Written by Cycling

Boris Bikes Are Go!

Boris Bikes in Park Street
To celebrate the new bike hire scheme in London I made this Audioboo:
[Update] Boris bike in Park Street
Here’s what else happened after I recorded that Audioboo. I cycled across Westminster Bridge and headed up Whitehall until I found a docking area near the police station opposite Charing Cross station. When I first docked the bike, I didn’t get the green confirmation light that the instructions said I should. I took it out again and redocked. That seemed to sort the problem.
It’s slightly disconcerting that the dynamo powered LEDs continue to flash on the bike (one on the front, two on the rear) even after you’ve docked making you wonder if it’s locked.
Later in the evening I decided to cycle back from Soho to Kings Cross to get the train home. One major concern was that all the docks near Kings Cross would be full as commuters headed home. So I looked for a dock a little further from Kings Cross than I would have preferred. The dock near Tavistock Square was completely full. No problem. I just went to the machine and registered this fact. Even though I still had the better part of 20 minutes free cycling left, I got an extra 15 minutes.
The screen does tell you which nearby docks have spaces, but unless your knowledge of London is like a cabbie who’s taken the knowledge, I found that I needed to consult a map to work out where the docks referred to were on the ground. It’d be nice if you could press a named dock on the screen and it displayed a map of how to get from where you are to dock with vacant spaces.
Anyway, I found a slightly closer dock with spaces. Even though it was now 11.30 at night, two other people were docking bikes. Talking to one of the other people docking, he said he though there’d be loads of spaces at Kings Cross as there had been earlier. He also said that he thought that the scheme was brilliant and he’d used bikes about 8 times today!
I walked back to Kings Cross and in the side-street across the Euston Road from the station, there were indeed both plenty of bikes and spaces.
When I got home and checked my email, I found a note telling me that today was free since I was a pioneer. I thought that was very nice. But then I looked at my Activity Log online. It registered my late ride, but there was no sign of my earlier ride which I thought was odd. I’ll feed back to them as requested.
All in all a great experience. Lots of admiring glances from people, and one cyclist came alongside at one point and asked how the bike handled. Although the bikes are heavy, you can still get a fair old speed up on them. I must admit that even though I’m trying to cycle to work most days with my Brompton, I’m vaguely tempted to take an annual subscription out to the scheme for those Brompton-less journeys and days.
[Update 2] On Saturday I took a further three trips using the bikes. A few things that occur to me having spent a bit more time on these bikes.
1. Remember your saddle size. There’s an easy to use extension tube, and it has some helpful numbers printed on the side. Once you know you’re preferred height, just adjust the saddle accordingly.
2. Learn where the bell is. The Nexus gearing system is on the right, although I’d defy even the most unfit person trying to take a bike up Primrose Hill to need 1st gear. But more to the point, the bell is on the left. You just have to twist the plastic grip round to make a noise. This is an essential add-on as the biggest problem you’ll have in the city centre streets isn’t cars, buses or taxis, but suicidal pedestrians who simply don’t check the roads before stepping out into them.
3. Contrary to popular belief, you can get a decent speed up. I’ve found myself overtaking other cyclists on their own bikes on more than one occassion. Today, I ended up “towing” along another cyclist in my slipstream.
4. The most common fault in my limited time using the bikes is dodgy brakes. In particular, brakes that get stuck in the on-position. I’ve had two bikes now that when first released from docks have wheels that hardly move. I’ve promptly returned them to their dock and pressed the red “fix me” button. The only problem with that is that there’s no obvious light to tell the next person that a bike isn’t working. I understand that in Paris users turn the saddle backwards to indicate a damaged bike. It’d be great if this caught on here.
5. Expect to have to tell at least one or two people how the scheme works. While I won’t say that the glances thrown at you are “admiring” like those given to some ultra-cool fixies, but people still don’t really understand how the scheme works.
On that last note, some seem to think that the scheme is expensive. It’s not. But if you want a bike for more than an hour, hire one from a regular bike hire place. These machines are simply designed to get you from A to B. That’s why the prices go up dramatically after an hour. It’s the same as those pay and display car parks that give you perhaps up to 2 hours inexpensively, but then prices jump up. They actually don’t want you in the car park longer than two hours, and the price is an incentive to get you out of the car park. It’s the same with these bikes.
One thing we haven’t yet seen much of, but I suspect will affect the bikes enormously, is stickering. They’re currently moving billboards for Barclays which has contributed £25m to the scheme. But others will quickly plaster the bikes with stickers for club nights, and political or social causes. I can’t see any way of avoiding that.
All in all, with a couple of minor hiccups, the scheme is still working well two days in.