Velib Is Awesome

A year ago the city of Paris rolled out a citywide bike system called Velib. As you walk around the city, you see bike stations that look like this:


It works a lot like a public transportation system. There are daily, weekly, and monthly cards. You can get a card right at the kiosk. Then you enter in your card number and then pick what number bike you want. When you pull the bike out of the rack, it’s yours. Here’s Emily taking a bike out this morning.


When you are at your desination, you just put the bike back in the rack and it locks itself. That’s it. Totally self serve.

The bikes are super sturdy, have a built in lock/key system so you can lock it up somewhere ohter than a Velib rack, and a seat that moves up and down. They’ve got three gears, a bell to ring when you need to alert someone to your presence, and a basket for carrying around purses and groceries. It’s the perfect urban bike.

We went for an early morning bike ride along the Seine and then rode back from the Pompidou Center this afternoon. I always thought the Metro was the best way to get around Paris, but I think the Velib might just be even better.

#Blogging On The Road

Comments (Archived):

  1. gregory

    pick any america city, from seattle to baltimore … how long do you think such things would last in that american city?

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t see any reason why this model wouldn’t work in the US

      1. percosan

        depends on the city topology and available space for parking (significant). For example, not likely to be a huge hit in SF (where I live half time) due to serious hills ๐Ÿ™‚ Paris is flat for the most part.Other issues *may* include:- lack of mass transit mentality- embracing the notion of the “short trip” … your relationship with the bike is best when less than 30 minutes :)-p

      2. Marc Vermut

        I thought I had read about this a couple of months ago, and did…same as Will’s response…here’s the NYT summary and roundup around the world…”A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city.”

    2. Michael F. Martin

      Not long. To keep the bikes usable, you must design a system that requires each user to pay for unreasonable wear & tear.

      1. gregorylent

        that’s what i was thinking, there just isn’t the respect that there is in europe, nor the bike paths … but then somebody here mentioned credit card deposit, and i thought, ah, maybe they would last a year or two that way, but given the credit card debt of the average urbanite … well, i would love it if it worked, … i know it is hard to believe, but some things are just nicer elsewhere

    3. Lee Greenhouse

      Flora and I fell in love with Velib in Paris ast summer and it quickly replaced the Metro for us. We heard that Mayor Daley was thinking about it for Chicago. It works in Chicago because the city is blanketed with bike stations so that no matter where you come from or are going, you can count on using the system. I’m dubious that it can work in US cities, except in the most densely populated ones. It’s a shame that we don’t have it here.Lee

      1. fredwilson

        Lee ยญ we are loving it too. But Joanne is a bit worried about the ยณsafetyยฒof it. Did you and Flora ever have any situations where you felt unsafe onthe Velib?

  2. kenberger

    The bikes and system are new, so not surprised it’s good so far.They had almost exactly the same thing in Copenhagen (maybe they still do). You’d put in a big Kroner coin to remove a bike and got one back when you replaced one.When I tried to use it in 1999, it was fairly impossible to find a bike that was usable. I wonder if the Paris system learned from this and has a future-proof / maintenance plan, through good times and bad?

  3. hallson

    I tried it last November and it was a blast! Can’t wait until they bring something similar to NYC. Paris also has Segway tours/rentals which also seem fun.

  4. Michael Lucca

    Fred – Not sure how long you are in Paris, but if you get a chance, get up to MontMartre. best view in Paris, and a very interesting area to explore.

  5. Gregg Smith

    Why doesn’t the free market deal with this? We rented bikes easily all over Montreal. You need a certain density and bike-friendliness (lanes, paths, etc).A good blog on urban biking with a nod to Copenhagen:

  6. inaki

    We have the same service in Barcelona, bicing, it’s really great. Are you coming to Barcelona during your “European tour”?

    1. daryn

      If you do go to Barcelona, consider staying at the Casa Camper. It’s a cool hotel in a good location, has tasty and free snacks and drinks available 24hrs, and they have bikes you can borrow too. There is also a bicing stand just down the street.

  7. Will

    Great idea. Last I’d heard, they were still working out a lot of kinks though…the subsidies required to run the program are higher than anticipated because of loss due to theft and vandalism. probably not surprising given how easy it is to rent. I imagine they’ll encounter fewer problems as the newness fades, and they bikes become ubiquitous – not much of a point in stealing something you can get on every corner.Regardless, it’s a great idea and the problems are ones that they’ll work out. The US has an interesting open market response: Clear Channel is sponsoring a program based on Velib in Washington DC. I’d love to see the idea take off here.

  8. percosan

    Yes, Velib is awesome, I love the notion of short trip optimization, keep inventory turns high ๐Ÿ™‚ … thanks for the photos :-)Also, your 3G issue with you N95 is likely not SIM related. I assume you have a US version of the phone. If this is the case, then it will not work as they frequencies are different … need a euro version.have fun.Peterp.s. oh yeah, i enjoy your blog

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah, I screwed up on the phone. Totally blew that. And I am bummed becauseI got the phone specifically to try out photoblogging and videoblogging ineurope

  9. Tristan Daeschner

    It has been deployed and is maintained by JC Decaux which is a renowned street furniture and outdoor advertising company. They call the service Cyclocity and it’s already available in a handful of cities in France and across Europe. I think it’s just a matter of time before it comes to America.Street furniture always brings the question of vandalism and maintenance but they seem to be doing very well. Their trucks are cruising the city all day for broken bikes and stuff to fix.Also, customers are responsible for the bikes they pick. When you put your credit card in the terminal you agree to pay a guarantee if you don’t bring the bike back.It’s a great system.

  10. Pascal

    FredAn avid reader of your blog and a start up entrepreneur, I’ll be happy to meet you in person! I am a cofounder of a French startup that is setting up operations in the west coast. We are not far from the Old Opera/Galeries Lafayette (1 min away from a velib station).Email me if you are interested (we are NOT raising money)

  11. iLan

    Hey Fred,I’m French, I live in New York, and I know quite a bit about the business story behind Velib… They are manufactured by JC Decaux (ClearChannel’s biggest competitor), and I can even give an insider scoop, they are negociating with Mayor Bloomberg himself, who loved the concept…BTW, do you know their business model? Advertising! Right, they don’t even sell the velibs, they invested 20M Euros for Paris, hoping for some huge ad deals, crazy, but smart!Enjoy Paris

  12. einarvollset

    Here’s your chance to make the world a better place: Isn’t it possible to build a velib-like system that was self subsidizing? An easy example would be to use the bikes as advertising platforms (maybe dynamically using POV spokes:…, or it could act as a community data network, or you could harvest (some of the) energy created by cycling around (and charge the stations on return), or you could use the bikes as environmental sensor nodes (traffic? pollution?), or …

  13. Peter

    The ‘free market’ does not exist. What does exist does not have a tendency towards ‘the public good’.

  14. BikerDude

    Velib is definitely an inspiration around the world.If you want to know what’s up with general bikey goodness, check out these blogs/sites/services: – actual bike directions on google maps interfacehttp://googlemapsbikethere…. – advocacy for full Google ‘Bike There’ directions – best bike blog in existence from the top North American bike town – New York and LA-bike/streets/advocacy/technology blog/films/networkThese bike-sharing programs are taking off all over the U.S., with the latest one about to crank up in Washington, DC. Join the fun!:)

  15. Mark Schoneveld

    Some forward-thinking folks are attempting to build this same kind of service here in Philadelphia:

  16. scottythebody

    Just FYI, Vienna has a free bicycle system that has been up for a few years: pay a 1-time fee of 1 Euro so they are sure they have a valid bank account/credit card. Then, you may take a bike free for 1-2 hours. After that, it’s charged at a very reasonable rate. If you keep the bike for something like 24 hours, they assume you want it and charge you something like 800 Euros.But the Paris bikes look much better!

  17. Michael F. Martin

    They tried this in Copenhagen also. But at least there the tragedy of the commons problem defeated the efforts — most of the bikes were in horrible repair. Private bike rental firms solve the commons tragedy in Copenhagen quite nicely by charging for damage.Just like the French to go for the statist route, even with the evidence from Copenhagen against them.

  18. stevehopkins

    I’m in Australia, where a similar type of system may work. I hope it does…The two biggest issues facing such a system being implemented here are: 1) Population mass. We’re not a large country in terms of population, so being able to scale the service to the point that it is useful (ie – enough docks around so that you can ride cross-town and hand a bike/one-way trips) is a tough one. It would be possible in certain areas around Melbourne (where I am) and Sydney. 2) Probably the biggest fatal flaw is the law. It is illegal to ride without a bike helment in Australia, which is not the case in Paris. This means people either have to carry their own helment with them to hire a bike, or helments will have to be rented as part of the service. And how do you provide correctly fitting helments to a wide array of different head shapes?Some issues, but I for one want to see this kind of thing get up. I heard a stat recently that if we spent the same amount of money correctly urbanising out city for pedestrians and cyclists as we do per kilometer of tolled-highway (about 80million) we could radically change the way we worked as an urban community.

  19. tweetip

    I’ve lived in bike communities most of my life – this concept tries, and fails – for many reasons. It won’t work until A: cars don’t move anymore, and/or B: a president says do it. But what Paris has done is a nice “iteration” for archaeologists if nothing else ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. jackson

    Same deal in Amsterdam, much like the Copenhagen situation; you use a coin. They were sort of beat up but useable. I suppose in the USA we’d need to have a larger deposit, say, the cost of a bike.

    1. gregorylent


  21. vcinvestor

    A similar system operates in Stockholm. Pay 250SEK once and have the right to a bike for three hours a day. 250SEK buys over three months use. There are over 30 sites for bikes now.

  22. Solomon

    Hi Fred,If you’re planning on visiting the Louvre, do that on Friday night if you can: it stays open later that day. At any other time the crowd will be ridiculous.Agreed with mluca: Montmartre is pretty awesome: no magic trick to avoid the crowd there though, sorry.If you care for an encounter with the indigenous tech start-up population, I work around the corner from Montmartre and would be delighted to show you around and chat for a little bit. Pascal you’re welcome to join too :)Happy explorationsSolomon

  23. fakedjs

    Bike riding is underrated. Every city needs good trails.

  24. BenParis

    Hi Fred, here is Ben Paris. You should have said earlier that you were planning a trip to Paris, I would have recommended some places very accessible with a Velib:) If you are interested in some particular spots, let me know.Enjoy your ride

    1. fredwilson

      Send me the ideas. I will be here on and off for the next month as my family is here and I am using it as a base to travel around

      1. Glenn Gillen

        I know you’re off to Edinburgh for the festival. Glentress just south of Edinburgh has some of the best cross-country mountain biking I’ve seen, and I’m pretty sure there is a local group that leaves of an evening each week for a dusk ride (probably around 11pm this time of year)

        1. fredwilson


      2. BenParis

        I don’t know how much acquainted you are with the streets of Paris, and I don’t want to sound too much of a city guide, but…You can easily start you journey from Centre Pompidou, and then take the “Rue des Francs Bourgeois” from the beginning towards Le Marais, the traffic isn’t too bad usually. And then you can push the ride until the Place des Vosges, while you are doing some bicycle-window shopping along that street, and in all side streets. After a nice rest on Place des Vosges, you can take a left on Rue des Tournelles and reach a very nice terrace bistrot: “Chez Janou”…no booking outside possible, you better be early.For a short ride, you could start from Metro station St Paul in Le Marais (again), and then turn left into the Rue de Foulcry following the way of the traffic, and cycle casually towards the Ile St Louis, taking the bridge: “Pont Marie”. Once on the island, you turn right onto the Rue St Louis en l’Ile, and cycle until the end, where you will have to stop at Bertillon and enjoy a “sorbet ice cream”:). Then you cross the river using the Pont St Louis and here it is, Notre Dame Cathedral, which you can cycle around and come to the front.These are I think very nice rides especially if the weather is good.Ben

  25. Shaili

    Lived in Eindhoven, NL for a few years. The country is a model on how to build a bike-centric urban communities. And yes … there is an black market for stolen bikes. Maybe Velib solves that.Here’s a blog post on a bike ride with GPS recording, geo-tagged with photos (Nokia N95 works great !!). Could work great on your Paris trip :-).

  26. Dhru Purohit

    Fred, if this model was at Harvard while you were there (I think that’s where you went) do you think it would have been used?

    1. fredwilson

      i went to MIT, but yes, a bike rental system on college campuses would be amazing

  27. Flavia

    Well … do you know Bicing system in Barcelona, Spain? It sounds like that.

  28. DavidCohen

    i think it would work great. the only thing is that it wouldn’t work in my city (boulder) or cities like it. everybody has a bike already. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  29. PKafka

    Very jealous. Wanted to try this when I was there few months ago, but Velib didn’t like my credit card. Don’t see why people skeptical about this working in U.S. Credit card deposit ensures that you don’t abuse it, and theft discouraged by fact that the bikes are so clearly identified with system – if you’ve got one, it’s clearly stolen goods. My only concern was upkeep – who makes sure tires inflated, etc?

  30. Antman

    One of the benefits of a socialist gov. There is good in everything! Sounds like a Boulder CO idea. I got 10 bucks Boulder has one in the next 24 months. I will be in Paris in the next 6 month, gotta give it some love. Will it fit Antlady on the handlebars? Gotta do the whole romantic thing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. fredwilson

      Get two passes and ride together. Its more fun!

  31. peteonrails

    I am always amused when I read about something on AVC or Om Malik’s blog, then I see a NYT article on it a couple weeks later. Did you inspire this article?

    1. fredwilson

      I wondered the same thing but honestly it doesn’t matter. Velib is the best!

  32. Dustin

    I was in Paris last weekend and saw these. I did not use one but thought they were a great idea. Barcelona has a similar system.I did not know these were run by the city though. Interesting.Each bike has a red or green light next to them, marking them as available/unavailable. I did not spend too much time looking into why these were there, but cannot figure out why a bike would not be available all the time.