Cycling along the seafront, along the splendid Promenade des Anglais in Nice, looking out across the dazzling azure sea, is one of our favourite family activities. No longer do we have to faff around fixing the bike rack to the car to load up our own bikes, we simply rent a vélo bleu. Vélo bleu, quite literally blue bike, is the name given to the city’s public bike share scheme, along the lines of Velib’ in Paris and “Boris bikes” in London. While they may technically be Nice’s bikes, the network extends as far as St Laurent du Var, Cagnes sur Mer and even into Villeneuve-Loubet which makes it even more convenient for us to use as we don’t have to drive into Nice to start our bike ride. Here’s a map which shows all the bike stands for the vélo bleu, Nice.
So how do you use a vélo bleu?
The first time you rent a vélo bleu it can be confusing and a little frustrating, but as long as you’re not in a rush it’s not actually as hard as it seems. You have to register, and this can either be done well beforehand online if you are planning on using the bikes a lot or at one of the bike stands with a mobile phone and credit card at the ready. The instructions are on the screen and come in several languages including English.
The first time you register you will have to make a call (to a French number) which will be charged but from then on you use your phone to dial a number that doesn’t pick up, so you are not charged again. You will have to give a credit card number which is then used for every subsequent rental.
There are also several bike stations where you can pay directly with your credit card thereby avoiding the (expensive foreign) phone call. These are located in the following places:
Ave Jean Médecin at Nice Etoile shopping centre
Promenade des Anglais at Bld Gambetta
Quai des Etats-Unis
Bld Jean Jaurés at Cathédrale tram stop
Promenade des Anglais on the city side of the airport near where the beach starts
Nice-ville, Riquier and St Laurent du Var train stations
Bld de la Plage, Cagnes sur Mer near the sailing club (on the St Laurent side)
How much does it cost?
The subscriptions are: 1€ a day, 5€ a week, 10€ a month or 25€ a year (or 15€ if you already have a Ligne d’Azur yearly bus pass).
To use the bike: 30 mins free, next 30 mins 1€ and then 2€ an hour after that.
After paying the subscription/registration it can be entirely free if you use the bike strategically because you get 30 mins free each time you take a bike. This means you return the bike every 25 minutes or so and take a new one, though it’s a bit of a palaver if you’re just “going for a ride” as opposed to using it to get around. If you do want to do this do not leave it till the last minute as not only do the machines take a while to turn on but you might find the stand is full or out of order and you have to go to another one. There are maps and both iPhone and Android apps to help plan your route and find stations with spaces/bikes available.
Getting your bike:
The terminals can take a long time to warm up, or can sometimes be out of order, so it’s a good idea to turn on more than one at a time. Check the tires and whether the seat goes up and down easily before you make a selection.
Once the terminal has turned on follow the instructions on the screen, either scanning your pre-paid card or ringing the phone number as instructed. It will ask you to choose a bike even if there is only one bike in the stand so press the corresponding number 1, 2 or 3 for the bike you want. This should release the lock. You will now be given the combination code for the lock which you should note down or immediately set the code so you can use it later if necessary.
Returning the bike:
Once again, turn on more than one terminal and press “restituer” (return) and you will be told which number to return the cable to. Push it in and check that it clicks in place and cannot be pulled out. If this doesn’t work, move to another terminal and try again. The screen will display the total cost of your rental.
If you arrive at your destination stand to find it full, turn on the screen and press “find a stand” which will show you a map of the closest stand. If you now call the number or scan your card you will get another 15 mins free.
The free vélo bleu Nice apps and official vélo bleu map have real-time availability and number of stands empty to help you plan your ride. The vélo bleu website explains everything with clear diagrams, maps and pictograms (in French).
Don’t forget to stick to the highway code, it’s illegal to ride on pavements and tramlines and bikes must respect traffic lights. Pedestrians have right of way. Officially you should be over 14 years old to use a vélo bleu in Nice.
So now you see how cheap and easy it is to rent a bike in Nice, you too can explore the coast like us, stopping for drinks and snacks at seaside cafés. One time, on an ordinary Sunday in March, we ducked into the back streets in Cros de Cagnes (the old fishing village of Cagnes sur Mer) and found a delicious simple café away from the tourist hordes. Enjoying a pizza and Italian beer in the sun, with our rental bikes, made us feel like we were on a mini holiday ourselves. So simple and yet so rejuvenating.
Do you like cycling en famille? Have you ever used bikes from a city bike share scheme?
Read more about the Seaside Promenade, Côte d’Azur in this related post.
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