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My personal take on those clunky Boris bikes.

by Andrea on October 20, 2010

The arrival of Boris bikes has revolutionised the way cyclists are perceived in London; but there are a number of glitches which still need to be ironed out (image credit below)

The ‘Boris bike’, or more officially the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, has revolutionised biking in London.  Anyone who is registered with the online scheme can now take out a London hire bike – and once you’ve paid for your membership, trips up to 30 minutes are free of charge.

It sounds great in theory – but reviews so far have been fairly mixed.  I’ve used Velib – the Paris version – and have also recently used the Oslo city bike scheme.  How did my ride on a Boris bike compare?

  • You still have to sign up online and get your membership card sent.  There’s no provision for casual users like tourists (unless you’re staying at the InterContinental on Park Lane) – and it looks as if that won’t happen for a while.  That’s a big black mark (I wonder why TfL didn’t consider making the bikes part of the Oyster card system?).
  • The 30 minute ‘free’ period is too short – a shortcoming shared with the Velib scheme.  You don’t just have to get where you’re going, you also have to find a spare place in a bike rack to return the bike – not always easy.  By contrast, Oslo has a 3 hour sign-out period, giving you time to get across the city in a reasonably sedate style.
  • The bike itself is heavy – par for the course with such schemes.  But I was impressed with the basics – 3 gears, integral dynamo lights, an easily-adjustable saddle.  The bungee-cord and luggage rack mean that to go shopping on a Boris bike, you’ll need a solid bag or risk scattering your groceries far and wide.  I like the low centre of gravity – I found that a worry on the Oslo bike, which took some getting used to before I felt stable – and the wheels are big too (so your pedalling is efficient).
  • There aren’t enough bikes. Now the London scheme looks as if it’s got about as many bikes available as Oslo – which has a population of only just over a million all told, compared with Greater London’s 7.5 million.  When I’m in Paris, the Velib racks are just huge – not eight to twelve bikes, but fifty or more outside many of the stations.  We need more!
  • The reach of the scheme is limited.  Both Oslo and Paris have big bike schemes extending to the suburbs.  London’s scheme on the other hand is much more limited; nothing further east than Whitechapel or further north than Shoreditch.  That’s just not enough for such a big city.
  • Why are some docking stations inside parks? These are locked up at night which is not exactly going to help in getting the usage up.
  • Poor rack organisation.  The biggest black mark is that most racks seem either 100% full (so you can’t return the bike you’ve hired out) or 100% empty, so you can’t rent one in the first place.  That’s utterly frustrating and could turn users off the scheme unless it’s addressed.

Still, the scheme is a fair start if the goal is to get Londoners onto bikes.

I’ve certainly noticed Boris-bikers in the streets, so it appears to be working in terms of getting people to adopt two wheels as a mode of transport.

A couple of London hotels have enthusiastically jumped on the Boris bike bandwagon – the Travelodge Waterloo provides electric bike hire to its guests (though not Boris bikes, even though the London Mayor himself recently opened the hotel).  And the InterContinental Park Lane has gone a step further and adopted the Boris bike scheme as a free guest amenity.

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Staying at the InterContinental Park Lane is currently the best way for tourists to make use of a Boris bike

So those two would appear the ideal London hotels for bike enthusiasts…

Perhaps some Boris bikers will eventually get their own bikes – while others simply use the Boris bike as part of their commute, arriving in London by train but then taking the bike instead of bus or tube to their offices.

And what if you’re heading to London on business or for a holiday?

If you have a UK address, you can order a membership in advance – at £1 a day (with a £3 deposit for the membership card), it won’t break the bank.

If you’re heading in from abroad however, you’ll have to wait until next year.  In the meantime, there’s always Paris I suppose…

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Photo credits: InterContinental Park Lane Hotel (InterContinental Hotels Group), Charlotte Gilhooly’s photostream.

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January 7, 2011 at 6:00 am

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