Luxury Travel Blog + vintage

Bikes are cool! BIkes are chic! And they are good for the environment too, since they don't emit anything particularly harmful.

Although it is too cold for me to ride this vintage Raleigh Twenty bike through slush, snow, and -20 C winters here in Toronto, this has presented me with a slew of ideas for our upcoming Paris and Barcelona family vacation. Why not travel around (go sightseeing) on a bike with our daughter? She'll love it! After all, I've heard that both Paris and Barcelona are big on pedal power! But as I delve more into the situation, I am now finding it a bit disheartening. Here's why...

In Paris, the mayor launched Velib, a plan to provide free bicycles--now 20,000 strong--at nearly 1,500 stations across the city called bornes. This free bike scheme was implemented in July 2007, despite the same failure shown from past initiatives in Amsterdam, Cambridge, and Toronto (my city's on the list of failures... surprise! Not sure why Amsterdam is there, though).

However, if you think this is Utopia, think again. Velib bikers are plagued with hefty fines for keeping bikes longer than the 30-minute allotted time. This becomes a problem when all the bornes, or parking stands, are occupied and riders find themselves circling 'round for hours praying that somebody vacates. Another trouble that befalls Parisian riders is the issue around the use of bike lanes. The gendarme is quick to hand out the 22-Euro fine for bikers not using the designated lanes, but not-so-quick with the 135-Euro fine when cars or trucks obstruct the lanes.

Already convinced this is not for you? Yet another snag in the Paris bike scheme is... and this is for you, my North American friends... that subscription to the system can only be made with PIN debit cards and "chip and PIN" credit cards. These "chip and PIN" credit cards are mainly a European thing, so don't be too surprised if your North American card is of no use at the terminals. Nonetheless, the program is showing no wane despite constant news of bikes being subjected to theft and vandalism.

But regardless of all the controversies surrounding Velib, Parisians are taking to the power of the pedal. Case in point: a highly successful bike programme, the Itinéraires Paris-Piétons-Vélos Rollers, proves that by closing some of the city's most scenic routes on Sundays and holidays, cyclists and skaters become the kings (and queens) of the road, even for a short time.

Nervous about biking around Paris (we all know how they drive there)? Biking with a child? No PIN debit card nor chip-and-PIN credit card? Book a guided tour with Paris à Vélo. They accept standard credit cards.

But wait, let's not forget about Barcelona's own bike scheme, Bicing. It works in a similar format with a 2-hour time limit, but with different sets of fees and fines. Users will need a credit card with a Catalan mailing address, as tourists are discouraged from using this system. So much for that.

If you are planning to bike around Barcelona, check out Lonely Planet or Time Out guidebooks for a list of reliable companies.

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Bi-CHIC-ling + vintage