Cycling in Paris: Should You Or Shouldn’t You?

I hate traffic, crowds and congestion. Not surprisingly, Paris, or any large city would be one of the last places I’d ride a bike. Just the thought of trying to maneuver a bicycle in and out of traffic with buses behind and in front of me, people and cars coming from all directions makes me twitch!

Bicycling the not-so-peaceful streets of Paris

Bicycling the not-so-peaceful streets of Paris

Can this really be fun, or safe without a helmet?

Can this really be fun, or safe without a helmet?

I much prefer the quiet, relaxing pace of bicycling in the French countryside and along river and vineyard trails where I’m often the only person on the road.

Despite my personal bias against big-city bicycling, it’s important to note that urban cycling is dramatically changing throughout Europe, including Paris. I began to realize this when I spent a week exploring the glorious bicycle paths in and around Strasbourg. Strasbourg embraces cycling and cyclists, making you feel safe traveling the city streets on two wheels. Based on a new plan approved this spring, it appears that Paris is also looking to create a similar cyclist-friendly environment.

Everyone bikes in Strasbourg!

Everyone bikes in Strasbourg!

This spring, Paris announced a 5 year, 150 million€ bicycling initiative that will radically transform transportation in the City of Lights. The ambitious plan will double the number of cycle paths across the city by 2020.  The plan includes a cycle expressway with more than 80 km of two-way cycle paths spanning the city north, south, east and west.  These cycle expressways will be completely separate from car traffic, dramatically improving the safety of bicyclists of recreational cyclists as well as experienced urban cyclists. Existing bicycle paths will be expanded to link with the new axis and new paths will be added. This 5 year plan will double the number of cycling paths in Paris to 1400km.  In addition, more than 7000 intersections will be redesigned to allow bicyclists to turn right at any time and speed limits will be lowered on most city streets to 30km/h.  Both of these actions will significantly enhance the safety of those traveling by bike.

This new Paris bicycling initiative is really great news for cyclists down the road, but what should you do if you are planning a trip to Paris in the next couple of years?  Here’s a rundown of some of the current options and some thoughts from me.

Velib Paris

If you are looking for a way to bicycle from Point A to Point B in Paris, Velib Paris may be for you.  Paris was the first major city to introduce a city-wide free bike system.  Started in 2007, the system has 20,000 bikes for let at 1,800 bike stations in Paris and 30 surrounding cities. Velib Paris has a terrific website that will answer almost any question that you may have about renting a bike through the system.  The rental system has been designed to be as simple as possible. It’s available 24-7, no advance booking is needed and you can buy a 1 day or 7 day ticket online or at any Velib station.  A one day ticket is 1,70€, a 7 day ticket 8€.  The first 30 minutes of each rental are always free.  If you use the bike longer, you pay fees according to the usage charge schedule: 1st additional half hour is 1€, 2nd additional half hour is 2€ and 3rd additional half hour and more are 4€. Important side note:  your credit card will be charged a 150€ deposit for the term of your ticket.

Velib Paris does not rent bike helmets and the system does not rent kid’s bikes.  The bikes are unisex and are suited to people 14 years and older.

Paris Bike Company

Run by American Sam Weaver, Paris Bike Company is the place to go if you are looking to rent a road bike in town.  High quality road bikes like Cannondale are the only bikes rented here.  Sam also provides high quality service, assembly and disassembly and packing if you transport your own bike to Paris. Rental rates begin at 50€ for the first day and 30€/day for days 2-7.  Of particular interest here are several guided tours, especially those outside of Paris.  For those interested in touring on their own, there are self-guided options with bike and GPS rental.  Custom travel services are also available.  Details on each of these options are included on the website.

Fat Tire Bike Tours

Fat Tire Bike Tours offers some of the more popular guided bicycle tours in Paris, including tours to Giverny and Versailles, priced at 80€ and 90€ respectively.  Package price includes bike rental and admission ticket.

Paris Bike Tour

Paris Bike Tour offers basic city bike rentals starting at 15€ for 8 hours to 20€ for 24 hours, delivery available upon request. Reservations are required. The company also offers several guided tours of Paris at 32€.  Private tours are available upon request. Helmet rental is available.

Paris a Velo C’Est Sympa

Paris a Velo c’est Sympa rents bikes and offers several 3 hour tours.  Located near the Saint-Sebastien-Froissart (line 8) and Richard-Lenoir (line 5) metro stations, the agency rents e-bikes, city bikes and touring bikes.  Rates range from 12€ /1/2 day for a city bike to 20€/ 1/2 day for an e-bike.  Adult-child tandems are also available for 40-50€/day. Helmets are available to rent.

My Thoughts/Recommendations

As much as I love bicycling in France, I personally don’t feel comfortable bicycling in Paris or any other city of its size right now. Perhaps in the future when there are bicycle-only lanes I may change my mind.  Maybe not.  I’m purely a recreational cyclist, and I’m most at home along riverbanks, on quiet vineyard trails and on cycle paths in the countryside. Regardless of where I cycle, I would never get on my bike without a helmet.  When I see tourists riding bikes anywhere in France without helmets, I shake my head. To see this in Paris I’m shocked.

I can’t say whether you should or shouldn’t bicycle in Paris.  But I can say that bicycling can be dangerous, especially in big cities and to ride without a helmet is a bad decision.  In the years since Velib was launched in Paris, 8 people have died while on a Velib.  More were injured.  If you’re going to bicycle in Paris, do yourself and your family a favor, wear a helmet.  Make sure that you rent a bike from an agency that rents helmets unless you bring your own.

Better yet, splurge and take a guided tour.  There’s safety in numbers, so enjoy the security of bicycling with a guide and with a group of fellow cyclists.  Even better, take advantage of one of the many suburban bike tours offered by companies like Fat Tire Bike Tours or Paris Bike Company.  Or pick up a helmet at a local sporting goods store and travel to one of Velib’s suburban locations.  If you’re looking for a low-cost bicycling adventure, read my article, Giverny By Bike, A Perfect Day Trip From Paris.  This on-your-own adventure can be done easily in a day, including a picnic lunch and train ride to and from Paris.  It’s safe, fun and perfect for beginner or experienced cyclists.

I’ll look forward to keeping you up to date on improvements to the Paris cycling infrastructure.  In the meantime, if you cycle in Paris, don’t forget to wear a helmet!

Posted by Maggie LaCoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.

  1. Meanwhile I have cycled in Paris a few times and yes the streets are busy! However I have seen many seperate bike paths also in the busy center of Paris. Next to it that as a cyclist you are allowed to use the bus and taxi lanes. Still I agree you need to be very carefull. If you realy think it is to busy to cycle on the street, use the sidewalk and slowly cycle between the pedestrians. The Paris people also do this.
    One thing I always do is claim my spot on the road. Meaning, don’t cycle at the utmost right of your lane but ride in the middle. In this case it will be hard for any car to try to pass you. They will need to go to the lane next to you to go around you. Yes, they will be angry and honk a lot. Just ignore that.
    And always give clear directions which you go. Stretch out your arm to left or right as far and as long as you can. If you are on a busy roundabout, even point with your arm in the direction you are going. Also, if you just cross the roundabout in a straight line.
    Wearing a helmet might give you some safety, wearing colorfull clothes or a safety vest might also help. I know that if the weather conditions are bad, by law you even have to wear a kind of safetyvest as a cyclist in France. Where the helmet is optional.

    1. Dear Ralph,

      Thanks so much for your very helpful comments! I liked your comment about bicycling on the sidewalks, but I have been reprimanded several times for doing so by walkers….so as you said, you need to be firm about claiming your turf! I am so encouraged by the new bicycling initiative in Paris and know that it will result in a whole new cycling culture in the city that will benefit urban cyclists as well as recreational tourists exploring Paris by bike!

      Maggie LaCoste
      Experience France By Bike