Those free bikes in Paris? You can't use 'em.

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On July 14, Paris launched a cheap, accessible bike program for residents and tourists to use practically for free, with 10,600 bikes at 750 stands around the city. (We touted this in our July/August issue.) How fantastic was it that Paris introduced 10,600 bikes at 750 stands around the city for everyone to use in free half-hour increments? Well...

Once the system was up and running on July 14, we learned to our dismay that the Velib kiosks (which unlock the bikes) only recognize credit and bank cards with microchips in them--a small technical detail that effectively bans tourists from North America from renting a Velib bike. Amazingly, Paris had no idea that other countries don't routinely issue cards with microchips in them, so right now, unless you have a chip-card, there is no alternate means of gaining access to the Velib system.

It turns out that the bike programs in Brussels and Lyon also work on the same type of system, and also require a credit card with a microchip. In Brussels, however, you can get around it by purchasing a short-term ticket at the city's main tourism office. In Lyon, you can buy a Tecely card that works with Lyon's entire public transportation system. (In order to get it, though, you have to show up at a Lyon public transportation office with your passport, a photo of yourself, and a hotel bill as proof of residence; fill out out an online form on the site; and then wait for the city to activate your account.)

We can only hope that these programs will change soon. As soon as there are any updates, we'll let you know.

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