Day 604: Renting a Bike in Paris

Paris really is in the past already but the pace we had there made it kind of impossible to write any blog posts while in the City of Lights. Now, in Bath, safely tucked away in one of it sleepier regions and house sitting again, I finally have the time. You see, Bath, and actually the entire UK, is a home ground for me. I feel relaxed. I do go exploring but I’m not so nervous about it. I know I shall return to the UK sooner or later, I always do. I think that no years go by without a visit or two to the country. It has been like this since 2011 when I lived here. Went to university and stuff. But that’s a whole lot of another story. In Paris, I was frantic to see things, walk a lot, explore the hell out of that place. I had a list to tick and limited time to do so. Thus, when we woke up in the mornings, we first went for a run in the Luxembourg Gardens, then showered, ate, and darted off to see Paris. The usual stuff, as you can see from my Instagram feed: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre (with its Mona Lisa madness), Sacre de Coeur, a glance at the Notre Dame… The days grew into nights so quickly and we were knackered once we reached back to our hotel. Even when we wanted to “call it an early night”, we didn’t get back before 9.30pm, our feet hurting, our dormant injuries quietly nagging our legs, surfacing. So, no, no blog posts, although I did write a couple of drafts. Inside my head, that is. Let’s see whether I will get back to them. On the other hand, thousands of people have already written about the famous sights. So now, let’s focus on a bike rental instead that we used in Paris.

Let’s hear it for…

…Donkey Republic!

First I discovered Velib, which is quite a big name in Paris and has stations all over the place. However, it turned out that Paris has more than one bike scheme to offer. There are also the electrical LimeBike scooters, the Mobikes, electrical Jump Bikes by Uber. Maybe there is something else, I kind of remember some other bikes lurking in the corner of my eye but can’t recall their name.

Were we to rent Velib bikes, we would have had to pay a daily subscription fee of €5 + fees for the time used. I calculated that with Velib, we’d have paid €7-8 each for each day used. We went for the Donkey Bikes which only require you to pay for the actual time spent on them. Ended up spending €6 per person (daily cost). Honestly, we could have cycled a bit faster and ended up paying a bit less but the traffic is a bit of nutcase in Paris (about this later).

How does the rental work?

Downloading the app was easy. Luckily, you can rent several bikes from one phone, so this makes the hassle a bit lesser. Maybe. Finding the station was fine, there was one with bikes available just 200 metres from our hotel. The stations are unlike the docking stations you might have seen around. There are no docks. Instead, the bikes have a locking mechanism on the rear wheel. There is also a solid padlock, should you need to park your bike for a while and retrieve it later. But getting the bike in the first place could be quite a chore! We did have trouble with it. You need to turn on both your 4G Internet and Bluetooth for it to work. Once you choose to rent a bike, the app connects to the lock via Bluetooth (this can take time), the lock clicks and the rear wheel is then free to move. It took us several tries before we understood the whole process. Honestly, the Nextbike scheme that I used in Cardiff was much easier as it involved just scanning a QR code and the bike was mine. I occasionally used it to quickly get from the Cyncoed campus (Cardiff Metropolitan Unviersity) to the city centre if I had a bus to catch. The distance was almost 5K, so the bike made my life much easier.

The convenient phone holder

Back to the Donkey now!

The saddles are adjustable so you can choose the height most suitable to you. I didn’t get it at first but it is actually quite easy to do. There is also a place for your bag at the rear and a convenient phone holder at front. Very great if you use Google Maps to navigate your way around!

Once you are done with your ride, you need to locate a place where to leave the bike. Usually, what we did, was: reached our destination (Eiffel Tower, etc.), then got the phone out and searched for the nearest designated parking space, parked the bikes and went to the attraction. There are lots of spots for the bikes, no worries. However, ending the rental does involve a dance with your phone’s 4G and Bluetooth as the app communicates with the lock. Definitely more annoying than simply pushing the bike into a dock, so wouldn’t recommend the Donkeys when you are racing against the clock. On a tourist trip when you can go at a leisurely pace, they are fine. You will get the hang of them. But yes, the communication between the lock and the app is a bother…

Is Cycling Safe in Paris?

Bike rental bikes are heavy urban bikes and you are quite unlikely to pass other riders (with normal bikes) like the wind. Possibly, there shall be many passing you instead. While riding in Paris, I tracked the rides and let’s say, that I usually even run faster than cycle on the Donkeys (unless it’s a really slow recovery run). So, you will probably be slow.

Cycling Lanes?

Yes, kind of. Some are awesomely separate from the rest of the road but many are actually shared with public transport – buses, taxis -, and the occasional speeding ambulance cars. The buses do honk their horns when they approach, giving you a warning but also freaking you out. They do drive pretty fast at times. But don’t be afraid, these shared lanes are quite fine, really. But… on the bigger streets, there are traffic lights like every 200-300 metres. If you are an obedient citizen, worried about your safety, you will be stopping a lot! (and pausing your fitness tracker if you are like me) Unless there’s a green wave. Our rides in Paris were short-ish, 6-7 km to an attraction and back again later. But it took us so much time! However, wouldn’t have had it any other way, nothing like an easy bike ride for the sore legs (from running and walking).

Oh, and Paris is a bit hilly as well! There are quite steep ones in the Montmartre region (if you decide to climb up to the Sacre Coeur cathedral which I do recommend) but the real killers are the sneaky never-ending ones. The good thing about them? Should you need to go the other direction, you are riding downhill! Until a red light stops you…

Final tip: You can ride a bike a bit by the River Seine, but part of the road (especially nearer the Notre Dame) is awful cobblestones which leave your whole body shaking and is a death to your wrists (no shock absorbers on the city bikes!).

Don’t be fooled by that smile, the worst part of cycling tracks started just a few minutes later, behind my back. Cobblestones!

Ruins of Notre Dame in the background, by the River Seine.
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