Every bike station comes with a kiosk that has the computer interface from which you check out the bike, as well as a map which shows nearby stations. The stations were everywhere in downtown paris, and I rarely had to walk more than three or four blocks before finding a station. I could reliably grab a bike, zip across Paris without knowing where I was going, and count on finding a bike station with a few blocks if I found something cool I wanted to explore. Here's the kiosk:
|The purple dots on the map indicate other stations. Look how many!|
The program was pretty cheap. It cost seven euro to get a week-long pass, and any trip that was under half an hour was free. If you checked out a bike for more than half an hour (like I would when I'd get lost), they charge you a euro each half-hour. Thus, a trip of 90 minutes cost 2 euro. Not bad, considering that one ride on the subway cost almost that much. Here's a view of the cockpit of one of Paris' finest steeds:
The bike comes with everything you need: a 3-speed transmission (plenty for the gentle hills of Paris), a handy basket, a bell to warn pedestrians that you're riding the wrong direction down that one-way street, a handy basket, and instructions for how to safely pass a bus. Naturally, I put the adjustable seatpost to the upper limit.
The bikes mount into their docking station through a very well-designed metal slot thingie. The bikes were pretty heavy, but most of the time getting them in or out of the docking station wasn't hard.
|The red-light indicates that this bike isn't ready to be checked out.|
The system wasn't perfect; there were a few down sides to the city bikes of Paris, the biggest being that sometimes a station was simply out of bikes when you wanted one, or totally full of bikes when you wanted to drop one off, forcing you to look on the map for the next closest station and keep searching. Another threat was checking out a bike and realizing, after you'd punched in your code and chosen your bike, that the thing was missing a crank arm. It didn't take me long before I got in the habit of performing a quick inspection on my potential steed: do the tires have air? check. Does it have both cranks? Check. Are the fenders not all fucked up and rubbing on the tires? Check. Let's go! Here's a video where I try to show the magic and charm of riding my bike through the streets of Paris...when a Mercedes sedan cuts me off and I have to slam on the brakes (one-handed), and hop off my bike without dropping my phone.