/ Travel & Leisure

Will you ride Boris’s bikes?

Row of bikes

Is the Barclays Cycle Scheme going to be a fast-track to town or is it destined to go down like a flat tyre? Time will tell, but Which? Holiday’s Rochelle Turner is keen to get peddling.

I’ve recently started cycling into our offices in Central London, causing my dearest friends and relations to panic, worry and question my sanity.

London’s Barclays Cycle Scheme launches on 30 July and joins Blackpool and Cardiff, the other UK cities with cycle schemes. It aims to promote cycling in the capital as a decent alternative to taking taxis or public transport.

With 6,000 bikes docked at 400 stations across central London, bikes should be available every 300 metres.

Why jump on one of Boris’s bikes?

With its narrow roads and extra-long buses, London’s not exactly known as the ideal cycling city. But there are many traffic-free and calmer cycle routes that, with a bit of careful planning, makes my two-wheeled commute actually quite enjoyable.

London’s scheme is just one of over 100 similar global schemes and our research shows that it actually compares well for cost and convenience. Once I’ve paid my registration fee for London’s scheme (£1 for 24 hours, £5 for a week, £45 a year), I’ll be able to borrow a bike for any number of free 30-minute journeys every day.

Reasons not to use the scheme

A bigger challenge may be to change bikes every 29 minutes when I need to make a longer journey – especially as it’s been widely reported that only 300 of the 400 planned ‘docking stations’ will be ready in time for the launch. This shortage also means only several thousand registered cyclists will be able to jump on bikes for next week’s launch.

The bikes are heavy monsters, weighing over 20kg so it will take a while to drum up some speed. And with only three gears, I’m not planning to give up my road bike any time soon. But for a gentle jaunt to spare me a bus journey, I might just give them a go. That’s if there’s a bike available for me…

Will you be riding Boris's bikes?

No way (43%, 42 Votes)

Yes - what a good way to get round town (29%, 28 Votes)

I'll decide once the scheme gets going (28%, 27 Votes)

Total Voters: 97

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Right then Boris……. since I don't have your number I'll ask the question here. There's a few things I just don't get…..

…..what happens when the clock passes 30 minutes, do the brakes lock up so I'm seen flying over the handlebars at Hyde Park Corner?

…..what happens if I turn up at one of these cycle racks that seem to have been breeding like rabbits over the city in the past week only to find it's full – where do I leave my bike? Will you lend me a satnav so I can turn up at your place to leave it in your safe pair of hands?

…..will you be riding them everyday, with your £1 in hand to feed the meter instead of having your own bike continually being knicked?

Oh Boris, where are you when I face such dilemas?!?

What will happen in hilly parts where I guess a lot of people will take them on a down hill journey but far fewer will ride them back up, will their be vans going round collecting them from areas where they accumulate and taking them back up to empty docking stations?

I wonder how long it will be before David Cameron gets knicked for going the wrong way on a one way street whilst riding one!

Didn’t the last cycle scheme fail because too many people were nicking the bikes? What’s different this time?

I don’t think it’s clear whether or not this scheme is mainly for tourists or for Londoners. I can’t see many Londoners using it…I’ll stick to using my own bike ta v much

I think the 30-minute restriction is a real shame – it limits the usefulness of the scheme. I can’t see tourists taking advantage – how will they know where the cycle points are, or how to get to them? That’s before they’ve tackled London’s less than bike-friendly road network.

Perhaps the bikes are deliberately heavy to a) make them sturdy for public use, and b) make them virtually worthless to anyone as a selling-on prospect.

I don’t want to be too negative – any efforts to promote cycling must be a good thing, so hats off to Boris for trying.

Where are the helmets? Doesn’t seem like a good idea to give people bikes to ride around busy London streets without helmets. How long until the first case against Boris for causing injury/death?

Charlie Lavender says:
29 July 2010

Tell me about it, the streets of London are dangerous for a cyclist. I was cycling the other when I was pulled off by a stranger. If it wasn’t for my hard helmet I’d have been in trouble.

OK, Patrick – it’s been nearly two months since the London bike hire scheme was launched, with more than 500,000 hire bike journeys recorded, and have you been totting up the injuries?

I’d be very interested to know.

From my post on another of your scare-mongering threads:
Similar bike hire schemes in Montreal and Dublin, though smaller, have been running for much longer and have yet to produce the cyclist armageddon you predict for London. [In neither place are helmets mandatory for cyclists.] Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australia, which also operates a bike hire scheme, the state’s helmet laws have rendered the scheme virtually unused and very likely unviable.

I’m certain that Which? used to carry test reports on, and recommend, bicycle helmets. My own helmet was bought on one such recommendation in Which?

But if bike helmets are so important and efficacious, and essential for bike riding, why does Which? no longer continue to test and recommend them? Could it be that you can’t make recommendations with a clear conscience on something you know is relatively ineffective in preventing injury?

The published statistics don’t exactly back up the case for helmets, after all.

‘Why do London cycle hire scheme bikes have ‘front brake’ and ‘back brake’ written on the handlebars? If you don’t know which is which, you shouldn’t be allowed on the road. When you hire a car you don’t get instructions telling you which pedal is the brake and which is the accelerator. Although Darwin would probably have said: "Let them ride and if they die flying over the handlebars, that’s a perfect example of natural selection"’

Just a little comment that made me giggle in today’s Metro (by Ed Bowden) – though I don’t think Darwin would have made any such comment.

Update on Boris’s bikes. There’s been 1431 complaints about the hire scheme, 22774 bike repairs and 15 bikes have gone missing. 2700 people have been overcharged, coming to a total of £20,500. The numbers come from the Mayor’s Question Time and thanks to Adam Bienkov for sending it through.

Software Architect says:
8 March 2011

Issues with Barclays Cycle Scheme that I have had no joy in resolving:

1) If you own multiple fobs you pay for all of them, all the time – the call centre suggested signing up with different cards. ***!!? What kind of a newbie designed their backend system? Were they encouraging me to abuse their system?

1a) I see they have now documented this as a feature on their website. So if you’re a family man and like to use the bikes with your wife and two kids on the weekend. You’ll just have to pay the £4 per day fee or come up with 4 credit cards and email addresses. Clever!?

2) Extracting bikes with a fob can take a large amount of time staring at a flashing orange light. What kind of newbie did their software and network architecture. Either the bike is available or not available to my fob. It could do that in less than a second.

3) Extracting a bike with your credit card (the same one you have signed up with) is not possible. So how am I to pick up a few extra bikes for my friends, visitors, etc – I can’t use my second fob (I had to deactivate that, see [1])

3a) They have recently documented this as a feature in their latest comms email:
“Please note that you will need to use an alternative payment card to the one registered to your membership account. This is in order to protect your account, should your card get stolen, by preventing anyone else accessing cycles.”
People this is not a feature – it is an inability of their system once again!!

4) I can’t rely on the BCS for transport. Thus it is falling out of my favour. Many times I just have not been able to extract a bike. Further, the other night, Tuesday, I tried to take one from SOHO home at 23:30. No the call centre said they are currently updating their network – which will take 4 to 6 hours. ***!!? What kind of newbie designed their hardware infrastructure.

5) When I arrive at a docking station with no available spaces. Yes I can get 15 minutes free. But the on screen system then gives me a list of names of the alternative locations. ***!? Am I supposed to have ‘The Knowledge’ to use the system. I did check the printed map on the side – nope no correlating names there. What about tourists? How about a map!

Boris it is a great idea and when it works it is fantastic, and adds a great extra angle to London. But you are loosing people because the system is not up to scratch. Don’t let it become a white elephant.

The Wald says:
8 March 2011

To extract a London Barclays Bike quickly and easily (and without risk of breaking your back!!?):
1) simply wait for the green light
2) lift the bike by the seat so that the rear wheel is ~20cm off the ground
3) and drop it.
The bike will bounce and pop smoothly out of the dock.

You heard from The Wald first!!!