Aesthetics of Velib
Having seen the bike share programs through a cross section of France, I noticed upon returning to Paris that the Velibs are nicely suited to the city. The color is just the right tone to blend in, and when you see a person on a Velib you notice the person first, the bike second. The plastic covers hide the bike-like aspects, making it seem more like a people-mover than a bike. They are discreet.
That said, I love that each city personalizes the bikes for their own aesthetic. Can't you just see how Paris is different from Dijon is different from Lyon is different from Avignon in the photo above?
Mechanics of Velib
While we were surprised that they had not elected to provide a coaster brake, I was surprised and delighted to see my Schwalbe Marathon tires on every bike share bike in France. They also invested in the Shimano generator front hub that my husband got from Peter White for his randonneuring bike. Someone has done a lot of research into the parts that go into these bikes, keeping both the cost down but also considering the repair technician's time. I would think that a parts list could be informative for the rest of us, we can leverage all that research and save ourselves a lot of time in both shopping and repairs.
That said, in our unscientific sampling we never got a perfect Velib. The hub was wonky, the headset bad, the seatpost bolt slipping, etc. Always one issue per bike, never enough to return it and select another. I thought I had a perfect Velib but then we discovered that the attachment point was bent and we had trouble returning the bike. At one point the plastic housing on the handlebars fell off my husband's bike! However we never once had an issue with any aspect of the braking, and we never had a flat.
Experience of Velib
Oh, it was glorious! Rolling in Paris, the beautiful buildings and monuments all around. We had lunch under the Eiffel Tower, then rolled across the city in just a few minutes to have mint tea and pastries at the Mosquée de Paris.
One amusing aspect of riding a Velib is dealing with parking. We got to one part of the city and all the stations were full. We rolled around for while looking for an open space and I quickly lost patience. I realized that it's been years since I'd circled for parking!
Psychology of Velib
The most profound impact of the Velib program was how the psychology of it changed our perceptions of cycling in the city, and indeed changed our behavior cycling in the city.
In America, articles like this contribute to the collective feeling that a cyclist is transgressing by pedaling on the roadway. There is a distinct feeling of trespass, that bikes don't belong. As a result cyclists feel like "outlaws" and often take liberties; for their own safety and because they feel they're outlaws anyway. Drivers don't feel this way, to them it's perfectly natural to be in the road and they mostly buy in to the system.
By riding a Velib all that disconnect changed. All of a sudden we were part of the establishment, we belonged. We had state-granted rights that were almost inherent to "state-vehicle" we rode, and that state sanction traveled with us on the street for all to see.
There were also responsibilities as a Velib. In circumstances where we might have tried to jump a light (Idaho-style) as outlaws, on a Velib we calmly rode into the intersection and took our lane as we needed it, then gave it back when we didn't, content in the understanding that we were entitled to the space we needed to travel safely. I've ridden dedicated bike lanes before, it was a world-shifting experience to feel as entitled while on the city streets.
The final mind-shift of the Velib program is the way in which it changes the idea of who can ride a bicycle. In America it's predominately young folks. In France the bicycle-riding generation had moved to the countryside and was aging. One of our hosts told us riding a bike had started to be perceived as lame (ringard) among women my age. Velib has attracted both those populations and everyone else - we saw 8 year olds, 28 year olds, 48 year olds, and 80 year olds on bikes. And everyone else. Anyone can ride a Velib, and that changes the perception of cycling even among those who do not choose to participate.
When I grow up I want to be this lady. You can't see her face but she's at least as old as my mother:
Bike Share and Boston
Oh, Boston, Boston, I have such high hopes for you and your bike share. Can you ever meet my high expectations? I worry that you'll do like Washington and get just a couple bikes and call it a bike share, or like Brussels and not put in enough stations. Velib works because the entire region is saturated, Paris apparently has one bike for every hundred citizens and Boston would need to take into account the student population. I fear you won't educate your drivers and that the Globe will publish more inflammatory nonsense. If Boston puts her mind to doing something well she has the brain-power and influence to do it as well as anyone, but do we have the will? I don't know.