Test Driving the Boris Bike

I tried out one of the new Boris Bikes yesterday! The Critical Mass ride seemed like a good chance to personally inaugurate this new era of public transport in London. In the event, teething troubles with the hire scheme meant that we were left behind as the bike ride swarmed off into the distance.

The pricing is structured so that while half an hour is free and an hour is only a pound, take it back after an hour and you have to pay a pretty steep £4. Hopping from bike to bike seems to be the only sensible way to get round this price, so that was our intention.

The first problem is that some of the cycle bays on the map that TfL sent with the key don’t exist. The map lied to us that there would be bays at County Hall and at Old Queen Street. So as the Critical Mass ride made its stately way around Parliament Square and up Whitehall, we dashed around trying to find somewhere to swap the bike, while the clock ticked down on our reasonably-priced hour. The Evening Standard have visited 374 sites on TfL’s official cycle hire map and found that only 284 docking stations appear to be complete, 34 were being built, and no work had been done at 56 sites. So don’t trust the map!

Second problem was that when we did find a docking bay on the Strand it was entirely full, so there was nowhere to park up. When that happens you can log into the terminal and it grants you another 15 minutes to whizz off to try and find another one.

So as the Critical Mass disappeared up the Mall we searched behind the National Gallery for a free bay, parked the bike, and tried to hire another to continue on our way. There seems to be a wait between stowing one bike and taking another – I’m not sure why that’s entirely necessary. But no matter how long we waited, another bike wouldn’t release.

We walked to another docking station (and there are plenty of them in central London), but still couldn’t get a bike to release. A phone call to the helpline revealed that a bike we tried at the National Gallery station had been hired but not returned. Turns out that our bike had been activated, but the green light hadn’t flashed and the bike hadn’t been unlocked properly.

BBC London News are reporting today that this has been a recurring problem, with TfL cancelling the fine for a woman who was “billed for 11 hours’ use even though she could not get the cycle to unlock”. Luckily, we found out about the problem within twenty minutes.

To anyone trying to extricate a bike from the docking bay – lifting up the back wheel while pulling it seems to be required sometimes.

The Critical Mass well and truly lost, we settled on giving the Boris Bike our own test run.

They are little heavy to ride. I wouldn’t fancy cycling them up any sort of hill, so while I’d be happy to ride one from Angel into the City I wouldn’t fancy the return trip. It takes a lot of hard work pedalling furiously to get anywhere, even in the highest gear, and it’s hard getting up much speed on the flat. The basket is pointlessly small, and a bigger one would be welcome.

I still think the scheme is very exciting, and could potentially revolutionise public transport in London. Boris has admitted that there will be teething problems, and I hope they will be sorted out.

But for anyone living in London, it will still be better to own your own bike. The £45 you’d spend on Cycle Hire membership alone isn’t a lot less than buying a brand new bike. Nothing can match the convenience of your own bicycle, especially if using the Boris Bike will involve traipsing around the area looking for a free docking bay as the minutes tick on your affordable hour.

Riding the hire bike drew constant catcalls and hoots from excited pedestrians. And they weren’t yelling ‘Barclay’s Cycle Hire™!’ or ‘Ken may also have had this idea!’ – they were yelling, “Nice Boris Bike, Boris!” Looks like Mayor Johnson has his legacy sorted.

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Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 6:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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