Mini aspiring cyclists in Paris can now be seen biking alongside their parents—or at least trying to—while rocking a red, green, or pink helmet adorned with a playful “P’tit Vélib’” logo on the side.
P’tit Vélib’, launched June 16, is an extension of Vélib’, one of the world’s largest bike-sharing services—public programs where people can cheaply and easily rent a bike for getting around the city.
Though the programs in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Hangzhou are larger, Vélib’ is the first bike share in the world to include tiny bikes for toddlers.
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The program aims to create young cyclists who will one day choose a bike lock over a car key, according to a statement by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “By introducing the very young to the most eco-friendly and sociable means of transport, we are preparing for the future of Paris,” she wrote.
It’s an idea the people of the city requested. In a survey conducted by Paris City Hall in 2012, the office discovered that 86 percent of Parisian families were interested in a bike service for children. Two years later, the service exists.
The program not only lends kids bikes, but also teaches them how to ride. The tot-friendly bikes and classes will be offered in parks, with most stations open until 7 p.m.
Four sizes of bikes are available: La Draisienne, or “the Hobbyhorse,” a bike without pedals for 2- to 4-year-olds; the 12 inch, a bike with training wheels for 3- to 5-year-olds; the 16 inch, a bike with or without training wheels for 5- to 7-year-olds; and the 20 inch, a bike for the brave 7- to 8-year-olds who can ride like pros.
While bike shares have been taking off in U.S. cities like New York and Washington, D.C., none of them offer a program for kids like P’tit Vélib’. That’s because U.S. bike share programs are young compared to the 7-year-old one in Paris, says Caroline Samponaro, a senior director with the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives.
But that doesn’t mean American riders aren’t clamoring for kids’ bikes. Gus Sullivan works with the bike share in San Antonio, Texas, and says families constantly request child seats and tagalongs, which the program doesn’t offer.
At least, not yet. With U.S. interest in bike sharing on the rise, colorful helmets and wobbling bikes may be in the states’ future—especially with bike share for kids proving successful in Paris.
In the meantime, parents in cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco can head to Bike and Roll, a private bike rental company, to rent trailers, child seats, and tagalong attachments.
After all, a budding bicyclist has to start somewhere.