The bicycle is the fastest way to get around in a city. Is that in the same way true for every city? Cycle hire schemes make it easy to try it out. The Boris Bikes – an opinion.
By comparison the Viennese Citybikes could learn a lot from the Boris Bikes, such as the density of the docking stations, the quick extension of the scheme – especially the connection of important places throughout the inner city, parks, public institutions, museums; as well as the easy and quick hire. However, there is something the Viennese scheme is much better in: the costs.
How to get around in London? The first thing you will hear when telling Londoners your plans on cycling in the city – if you are not talking to one of the cyclists – is: Cycling in London is suicide or at least pretty scary. With 16 fatalities and a lot of severly injured cyclists in 2011 you realise that this is not just a personal opinion, but fact. The other thing they might tell you is that you need two locks at least to secure your bike from theft. Later on you will find out yourself that there are not many facilities to lock your bike to – even lampposts are quite rare in some areas. Enough reasons to put you off from cycling? NO. Especially not after queueing three times every morning to ride the tube: Before you enter the building, in front of the ticket barriers and on the platform. Usually there is a tube coming every other minute, but often it is too crowded to get on the first one, sometimes you are not even able to enter the second one. However, there is this newish cycle hire scheme, Boris Bikes – nicknamed after London‘s mayor. And if your happen to live somewhere near the inner city you might live in the proximity of one of the cycle hire stations. But are they the perfect fit for short time Londoners?
With a lot less to worry about like bike theft, abandon your bike for the night when you lose the ability to ride it after uncountable pints, and the flexibility to choose easily between your mode of transportation: walking, riding a bike and sometimes even taking the tube again.
Despite looking and actually being quite heavy, Boris Bikes are much more convenient to ride than expected. Still they are quite heavy and unhandy to carry around. You will never try to carry them up some stairs a second time, any detour is less troublesome than that. The cycles have three gears, but you will hardly ever use the second and probably never use the first one. The saddles are huge compared to racing bikes. However, they are comfortable and have a nice advantage: women with tight dresses or skirts just turn them around and are still able to ride the bikes in their business clothes.
Like almost everything, the scheme is not for free. Moreover, you need to pay twice: an access fee and an usage charge. The latter is just necessary if you hire the bike for more than thirty minutes at a time. The access fee for one day is £1 and £5 for a week. The usage charge increases painfully after one hour. The first hour costs you £1, it is £4 for-one-and-a-half hours and up to the maximum of £50 for 24 hours. But if you are stingy or just short on cash and do not want to pay the usage charge, you could return your cycle to the docking station within the first 30 minutes, walk to the next and get another one and continue your journey.
If you happen to be in London for quite some time it might be sensible to become a member of the scheme. The annual fee for that is £45 and with an extra £3 you can get a key which enables you to directly hire the bikes without using the docking column and your credit card.
Sometimes this decides whether you get the last available cycle at the docking station or not. Anyway it is just very convenient and saves a lot of time.
Although there are now 8,300 cycles for hire and more than 13,000 docking spaces at around 550 docking stations throughout the inner city, if you start your journey at the border of the hire scheme there is sometimes a shortage of cycles available in the morning or free docking spaces in the evening.
From time to time you need to ride to another docking station which is usually within 300 or 500 metres to give back your cycle. The cycle hire scheme compensates this inconvenience with an extra 15 minutes for free. Especially late at night – the tube only rides until shortly after midnight even at the weekends – this shortage sometimes leads to a racelike competition for the last free docking space. If you are not in a hurry it can be quite entertaining. If, however, you are in a group, it can be a bit annoying because you need to split up to get rid of all your hired cycles. Unfortunately, the cycle is not constructed for transporting more than one person, there is just space at the front for a regular sized briefcase.
In general the next cycle hire station has a free docking space. And if you do not want to try your luck you can ask the screen at the column about availability at the nearest stations. Unfortunately it does not tell you the location so with a map of unamed stations and the availability list it is mostly down to good guess. At this point sometimes the nice British people step in. 70 percent of the cycle hire users are people with a Londen address. Not just once did I look a bit lost on my Boris Bike or a bit upset in front of the full docking spaces when someone showed me, unasked, the way to the next docking station. However, if you are one of the people with smartphones and internet access, there is a nice app which tells you all you need to know. Well, almost anything, because it seems that the app and the paper map (sent to all new members of the scheme) cannot keep up with the extension of the scheme.
Barclays cycle hire, which is the official name for Boris Bikes, was recently extended towards the Olympic Park and intensified in the inner city just some weeks ago, when 2,300 bikes and 4,800 docking stations were added to the scheme. According to the Greater London authority Barclay Bank has invested £25m in the first five years and will provide the same amount of money until 2018. The first £25m were a fifth of the initial cost of the scheme.