7/26/2008

Velodi, Dijon's free public bike system



When I was off in france a couple of weeks ago, I utterly and completely failed to ride Paris' vaunted Velib system. It is not particularly user friendly for americans. The short story is that you need a eurostyle credit card with a chip or an American Express Card (AMEX not verified by me, but a trustworthy source deems it possible) to use the system in Paris. However, Dijon has a similar system and all you need is a access to the internet and a credit card and you can get a access number and a pin for 1 euro. So I did it and I rode it. Here are the details:



The bikes were not quite as space age as the Velib bike, but they were well appointed. Shimano three speed nexus hub with roller brake on the rear, shimano roller braked generator hub up front. Shaft drive. Fenders. Skirt guard. Front basket. Front LED light with standlight. Rear red LED generator driven light with standlight. Upright bars. QR seatpost for quick adjustment, but with a positive stop so you could not steal the seatpost. Special locked hubnuts. cable lock integral to the basket, with a key. Most uncomfortable seats known to man. Stations pretty much EVERYWHERE you would ever want to go in dijon, 33 stations in a city of less than 200,000.

They have a good website in french at Velodi.net that has all the info you need. If you are french impared you need to get to the main page and click "Formule Liberté" to sign up for a pass with your credit card. It costs you 1 euro (about $1.60 when I was there) for a year of access ( I think, I thought I was signing up for a week, but it was unclear as I am moderately french impared). Using a bike is free for the first half hour, 0.30 euro for each additional half hour, up to 4 hours or so and then 4 euro an hour afterwards. If you do not return a bike, they can charge you 150 euros to the card you used.

Skirt guard is riveted to the SKS type fenders, shaft drive


They were pretty fun to ride. The shaft drive was reasonable for town riding, there was a bit of odd slop, but the three speed hubs were somewhat dodgily adjusted so it was hard to tell what was a hub effect and what was from the shaft drive. The bars seemed to be reasonable for people in the 5' to 6' range, the seat certainly went higher, many taller people were riding them, but the bars might be a bit low. The fenders were pretty much sks type and often were in poor alignment. The lights were stock shimano dynohub type wiring and frequently the lights were not functioning.

Velodi Kiosk. With map of surrounding stations. Both English and French supported.


The kiosks were pretty easy to use. They operated in both english and french. You type in your access code and pin and the kiosk tells you what bike to use. The bike is unlocked for a period of time and you go and remove it from the rack.

If you had a cell phone, you could send a text message and, with your credit card, get a code in a few minutes after some texting. It is not obvious from the kiosk that you can get a code on the web, but the nice lady at the visitors center clued me in.

Riveted skirt guard, the logo is an owl, the a symbol of Dijon, note the excellent theft proof hub nuts, note the nice "coaster brake tab", note the out the back dropouts, note all the braze ons on the dropouts. Nice aero rims plus fat Schwalbe Marathon 26" (559) tires.


It was not entirely clear what would happen if the kiosk directed you to a bike that was disabled. There were hints of procedures to follow and numbers to call, but I could not quite figure it out. That said, the Velodi bikes, ignoring the frequently disabled lights, were in pretty good repair. the Velib bikes in Paris seemed to have a lot of bikes with flats, not obviously a problem in Dijon.

excellent baskets with protected lights. The knobs hanging down slot into the velodi racks and lock in when you return the bike. The lock is the cable under the light, you can make out the key, there is an integral bungee cord to hold down things in the basket.


However there were a couple of rules that were not obvious. When you return a bike, you can not pick up another one for 10 minutes. This is to prevent you from "hogging" bikes for free by returning and then picking them up in the half hour time limit. The downside is that you can not trade a bike with a mechanical with one that works in a timely manner. Not a big problem if you are near a cafe, but once this caused me and a pal to walk to the next station to find bikes with functioning lights at night. Along these lines, I once returned a bike to a station that was out of service. It accepted the bike but I was unable to rent one from that station again so I had to walk to another station. Not a big deal as the stations are pretty dense.

Super low step through frames with burly welded junctions


Dijon was a pleasure to ride around. There was a fair amount of traffic on fairly narrow streets, but there were bike lanes everywhere, although not particularly well thought out ones. The cars in the center of Dijon were pretty cognizant of huge numbers of cyclists riding poorly on the velodi bikes. It was pretty fun. Lots of cobblestone streets and signs that permitted riding the wrong way on one way streets and up streets that cars were normally prohibited from:




That said, not all streets allowed this. Specifically outside the touristy center of the town. My pal Shannon and I had a run in with the local constabulary over just this issue. I will write about this more later, but I learned that small town bored cops are pretty much the same everywhere. If you are riding in Dijon, it probably would behoove you to become familiar with the extremely subtle traffic lights and street markings in town. There is no double yellow line on streets and there are some streets that to me, even after a week in Dijon, were not obviously one or two way based on street signs and lines.

pal Shannon demonstrating skirt ridability and extreme reflecty sidewalls on the bikes


All in all the velodi bikes were pretty cool. I meant to go on an extended ride out along a canal townpath outside of town, but the combination of very uncomfortable seats and numerous thunderstorms blowing through led me to just sit around and drink espressos. They were ideal for cruising around town. I never had problems finding one when I needed it, and in a week of riding, all but one rack I encountered had return spaces available. When I was in Paris there was clear evidence of people jockying around looking for open places to return their bikes. A few racks near transit centers were either completely empty, or nearly so, in the morning and near full after work, indicative of locals from outside of town using the bikes to connect from the bus or train in, to their jobs in the morning.

The Velodi bikes, and systems like this, are a great boon to a city. It is important that the bikes are bombproof, available and easy to obtain. The key to success seems to be enough bikes and stations to support short jaunts and easy returns. Come hell or high water, I will be holding a credit card that allows me to use the Velib bikes in paris next time I return. Near as I can tell at least three or four cities in the US (Albuquerque, DC, Chicago and possibly San Francisco) are on the verge of launching a system like this. I sez, bring it on, make sure there are twice as many bikes and stations as you think you need. Yeaaaaaaaah Bicycles!

13 comments:

Doug said...

Doesn't 150 Euros seem crazily cheap as basically the charge for keeping one of these? I guess if you live there, it would be pretty obvious if the bike you were riding around was a repainted Velodi, but still. I wonder what the true cost of them is?

Doug

Tarik Saleh said...

Doug,

I think you are thinking like an american. The Velib bikes in Paris, according to the latest NYT article, cost about $6500 dollars each, probably about 4000 euro. I think that sounds a bit crazy, but they are kind of space agey. I thought they charged 500 euro for missing velib's but I am unsure. The Velodi are quite a bit cheaper, I would guess you could get that for less than 1500 dollars, but again, the french seem to be unmotivated by stealing, there are tons upon tons of beautiful bikes on the streets of paris that are barely locked and they remain there for years on end.

I suspect that American systems will have full replacement cost as a carrot to return it, while the french are motivated enough by 150-500 euros to return it. The whole credit card thing makes it pretty easy to track you if you do steal one...

ericbritton said...

Very nice. But don't bellive everything you read in the paper (NYT on costs). If you want to keep up, www.citybike.newmobility.org may be handy.

John L. said...

Hi Tarik,
I quite enjoy reading your blog gold. I'm a friend of Steve and Cody's in Iowa City. Thought you'd enjoy this -
http://www.bikereader.com/contributors/behrman/behrman.html
I hope you're right about Velib style bikes coming to DC. We're in desperate need of out here!

Sandi said...

Hi,

I'm working with Takkle.com, a social networking site for sports. Members can post photos, videos, share stats and schedules, and a whole lot more with others throughout the community. Takkle is a place where students, athletes, coaches, and fans can share their passion for sports.

I feel that your site is very useful. I would love to know if you could link to our social networking resource.

Thanks,
Sandi

flahute said...

Tarik -- I'm only slight French impaired.

The "abonnement annuel" is the annual pass, which is 24 Euros ... the "formule liberté" is a "free formula"

Essentially, for 24 Euros it's only 1.20 Euro for the first two hours of use, and then 3 Euros per half hour beyond the initial 2 hours.

The FL plan costs 2 Euros for the first two hours, and then 2 Euros per hour for each hour beyond; so actually a little cheaper BUT the pass allowing you the use is only good for a week. Then you have to buy another 1 week pass, and another, and another.

If, say, you were going to use one 1 day per week, every week, for 2 hours and no more.

Under the annual plan that would be 24 Euros + 62.4 Euros (1.20 * 52), for a total of 86.4 Euros.

Under the FL plan, that would be 52 Euros (52 weekly passes) + 104 Euros (2 * 52), for a total of 156 Euros.

Obviously, the annual deal is better for short, weekly trips.

Tarik Saleh said...

Flahute,

Thanks for the translation. I can't imagine actually using the things for 2 hours at a time. You actually are charged per use, not per day, if you get a bike 8 times in a day for 20 minutes at a time, you are not charged anything...

I think most people use them for 5 to 15 minutes at a time. I think it takes about 20 minutes to ride between the two farthest stations. If you stop and shop maybe it would take a bit longer...

faria said...

very nice ideas with the price of gaz going up and up i hope all the big cities will give the same service

Anonymous said...

hey, what about the story of how you antagonized the cops? you can't tell of dijon and fail to mention that! your corroborator in crime

Tarik Saleh said...

Ok,

I promise a full dijon clown car cop exposee soon!

Anonymous said...

Tarik,
Enjoyed your report. This scheme is a grand idea, but your reflection on the French 'being unmotivated by stealing' is a crucial point. I don't know about US cities, but here in the UK (since at least the 90's) the attitude prevails 'if you can't steal it, then trash it'. I've lost count of the number of bikes I've seen U-locked overnight which by the next morning have had their wheels kicked in. Despite their vandal/theft proof features, these Velodi's would be severely tested by UK scumbag culture.

Junior Agence said...

Hi guys,

thanks for the interest you demonstrated toward our smart bike system. We are a team of five students working for the company that owns and rules Vélodi and we are in charge of its communication account. That's crazy we were looking for news and infos about the service and we found out your blog.
I hope you enjoyed your trip in Dijon, which is a really charming city.

You will find in the following link the ad campaign we made for Spring 2010, let us know what do you think about it:

http://www.lepost.fr/article/2010/04/09/2025606_cinq-etudiantes-au-service-de-velodi.html

Bye see you!

DARK-RIDER-82 said...

Absolutely incredible! What a great thing! Too bad that here in ROMANIA everything IS BEING STEALED!!! Just leave it for 5 minutes and IT'S GONE!!!
And these bicycles are shaft driven! Practicaly MAINTENANCE FREE!
Congratulations for this initiative!!!
Gabriel from ROMANIA!