By on July 25, 2012

Your humble author is TTAC’s resident cycling enthusiast, as shown in the eminently regrettable photo above which can best be titled “35-Year-Old Man Takes Mountain Bike To Skatepark For No Good Reason.” When I was younger, I had unveiled contempt for people who drove somewhere when they could ride. Three knee surgeries and a child later, I’m not so sure. Still, cycling is gaining momentum across Europe in precisely the same way that the economy isn’t. The public-bicycle scheme in Paris, Velib, now profitably shares 23,000 public bicycles across a subscriber network of 225,000 people — and the electric-auto-sharing service which has been operating for over half a year now looks to be headed for similar success. The implications regarding private and public property raised by both services are worth discussing.

As a cyclist, I considered my bicycles to be more sacred than my cars. Why would I ride some horrible public bike when I could ride my own? The Velib experience, which offers 45-pound rental bikes, no doubt inspires similar repugnance among French roadies. Furthermore, the adage about partying and rentals appeared to hold true in Paris. According to Eurasia Review’s excellent article on the subject:

While most Parisians snubbed the heavy public bicycles (weighing 23 kg), others destroyed or stole them. During the first year, 8,000 Vélib’ bicycles disappeared and another 16,000 were vandalized, according to official figures… But despite it all, when Vélib’ marked its fifth anniversary on Jul. 14, it was also able to celebrate its undeniable success: in five years, 138 million people have used the 23,000 rental bicycles, and the system currently has 225,000 subscribers out of a total urban population of 2.3 million… In 2011, Velib’ achieved profitability and is fully expected to yield profits again in 2012.

The implications are interesting: when a nation which is famous for individuality, and cycling snobbery, puts 138 million asses on rental seats over the course of five years, something is changing. The notion of personal transport is, perhaps, increasingly falling victim to class resentments, European economic immobility, official indifference towards urban theft and abuse of property, and the simple but irresistible force of raw convenience.

The Autolib scheme takes this a step further, to include electric cars. Pay between four and eight Euros and receive a fully-“fueled” electric car for half an hour. If you consider that the average new-car price is almost thirty grand now, and the payments on such an item, plus reasonable insurance and fuel fees, would cover perhaps fifty to eighty hours a month in a loaner car — more than two hours per day — it’s no wonder that the Autolib scheme is gaining momentum.

This isn’t a unique idea — Zipcar offers conventionally-powered cars for similar money in cities across the world — but its progress is worth watching. Every happy Autolib customer is one less customer for a conventional mass-market automobile. He or she is also a vote against many of the things TTAC readers enjoy about cars: speed, freedom, unlimited personal mobility, the choice of everything from interior color to camshaft specification. That is, of course, unless people are stupid enough to let you rent their Corvettes.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!


54 Comments on “Despite Abuse and Theft, Parisians Have Taken 138 Million Rental Bicycle Rides; Cars Are Next...”

  • avatar

    “Your humble author is TTAC’s resident cycling enthusiast,”

    Your three knee surgeries may indeed trump my one, but that was caused by a car hitting me, one of three times I’ve been hit by a car while on my bike. If that doesn’t show enthusiasm, I don’t know what does.

    “Your humble author is TTAC’s resident competitive cycling enthusiast,”

    That’s better.

  • avatar

    Renting bikes in the city makes some sense, and for the same reason as a car: they’re a bugger to store (I used to carry mine up four flights of narrow stairs when I rented) and an even bigger bugger to replace when they’re stolen (Google “Igor Kenk”; he got three of mine).

    I can see the appeal, and use Bixi in Toronto whenever I can.

    But then, I’m a communist.

  • avatar

    Besides the fact that I live in an area where such a scheme can hardly be implemented, I doubt that all kind of “sharing” ideas will work in the long run. A change of attitude would be required.

    After bad experiences I will never share a book, a bicycle, or a car again.

    Books will not be returned (if at all, in a horrible state, with all kind of stupid notes). With bicycles, I usually got them back at the other end of town, with tire punctures. With cars, it was better, although I got tired cleaning up the interior. There seems to be a “littering gene” with humans.

    And this works in Paris? Call me amazed.

    • 0 avatar

      It works in Boston as well. It’s quite popular with both resident and tourist.

    • 0 avatar

      It “works” only in a relative sense. 8,000 stolen and another 16,000 vandalized, out of a fleet of 23,000……

      As long as our uniformed, tax feeding and donut grazing friends simply do not give half a toot about someone stealing a bicycle, while whipping themselves into none shy of a murderous frenzy over bicycle owners’ doing what it takes to protect their own bikes, relying on one’s own bike for general urban transportation is not reasonable for most people. Instead, the distant second best option, of relying on rented bikes so plentiful and unremarkable that even risk free theft isn’t worth the hassle becomes the chosen path.

      If stealing and reselling a car was as easy and risk free as a bicycle, few drivers would rely on their own car to run errands, as well. Which I guess some would take as a sign that public transportation and or rental fleets of Soviet era cars “works.”

      Back in the day before the universal requirement of bowing down to lawyers and cops, rental fleets of scraggy mules didn’t fare too well in competition with privately owned horses. And neither would these kind of schemes, if bike thieves were not treated better than bike owners stringing them up in lamp posts.

  • avatar
    Jonathan H.

    Lexington, KY tried something similar a couple years ago. The bikes were left at various bike racks around town and you’d buy a membership that included a key to unlock the bike. You’d ride it to where you wanted to go and lock it back up for later use or for another member to use. After many thefts and vandalism they finally gave up last year and scrapped the program. There are enough jerks out there to pretty much make a thing like this impossible.

  • avatar

    Being for this doesn’t mean being against speed. Especially in a dense urban draconian European city. I am in NYC and got a motorcycle to move about and out of town more freely… but I would gladly hop in one of these Little Tykes Meets Robocop machines to do grocery shopping. Its about the cost of one of the two cab rides I would need w/o my bike, and is way more convenient than trying to load Costco sized packs of toilet paper and kitchen towels on a sportbike

    The sad reality is car ownership is just getting out of reach and less relevant for many. Its an absolute must only for complete freaks like auto enthusiasts- and even within that realm sometimes it proves to be too much. I don’t see the problem, outside of the issue of range (and the damn weight of the bikes, I hope Paris doesn’t have any hills)

  • avatar

    Boston’s Hubway Bike rental service just celebrated it’s first anniversary. 360,000 trips and 7,500 annual memberships sold.

    Boston’s traffic is such a mess, it’s no surprise. A buddy of mine told me he can bike 23 miles to his office in the same amount of time it takes to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m a year around rider in Boston and have watched the proliferation of the HUbway bikes with amazement. The nice thing about them is that many office workers and generally clean people use them so that cars think maybe twice before targeting you. Although generally there’s no problems just keep a wary eye on cabs and pick up trucks.

      I got rid of my cars 2 years ago and use the bike, public trans and zipcar if I need to. In the summer I rent a car for travel / camping around the west. Last year i drove 4500 miles in 3 weeks , cleaned the car and handed the rental agency a check for $650.00. No muss – no fuss.

      I love cars but this way works in the city.

    • 0 avatar

      But when he drives his car, he doesn’t need to take a shower when he gets to work. When I commuted by bike, I found that lockers and shower facilities were essential.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, he has showers and locker/wardrobe space. The wardrobe space is handy because you can stockpile your clothes at work so you don’t need to carry them on the bike every day. Another critical item for him is having space to stow his bike. He’s in the Longwood Medical Area and believe it or not, it’s difficult finding bike parking space. Must be thousands of bikes jammed in bike cages in the parking garages and the bike racks.

  • avatar

    “The notion of personal transport is, perhaps, increasingly falling victim to class resentments, European economic immobility, official indifference towards urban theft and abuse of property, and the simple but irresistible force of raw convenience.”

    I guess that it didn’t occur to you that the lack of parking and heavy traffic may have something to do with it.

    There is nothing liberating about trying to use a car for intracity travel within large European cities. You can often get around faster, more cheaply and with fewer hassles with public transit than you could ever hope to with a car. A car can be useful for leaving town or for travel between towns, but within cities, a car is more likely to be a big, expensive PITA.

    • 0 avatar

      With the added trouble of the Olympic lanes, London is a perfect example of this. Even with my intense love of driving, I’d far rather park the car well out of town and ride the tube, bus or even walk, as inner city driving in London is pure evil at best.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to echo my agreement. It’s market forces at work here, pure and simple. In an urban environment cars are expensive, and are crimped in utility compared to bicycles or public transit. I don’t know why anybody would drive a car in suburban London. (Which may not be the worst city in Europe for traffic but Top Gear over the years has painted a fairly miserable picture.)

  • avatar

    This is great. We’ll look like China 20 years ago with millions of black bicycles in our cities. Chairman Obama’s vision.

    • 0 avatar

      Darkhorse, this is about Paris. This is about capitalism, you know private companies making a profit renting cars and bicycles. The is nothing in here about President Obama forcing reluctant American citizens out of their cars. The only vision is between your ears and it is a false vision. Please read the article before commenting.

    • 0 avatar

      Subtle hint: There is absolutely nothing leftist about commuting by bicycle. Unless enjoyment of the ride, practicality, and the not-incidental side benefit of cardiovascular health are totally leftist attributes. (If so, the liberals have nothing to worry about, once all the conservatives die off quickly.)

      My customers at Virginia Commonwealth University consider me some kind of neanderthal from the mid-60’s, but politics rarely raises it’s ugly when when I’m spinning a mean wrench and turning garage cast-off bikes into cheap, reliable, and occasionally stylish, transportation.

      And I seriously wonder about the sanity of anyone reasonably healthy who uses a motor vehicle for a trip of under five miles one way.

    • 0 avatar

      Im guessing Darkhorse is one of many obese Americans fearing the day it will make sense to get himself from point A to point B on his own power rather than sitting in some 10 yr old scrap heap pounding down Sausage McMuffins by the minute while sitting in traffic

      I realize most Americans live ~15 miles from work and so biking might not be the most realistic proposition for them. But I and millions of others commute by bike in one of the most capitalist cities in the world. Please spare us the Alex Jones conspiratory talking points

  • avatar

    Jack, while we roadies may sniff at a 43 lb bike, it’s possible that to survive the wear and tear and abuse they have to spec heavy duty bicycles, like an industrial duty bike:

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. I would no more use a carbon fiber 20 speed for daily commuting than I’d use a Ferrari 360. And my Porsche is verging on borderline for that daily bump and grind.

      In American terms, the best commuter is a 21-speed hybrid (steel racing geometry frame, fenders, 700×35 tyres, strong alloy rims, flat bars, cantilever brakes, racks and bags), and the best ones were built in the 90’s. Fortunately they can be found easily and for not too much money. I keep a Schwinn CrissCross at work that is absolutely perfect for lunchtime errands, and company bank runs.

    • 0 avatar

      My fixie is prob no more than 20lbs, figure another 5-10 for a geared hub and a rack and it should be fine. A 40lb bike would be discouraging for fit folks, so I imagine it being downright hellish for regular people… you’d prob be better off walking it in its lowest gear

      • 0 avatar

        Build the bike with full fenders, hub gearing, a dynohub, front and rear lights, puncture-free tires, suspension fork and seatpost (a must around the town, IMHO), a rack, a chaincase, a u-lock for acceptable price and 40 lbs is where you are at.

        Which is a non-issue, city speeds are just too low and hills to rare. Pick some shoppings or commute with a notebook and any attemts at making the bicycle light are just pointless.

    • 0 avatar

      A durable, inexpensive rigid mountain bike with full fenders, strong wheels, and semi-slick tires – my choice of bike for city riding – weighs 25 to 28 pounds.

      I ride daily but I’d consider it cruel and unusual punishment to have to ride a 43 pound bike that probably needs a tune-up, isn’t set up for my build and preferred riding position, and has platform pedals and a seat that has been exposed to many examples of poor hygiene.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a steel framed Diamondback in the right size at a pawn shop for $80. Roughly $5-700 of parts accumulated over a couple decades has turned it into the best bike I’ve ever ridden: under 25# and nothing broken but rims and cranks, riding it hard and often. I see no need for a 40# bike unless you’re jumping off of cliffs.

    • 0 avatar

      I am a big cycling enthusiast, but to commute to work (something I do once a week more or less) I built a urban warrior bike for around US$200.

      I used a old frame I did not restore and installed a second hand shifter set out of a medium range MTB and semi slicks for tires.

      It looks like crap, but mechanically is excelent. And nobody has tried to steal it yet. I park it besides US$1000 bikes and use a big U-Lock so its the least desirable bike for the thieves…

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    They sort of work here in Brisbane ,Qld.oz but for the life of me I cannot understand the sense in riding bycycles in such a hilly city. The lycralouts make a great show of being fit and healthy but they are young.. I am old and raced bycycles in the 60’s on boath road and track with some success. Today arthritis is king and I find driving one of my cars is preferable to being hot and sweaty and puffed or cold and wet and puffed .

    • 0 avatar

      The lycralouts in Brisvegas honestly have put me off cycling here- I walk a lot and they have made some lengths of the river side walks horribly dangerous. Not good mixing elderly people, women with prams and children with cyclists doing 40km/h…

  • avatar

    Out of a pool of 23,000 rental bicycles, “During the first year, 8,000 Vélib’ bicycles disappeared and another 16,000 were vandalized, according to official figures… ” That’s 24,000 of the 23,000 bicycles that met were intentionally stolen or vandalized. Makes one wonder about the rest of the math used by Velib in creating this success story.

  • avatar

    Traveling through Toronto, Ottawa and especially Montreal you can’t help notice the Bixi bikes in those cites and their growing popularity.
    We spent a few days in Montreal and had no need to use our car within the city centre when you can use a heavy duty but easy to ride Bixi instead.
    Wouldn’t use them in TO however, not with those drivers.
    Having said that, bike share programs are probably not suitable for newer cities built around the car but as attitudes evolve and gas prices climb that will change, and that’s a good thing.
    Building infrastructure for bikes AND cars is not some communist plot,it’s forward thinking.
    There is always a certain group -including some commenting on TTAC – who equate using anything but a car for transportation as something pulled from Mao’s red book.
    It’s all about choice.

    • 0 avatar

      “There is always a certain group -including some commenting on TTAC – who equate using anything but a car for transportation as something pulled from Mao’s red book.”

      I would be one of those people, but not because I think cars are the only viable means of transportation.

      I live in the suburbs by choice, having ridden a city bus exactly once. My observation of the awful (unionized) public transit system in the Pittsburgh area is that it has a stranglehold on the city, which continues to prop it up, and so does the state of Pennsylvania. They have raised fares 4 times in 4 years, while they reduce service hours, now down to half of what it was just a year ago.

      On the other hand, I’ve found Atlanta’s MARTA system to be pretty good, and reasonably affordable.

    • 0 avatar

      I was in Montreal a few weeks ago, and the Bixi was my transportation of choice as well. Not only did we not use a car, we never even used the subway. It was downright awesome.

      But you are right, you need to be in a city where people know how to drive with cars. Montreal is one of those cities….mine on the other hand (Calgary) is definitely not. People here barely know how to drive with other cars around.

    • 0 avatar

      Granted, I’ve only used Bixi once, on a Saturday, but I found it fine pedaling through downtown Toronto (from the ROM to the Distillery District and back to Union Station). Of course, there was a relative lack of traffic, and I wasn’t going all that quickly (between being on a heavy three-speed, and having not used a bicycle in over five years).

  • avatar

    Who would spend between 4 and 8 Euros ($5-10) to rent an EV for 30 minutes? You could sit that long in traffic.

  • avatar

    Soooooooo, if I rent an Autolib vehicle and am happy about it then I’m voting against freedom? Wow … I mean … just … wow.

  • avatar

    The Capital Bikeshare system in DC, based on Montreal’s Bixi, has been remarkably successful. The big problem with it is distribution of the bikes, which naturally flow from residential neighborhoods to downtown employment centers every morning, then back out in the evening. The redistribution vans can’t keep up. Without a smartphone app to tell me where the available bikes and docks are at any given time it would be pretty much impossible for me to use the system, and even with the app it’s hard to rely on it. A denser network of stations like in Montreal might help, but CaBi seems more intent on expanding existing locations. The main justification for bikeshare receiving public funds is to reduce driving, but for me it mostly eliminates Metro and bus trips. Oops.

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      The big problem with adding new Cap Bikeshare locations is that most of the empty sidewalk space that could accommodate a new bike station is currently occupied by metro bus stops; they’ve already eliminated a lot of commuter bus stops to reduce maintenance, and I’ve seen Bikeshare stations pop up in a lot of the abandoned bus stands.

  • avatar

    Here in the Bay Area, California, you can bring your bicycles onto the BART/ Caltrain/ Lightrail. This makes it easy for you to lug around your personal bikes. Whereas in Paris or Tokyo you don’t have that choice. You have to park your personal bike and get on the train. And once you get off the train you are bikeless. So this bike sharing program is just a way to get around a problem created by the non-bike-friendly subways.

  • avatar

    Well, typically, in Tokyo folks will ride their personal bicycles to their local station and take the train to the office, which typically is within walking distance from the station. It doesn’t seem like a problem there. My wife had moved away from her Tokyo suburb and left her bicycle there. After many years we made a return visit to Tokyo and scouted out her old place, and found her bicycle, still locked to a rack!

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m just an optimist, but programs like these would seem to benefit people who actually enjoy driving by reducing the number of people who just want transportation on the road.

    I’d be sweating bullets if I made the Camry but not the Camaro, is what I’m getting at. If I lived in a big city again I would LOVE it if a few hundred thousand people didn’t need a parking spot anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      This is great for people that enjoy driving, but not necessarily because it clears the roads during commuting hours.

      If you can bike to work and don’t have to rely on a car, that opens the door to owning all manner of impractical and/or unreliable, yet fun to drive cars.

  • avatar

    I know what you mean, my four bikes (fixie, old mtn bike converted to townie, comfort racing roadie, and Yeti mtn bike) mean more to me than my two cars. Tough luck on the knee surgeries personally all my brothers and sisters have had knee surgeries and I credit the bike for saving me from the knife. Even going off this weekend for a 3 day 3oo mile charity ride with my mates. With your background you should look into criterium racing you can’t get much purer racing than that.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I did some Cat IV stuff back in the eighties. Always preferred BMX because you could hit people (during the race) and punch them (afterwards) without too much interference from the sanctioning body. I was far more disagreeable as a child than I am as an adult.

  • avatar

    Bike share people may actually be better off buying their own bike with a quality lock. It depends on frequency of use. Flats or any damage gets charged to the last CC used. Also these programs operate on credit provided by the highest interest rates out there. Just be aware, keep tabs and sit down do the math.

    There was a weakness in the steel composite Velib frame where it could be broken with a couple of hard kicks in one spot. New frames are to be aluminium.

    My bike mechanic:
    Heavy bikes still break. All bikes will require tinkering.

  • avatar

    ^former BMX racer here, just wondering…?

    WHERE did you get that pic of the guy with the mountain bike at a skatepark? That’s funny as hell.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      From my ex-wife.

      That’s me in 2006 at the Flow skatepark in Columbus, OH, pulling an X-up on a DMR 26″ trial/mountain bike with a Zoke M1 up front.

  • avatar

    Great idea, as long as it’s voluntary. Once the government starts mandating the use of bikes and electric share cars it puts Velib in a special position and the people in a compromised one.

    I’m all for more bike riding, I have 4 myself, but I’d rather just buy my own than rent a 45 lb monster like that. Where did they find bikes that heavy in this day and age?

  • avatar

    There is what appears to be a fairly successful rent-a-public-bike program here in Denver. The bikes are big heavy things (which isn’t a big deal in the urban core of Denver, which is mostly fairly flat), painted bright red, and I see quite a few people riding them.

  • avatar

    they were supposed to be installing thousands of these bike rental kiosks in downtown manhattan this summer. the project go delayed because of a “software glitch.” the ciy & national newspapers are all excited about it but the neighborhood broadsheets aren’t so sure.

    the prices are very reasonable but they go up quickly, if you keep the bike for more than 45 minutes. it doesn’t make much sense for recreational biking to keep a bike for 45 mins., so i just spent $400 on a new bike which i will drag up the elevator in my building and park on my tiny terrace.

    ny is really trying with this bike thing but we have a long way to go. the bike lanes are terrible. some are just faded painted lines that are ignored by everyone including the city buses. the island is ringed with a great bike path and that’s the only place i would allow anyone in my family to ride one.

    on the car front, the zip car thing is very interesting but 2 problems. one: they are always booked far in advance. two: since nobody checks the cars between rentals, you never are sure about the cleanliness of what you are getting. still it costs me $425 to park my car each month so there is a lot to be said for renting even a dirty car.

    p.s. jack, where is the f86 track video?

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Oldschool: As a Cadillac and Lincoln fanatic, and have owned their older models from the good ole days when they were...
  • brettc: I have, and they’re gross in my opinion. We have a place close to our house called the Holy Donut...
  • TCragg: brettc might be a closet Canadian living undercover in ‘Merica. Most of the Krispy Kremes in Canada...
  • sgtjmack: Yes, that is the case with those bikes, but there is a huge difference in those engines you mentioned, not...
  • sgtjmack: What? Are you serious? The 2.0T is a great, all around engine with plenty of get up and go, along with...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote


  • Contributors

  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States