In Paris, Training Wheels For The Littlest Riders

DON GONYEA, HOST:

So the Tour de France starts next weekend in Britain. But over in Paris, the next generation of riders will be able to start training. Based on the popularity of the city's bike-share program for adults, parents can now rent wheels for children as young as 2. Officials say the program won't cost Paris a cent and might help build a new generation of environmentally conscious citizens and - and perhaps a few bike racing champions. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Velib, which stands for velo, or bicycle, liberte, has been such a success that there are high hopes for its little successor, P'tit Velib. Along the banks of the Seine, at a mile-long stretch known as Les Berges, there are no cars allowed - only barges and sightseeing boats ply the river. That's where this P'tit Velib concessionary, Joel Sick, has set up his rental.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He has a lot of cute, little bikes here - teeny, little bikes.

BEARDSLEY: Sick shows his collection. Forty shiny, new velos that come in three different sizes, along with the training wheel option. The smallest, called a hobby horse, has no pedals at all. Sick says it allows 2-year-olds to push themselves along and develop their balance.

JOEL SICK: (Through translator) In Paris, people don't usually have kids' bikes. They keep them in their country house if they have one. And if you have several kids, you cannot fit all the bikes in your apartment. So this rental scheme is really meeting a need.

BEARDSLEY: When school's out for the summer next week, Sick plans to give bike lessons. But today, in the gray, Paris drizzle, he wonders if anyone will show up. A client is coming.

HERMINIE NOUGARET: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: It's a great idea. We looked for you and found you, says 70-year-old Herminie Nougaret, who's brought along her 6-year-old godson, Omar Tall. Despite the weather, Nougaret says she wants Omar to be able to ride with no cars around.

So far, there are five P'tit Velib rental locations around the city, all in secure, spacious places - the river, the canal, and at the city's biggest parks. Jean Francois Martins is Paris deputy mayor for sports and tourism.

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JEAN FRANCOIS MARTINS: For a little Parisian - a little, tiny Parisian, it's very hard to find a safe place to learn how to ride the bicycle because, you know, streets are dangerous.

BEARDSLEY: Martin says it's also about building an environmentally friendly city for the future.

MARTINS: If we can make the bicycle like a reflex or something very natural, even when you are young, it will be for the next generation.

BEARDSLEY: Because an advertising firm is involved in the scheme, the prices are affordable for customers. And it costs the city nothing. Three-year-old Oscar arrives back at the stand to return his bike with training wheels. His mom, Sonia Bayeda, is thrilled.

S. BAYEDA: It's the first time you had the opportunity to ride a real bicycle. And so we're very happy with that idea of the city of Paris.

BEARDSLEY: Yes, agrees father Jean Guillaume Bayeda, to a point.

J. BAYEDA: I think this is the sign they don't have so many new ideas.

BEARDSLEY: Bayeda says the city is simply duplicating the grown-up scheme. He says he'd rather see more daycare centers. But 3-year-old Oscar Bayeda seems sold on it.

O. BAYEDA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: I love the little bike with the pink helmet, he says, running over to get on his P'tit Velib. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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