Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have Bike, Will Do Stunts

In my never ending quest to bring you all the latest in Vélib news (see here and here), I give you this: Le Vélib Extreme. But first, a little background. In 2007, the city of Paris launched a public bike sharing program called Vélib. The mayor ordered bike stations placed in neighborhoods all across the arrondissements and bike lanes marked into the roadways. His landscape-changing initiative has been immensely popular, as anyone who has ever tried to find an available bike on a warm spring day in Paris can tell you. They're used for commuting, errand running, carrying home fresh purchases from the market, leisurely rides along the banks of the Seine, and...daredevil tricks?

This is where Le Vélib Extreme comes in. Apparently, it's the latest craze to hit Paris (Remember Tectonick? That dance was huge last spring), and it involves using the city bikes in ways I'm pretty sure local officials never intended. Thumping down steep stairwells, catching air off jumps, popping wheelies and doing a host of other things I don't have the correct bike vocabulary to describe. Of course, I've read about Le Vélib Extreme from a variety of sources, but they all cite the same video, and said video calls the underground bike movement Vélib Freeride, so it's difficult to get a real grasp on what's really going on here. Are a lot of bikes being used for clandestine activities? Or is this an isolated incident blown up in the media? Frankly, the only extreme Vélib activity I ever witnessed involved late night rides home after too many glasses of wine.

In any case, what does seem to be true about the Vélib program is that for all its popularity, it's suffered some serious setbacks in it's short 18 month life. Vandalism and theft have hit hard. More than half of the bikes have gone missing; others have had tires slashed. Some have turned up halfway across the globe. But don't expect the bikes of Paris to disappear completely. City officials have agreed to pay the company that supplies the two-wheelers for some of the replacements. Plus, users who don't return their borrowed bikes are charged a hefty deposit fee. None of the articles I found mentioned this fact, but it would be interesting to see if that money has helped cover some of the losses. Most importantly, the pedal movement has been warmly embraced by the Parisian community at large making it difficult to conceive of its ever disappearing.

I was a huge fan of Vélib during my time in Paris, and I hope I get a chance to ride those awesomely clunky, basket-wielding, geek-chic bikes again. As far as Le Vélib Extreme goes, if you know anything more about this possible phenomenon, let me know. Drunk biking doesn't count.


Jenny said...

This one is new to me, I hope when I get to Paris I get the chance to do this too

Greg Wesson said...

Funnily, I had just read the story about the Velib bikes getting nicked on the BBC website, and I thought to myself, "Oh, Tanya has posted a couple times about that. I will have to post a link to the story in the comments of one of the entries," and here you are beating me too it.

London may soon be joining Paris in having one of these schemes. A final report was completed in November of 2008.


Maybe I'll get to see some extreme velibin' in Londontown.

Mike and Steph said...

They call that style freeriding, or more technically "trials". Here is a link to one of the best "trials" riders I have seen. http://vimeo.com/1831788


Tanya said...

Greg, I'm glad I'm writing about things my readers have on their minds! I really hope London gets the same kind of system as Paris. It's such a great program - huge public value.

Tanya said...

Hey Mike, Loved the video. I found myself holding my breath through most of it - those stunts are crazy! I'm pretty sure it couldn't be done with a Velib. They're really, really heavy bikes. Thanks for the comment and the link :-)