How Cycling Became Chic in Paris [Spiegel]

Photo Gallery: Cycling in the City
"A rental bike is the most convenient way to travel in Paris," says Marion. The 28-year-old, who works in marketing, lives in the smart 16th Arrondissement and uses a Velib cycle two or three times a week, undeterred by Paris' bustling city streets. "Motorists and cyclists are now used to one other. We respect each other," she explains. Valentine, 22, a trainee insurance clerk who moved to Paris a year ago, says the city's fleet of chunky bikes is "just cool!"

Once upon a time, only a small number of Parisians rode bikes, but the French capital city's Velib bike rental system has shaken up the way locals move from Point A to Point B. Five years after their debut, cycling has become cool in Paris -- and there are fewer cars clogging up the city center.

France has a long cycling history: People in brightly colored, tight-fitting jerseys, helmets and streamlined sunglasses speed along country roads. Water bottle within easy reach, they propel themselves up the winding mountain roads between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees. Emerging during the summer months, these pedal-pushing athletes are in the mould of their legendary "Tour de France" heroes.
But Velib has brought affection for two-wheeled travel into the country's capital city. The self-service network of 23,500 bikes parked at 1,400 stations across Paris has made mobility more flexible for city dwellers willing to pay an annual €29 ($36) membership fee. The first half hour on the bike's solid, heavy frame is free of charge. After that the hourly rental rate gets increasingly expensive, a price structure designed to push Velib as an alternative to car, bus and metro trips.