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Paris Set for Pedal Power Revolution

or weekly charge of five euros.

Children under 14 are not allowed use the bikes, and helmets are recommended but, for hygiene reasons, are not provided.

The scheme will not cost French taxpayers a penny thanks to a deal between city hall and urban advertising giant JC Decaux, which is picking up the bill in exchange for exclusive rights to 1,600 hoardings across the city.

It will even generate funds for the city, with a slice of ad revenue paid back into its coffers.

Paris' strategy is to allay concerns -- such as bike theft and repairs -- that have kept people from taking up cycling and that have caused similar schemes to founder in cities such as Amsterdam.

Despite a growing 400-kilometre (250-mile) network of cycle paths, the city of two million, which has one of the best public transport systems in the world, has only 150,000 bike owners.

It is also rolling out a major campaign on road safety for novice cyclists, while reassuring users that bikes are less accident-prone than cars or motorcycles.

It is counting on the sheer number of bikes on the street to win over doubters, and force the notoriously aggressive Parisian drivers to be more considerate.

To allow for intensive use, the bikes themselves are sturdy machines, weighing 22 kilograms (50 pounds) with three gears and a large front basket with a lock for stop-offs away from docking stations.

Velib, a contraction of the French words "velo" (bike) and "liberte" (freedom), is modelled on a similar scheme run by JC Decaux in the southeastern French city of Lyon where 4,000 self-service bikes have been part of the landscape since 2005.

Fifty-five percent of the scheme's users in Lyon say they now drive less, and bike traffic has jumped 75 percent.

The Paris initiative dovetails with the pledge by newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy to push green issues up t
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