6 mins

The secret to cycling in Paris

Rosie Driffill reveals everything you need to know about getting around Paris by bicycle

Vintage bicycle in Paris (Shutterstock)

Vintage Bicycle in Paris photo from Shutterstock

With the Tour de France almost upon us, it’s little wonder cycling aficionados from across the globe are ready to descend on the capital for the grand finale. But just how cyclist-friendly is Paris, and is it realistic to ditch the car in favour of a holiday on two wheels? From family tours to charity rides, this mini guide tells you how to make the most of your bike in Paris.

Renting a bike

Thanks to the environmentally-conscious policies of former socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë, the city-wide bicycle sharing scheme known as the Vélib has gone from strength to strength, boasting hundreds of thousands of subscribers . Now in its seventh year, the scheme has seen the establishment of 1,800 bike ‘stations’ across Paris. With the grey bicycles now a mainstay on the city scene, it comes as no surprise that tourists are wanting a piece of the action. 

With 20,000 bikes available 365 days of the year, cyclists can choose to buy a one-day or seven-day ticket at any ‘station’, take their bike and be on their way. 

For instructions on how to buy a ticket online, or for more information on the history and success of the scheme, visit the official Vélib website.

Organised tours

Companies such as Fat Tire Bike Tours offer tours of the city by day and by night, taking in all the most renowned sites as well as offering specific tours for Versailles and Monet’s Garden. The tours are family friendly and a range of bike sizes are provided, but be warned: the tours can sell out in June and August, so making a reservation is key if you want to guarantee a spot for you and your family members. 

Rival company Bike About Tours takes you slightly further afield offering a tour of the Champagne region by bike, so if you’re planning on staying in Paris for a while, a foray into the countryside would be time well spent, especially during the height of summer. 

Tours begin at the respective companies’ tourist offices, and are conducted by English-speaking guides (as appropriate) that take you around the city for approximately four hours. Day tours start at around 30 euros for both companies between May and September and demand a degree of fitness, though the tours are conducted at a leisurely pace.

Cycling with the family

If your family is partial to enjoying new surroundings by bike, then cycling the streets of Paris is certainly a feat worth embracing. The city is relatively flat (though Montmartre and Belleville are a little steep in comparison), so cycling can be conducted at leisure if you are worried about your children tiring. 

However, it would be prudent to err on the side of caution when it comes to using the roads: if your children are relatively inexperienced cyclists, make sure you plan a route that comprises mostly park paths and the bike paths along the Seine, of which there are ample. Likewise, head to the Canal Saint-Martin on Sundays and public holidays when the roads are closed off to traffic to really make the most of the city by bike.

Charity rides

The London to Paris Bike Ride takes place in September and sees tens of thousands of intrepid cyclists commit to the four-day gruelling feat in the name of charity. Think you’ve got what it takes? Sign up now on the event’s official website and prepare to take in such sites as the stunning English coastline and the rolling fields of the Somme and Abbeville. Too run of the mill? Try the Paris to Hayling cycle ride and enjoy a stop at Caen Castle and after covering a 350 mile distance in five days.

Safety first

While you may want to avoid the area around the Arc de Triomphe, most roads in Paris are safe. The number of accidents involving cyclists since the Vélib scheme was introduced in the city has been remarkably low; provided you avoid the pavements, signal well in advance, adhere to traffic light signals, don’t carry passengers and heed no entry signs (as advised on every vélib bike), you’ll be fine. 

Since the introduction of the Vélib scheme, the profile of cyclists has been raised among drivers, meaning they are more aware of their fellow road users and tend to afford them a degree of respect perhaps not seen before 2007. Cyclists are allowed in bus lanes, but remember that the bus has priority and that you are obliged to speed up or move aside where possible if a bus approaches. 

Investing in a Carte Vélo à Paris (a free cyling guide), available at all tourist information centres, is a great way to scout out the city’s best cycle routes. Save your longest rides for a Sunday morning when the traffic is relatively calm will allow you to explore the city’s best routes at your own pace. For more specific tips take a look at Mark Cramer’s safety quiz on how to avoid common cycling errors in Paris.

Rosie Driffill is a freelance writer based in Leeds. Her features often focus on environmentally-aware travel, sustainable fashion and vegan dining abroad, but she has been known to pen the odd questionable comedy sketch show. You can follow her on Twitter: @RosieDriffill

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