Pedal Power

Bike-sharing schemes are nothing new in France. Carolyn Boyd explores the best way to get around town

Bike-sharing schemes are nothing new in France. Carolyn Boyd explores the best way to get around town Picture a Frenchman and what does he have? Onions? Stripey top? Bicycle? While the first two might not ring true these days, there’s every chance that he might just be on a bike, for nearly every major city now has its own bike-sharing scheme. From Europe’s very first scheme in La Rochelle in 1974, to more recent incarnations such as the V�lo’v in Lyon and Le V�lo Star in Rennes it seems the French are kings when it comes to sharing bikes. There are 25 different towns and cities offering schemes, each with a different name – Nancy’s V�lOstan’lib is named after its Place Stanislas, while Montpellier’s V�lomagg’ covers city and its agglomeration’.

Users simply go to a terminal, insert a credit card into the machine and follow the instructions on the screen. Once you’ve paid for your abonnement’ (subscription – a few days, or longer if you’re resident), the machine releases the bike, you ride it around for a few hours at a cost of a few euros, and then return it to any terminal.

The latest city to take to two wheels is Nice with the V�lobleu. The city offers one of the best bike paths in the whole of France – the Promenade des Anglais, which skirts the beach all the way around the Baie des Anges.

Our food writer and Nice resident Rosa Jackson is a huge advocate of cycling there, and says: “The Promenade des Anglais is great for cycling because you’re not battling traffic. Recent extensions mean the path goes all the way to Antibes, so you can get as much or as little exercise as you like.” The cycle path is also pretty spectacular in the other direction to the gorgeous fishing harbour in Villefranche-sur-Mer. “That direction is a bit more challenging however, as it goes up hill,” she says.

Rosa tells me more and more bike lanes are being incorporated on roads, making Nice an evermore bike-friendly town. Rather surprisingly for a capital city, Paris is also very bike-friendly and the V�lib is one of the best ways for tourists to see the sights. Last time I was there I picked one up outside the Musee d’Orsay and glided down the Left Bank to the Eiffel Tower, then over the Seine and up to the Champs Elys�e. I managed it under half an hour so, on returning the bike, I realised that the ride hadn’t cost a penny. So enjoyable was the sit-up-and-beg-style bike, complete with basket for handbag on the front, that I came home and ordered my own bike for cycling to work (and can now pretend I’m on the Left Bank on a regular basis).

Nantes is a great city to explore by bike. The bicloo scheme fits in well with Nantes’ eco-friendly image, says Eleanor O’Kane, editor of our sister title Living France Magazine “Cycle from the town centre, over the River Loire to the Ile de Nantes where you can witness the urban regeneration of the old docks and ship-building hangars. Stop for lunch at one of the cool bars and restaurants along the quay, with views back along the river to town.” Our writer Kevin Raymond agrees that Nantes is great by bike: “Especially as it’s so lousy for driving!” he says.

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If you’re heading to southeast in France then don’t miss Lyon’s V�lo’v scheme, as recommended by freelance writer Anthony Lambert “There’s fabulous segregated cycle lanes along landscaped river banks.” If you get there soon you can enjoy the sun by cycling to the “wooden recliners and miniature sandy beaches.”

When sight-seeing by bike, there’s just one thing that might not make for a comfortable ride – cobbles. While I love the city of Toulouse, I can’t help wondering if the narrow streets and cobbles in the old town might make for rather a bumpy ride. That said, I’ve heard they’ve been a saviour for the social lives of the city’s huge student population; when the Metro stops at midnight they can continue partying until late, safe in the knowledge that the V�loToulouse will provide them with a wobbly trip home.