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 France Turns to Bicycles:  The Age of Bicycles

Professor Arnie Greenberg


With gas prices the way they are and the increased number of cars in the inner city, a great change is taking place. Cities the world over are setting up public bicycle rentals to save people the expense of driving a car or bur. It’s healthier and pollution free.

Traditionally, the French offered cars for economy. Do you remember the Deux Cheveau?  In its day it was the answer to cheap travel.

Then in more recent times a tiny space and gas saving Smart-car took its place. It too was the answer for a while. I first saw them in Paris but they soon arrived in North America too.

I tried it out. Cute? Yes, but not for me. Age, size and habit play heavily on decisions. I enjoy bike riding better, as long as there’s no rain. And if there’s a sudden down pour. 

Note the bikes…they are rentals and they are real.

You need go very far to return the bike and save time charges

But things were about to change. Using Lyon as an example, Paris embarked on an ambitious project of bicycle rental. The idea caught on and has been expanded to the point that there are now over 20,000 ‘velos’ on the streets at 14,000 stations. They are called ‘Velib’ which is a contraction of velo and liberation. It works for me. This means that you can go from one place to another under your own muscle power and leave the bike at your destination. The first half hour is free.

You can use a credit card as long as it had a European tab on it. Check before you leave home. There are enough bikes at each depot so you won’t be disappointed. For one year, one week or 24 hours, bank cards are optional.

Of course the city has created bicycle paths in many places and since there is no restriction as to where you can drive, you can test your skill and nerves by riding around the Arc de Triomphe, which is one of the most hazardous places to drive in all of Paris.

In Lyon there is a section of the city built high on a hill. People frequent the ‘velo’ depots but rarely to ride back up. There are trucks that transport bikes to the depots atop the city.

Here, on the banks of the Rhone or Soane, office workers and tourists vie for their chance to exercise, see the city and save on gas or metro fares. They also get a good feeling, knowing they are not polluting.       

Both Lyon and Paris are beautiful cities and often, tourists arrive at a train station and rather than look for a taxi or bus, they get their velo nearby. I’ve seen visitors at both Part Dieu in Lyon and Gare de Lyon in Paris, drive off with a back pack to see the city by velo. What a great idea for those who respect the thousands of cars.

Many other cities have followed suit as the city fathers and private advertising companies join forces to offer the ‘coming thing’.

Is it the future for all cities? I think not. Maybe Vienna  , Brussels, Madrid or Orleans are  good for the system but I happen to live in a city that established bike paths years ago but during the winter months they are not practical. One rarely sees a bicycle in Montreal from late November to early April.

Try riding a bicycle in these conditions.

Besides, North Americans enjoy bicycles for fun and relaxation but the temperament is car based. Unfortunately it’s taking the rising gas prices to change people’s minds. The change may be to smaller cars or hybrids but I’m not yet convinced. There are still large SUV’s and vans on the road here.

The idea started in Lyon in 2005 and has spread rapidly in Europe.

The velos are available 24 hours a day. The stations are about 300 meters apart. The instructions are written in eight languages. A number of trucks move bikes during the nights to empty stations to ensure that there’s a bike ready for your journey to work in the morning. Since the first half hour is free, you’re transportation for a short distance saves car, bus or metro travel. 

People used to just fasten their bikes to a post. Vandalism often tempted theft or a sadist’s form of graffiti.

Cyclists are still instructed to wear helmets and drive carefully. The bike path helps as the city’s car numbers increase. I’d hate to think of what European cities would look like if the had the monstrous number of bicycles you see in some Chinese cities.

Arnie Greenberg

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You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at


Over the past few years, Professor Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the globe including Italy and most of China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters from St.Petersburg to Moscow. 

"He took a group to Greece and another to northern Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico.  His newly found spare time is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders..  "So You Want To Be A Tour Leader." 

Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.  Keep reading his web for travel ideas.  His next novel HELLSTORM'S Folly, will be available this fall. He now lives in British Columbia.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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