bikes on the metro system (except for on line 1 on a Sunday).