GO: LES 24H DE VÉLIB’

Words to (normally) live by: Nothing good ever happens on the Champs Elysées. Paris’ famous avenue is most well known for its masses of slow-walking tourists, overpriced shops and restaurants, pickpockets, and, after hours, some pretty creepy individuals. Since I’ve been victim to all four of the avenue’s vices, I normally avoid this part of town like the plague. But this weekend, it looks like I’ll be making an exception.

In celebration of Vélib’s five-year anniversary, there will be 24 hours of free events taking place between the Petit Palais and the Place de la Concorde. Vélib’, a portmanteau of the word vélo (bike), and liberté (freedom), is the city’s large-scale public bike sharing system that’s taken Paris by storm ever since its launch in 2007. With 18,000 bicycles and 1,200 bike stations, it’s the most extensive system of its kind in the world, and a favorite of those who wish to travel more “greenly,” get some exercise, or just enjoy the fresh air. It’s a great alternative to buying a bike of your own that’s bound to need maintenance or get stolen eventually, plus there’s no round-trip commitment.

When I first came to Paris, I was pretty skeptical about the bike scene here. Between the 150 Euro that Vélib’ temporarily locks on your credit card as a deposit, the heaviness of the bikes, and the stress and hypothetical danger of biking with traffic, I wasn’t exactly foaming at the mouth to try it out. But after a few years, and a few too many sticky summer metro rides, I signed up for a one-year subscription (for only 35 euro!) and have never looked back.

It’s by far my favorite way to get around town (when it’s not raining or freezing) because it really grants you liberté. Freedom from train schedules, crowded metros full of “French showered” people, and tricky pickpockets. On a bike, you can enjoy the beauty of the city firsthand, not from an underground tunnel or behind a glass window. You can feel the wind in your hair, and the sun on face, and Paris is finally as charming as you always imagined it would be.

Whether you’re a recent convert, a die-hard velib-er, or just curious, the celebration is sure to be worthwhile. From 3pm on Saturday until 8pm on Sunday, there’s plenty planned – most notably a giant 20,000 km relay with 400 bikes to raise funds for Good Planet, Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, and the Fondation du Patrimoine . Bike on down!

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