Image by FoxyCoxy
As a new resident in London (I still feel new, even though I’ve lived here for nearly a year now), I’m always looking for ways to get out and explore London. I used to make a conscious effort to walk wherever I went in central London, and whenever I came home from further afield I’d always get off a few stops early so I could explore my local area. But I was always put off cycling in London. Ask any group of Londoners their views on cycling, and you seem to get very polarised opinions. I spoke to someone at the weekend who said he’d been cycling in London for 15 years, and he said that there’s nothing wrong with the roads in London – and yet other friends would never dream of taking a bike because the roads are so dangerous.
For a long time I agreed with the latter point of view. I live close to the City, and in the first four months of me living in London there were at least three fatalities involving cyclists near my house – that put me off city cycling for quite a long time, and when someone shared this Google Maps mashups of cyclist accidents, that just served to reinforce my decision. Even Boris Johnson, a fervent supporter of cycling in London, has had his fair share of near misses:
However, my opinion changed very recently. I’d signed up to the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme largely out of curiosity, and my key arrived shortly before the recent tube strikes. When the strike happened, I decided to turn to the “Boris bikes” to get around town, and absolutely loved it. The bikes are big, sturdy, well built machines – presumably to prevent people riding the bikes like this:
I have tried to pop the odd endo as I’ve been approaching a red set of traffic lights, but alas, so far I’ve been unsuccessful, so can vouch for the sturdy nature of the “Boris bikes”.
To get started, you first need to register and choose an access fee to get a key. There are three access fees – £1 will give you 24 hours access, £5 will give you 7 days access, and £45 will give you a years access. Once you’ve sorted this, and have received your key, it’s important to activate it. You can do this by logging into your account, and entering the activation number written on your key. I actually forgot to do this, meaning that I got a flat refusal the first time I tried to take out a bike. When you start using the bike, you then get charged a usage fee on top of the access fee. Usage fees range from free for the first 30 minutes, up to £50 for 24 hours. You’ll need to bear in mind that these bikes are intended for short journeys around town. so if you’re clever about it and know where the docking stations are, you could successfully navigate your way around town all day without incurring any usage fees. Full costs can be read about over here.
They’re extremely comfortable, and with just three gears, certainly aren’t built for speed. But the ease with which you can get a bike, and then get around town is just fantastic. I’ve already started ditching the Tube whenever the weather’s good. I wouldn’t say the experience has been hitch free though. Try and cycle home from the City after dark, and you’ll have problems – largely that you’ll struggle to find a bike. There are some good iPhone apps to point you in the direction of your nearest docking station, along with how many bikes are available (I’m using the London Cycle app at the moment), but what it fails to telll you is how many of those bike are out of order. Therefore I walked for 10 minutes to the nearest docking station, only to find that there are no bikes available to ride away with. Also, the ebb and flow of the bikes still isn’t quite right, and although there are teams to employed to redistribute the bicycles, I’ve still turned up at some docking stations that are empty, and others that are full (which is bad depending on whether you’re looking to either get a bike or return one).
All in all, I’ve been very impressed though. This was a bold move by Boris Johnson. There have been teething problems, but it feels like nothing more than that, and anything that encouragers more Londoners to get cycling around town has to be a good thing. If you’re not sure about the “Boris bikes” but still want to get out and about cycling, be sure to check out our bike reviews over on Review Centre.