Boris Biking in LondonThursday, 5 August 2010
I’ve been Boris Biking around London. The Barclays Cycle Hire scheme (to use its correct name) launched on 30 July. With 5000 bicycles scattered around 315 docking stations – when it opened – it’s the second biggest bicycle share system in the world. The Paris Velib programme is way ahead, with 20,000 bicycles and 1639 stations. Boris Johnson is London’s colourful mayor and a keen cyclist.
For the first month Boris Bikes are only available to registered users with a key, from 30 August anybody can front up, swipe a credit card and ride off. I paid £3 for my key:
Day 1 – Tuesday 3 August –
I picked up a Boris Bike in Kensington and after a couple of hundred metres discovered a station which would have been closer. I dropped my bike off near Sloane Square in Chelsea (after a bit of a search for a station) 19 minutes later. Half an hour later I got another bike and 14 minutes later dropped it off near Victoria train station. Another half hour later I picked up another bike and 20 minutes later dropped it beside the Kensington High St tube station. The front wheel was squeaking and I swapped it for another bike for a final 5 minute ride. So four bikes, 58 minutes riding, total cost £1. As long as you drop your bike within 30 minutes there’s no additional charge beyond the one day fee of £1. You can’t, I discovered, immediately swap one bike for another, however, you have to wait 5 minutes.
Day 2 – Wednesday 4 August – Picked up a bike in Earls Court and in 24 minutes rode it to Victoria Train Station again. Cost for the day again £1.
Day 3 – Thursday 5 August – Started from Kensington again and headed off through Hyde Park and Mayfair and into Soho. Where I suddenly realised my free half hour was nearly up and I needed to quickly dump the bike and get another. And couldn’t find a bike station. Eventually I gave up and kept the bike for 49 minutes, dropping it near Covent Garden (had trouble finding a station there too). Bought some maps and books in Stanfords, looked in a couple of other bookshops and then picked up a bike in Soho Square and 19 minutes later dropped it in Mayfair, near a Waterstones bookshop. Finally a 22 minute ride through Hyde Park, a supermarket stop and a 12 minute ride home. So I was riding for 1 hour and 42 minutes and it cost me £2, the £1 day charge as before and another £1 because I’d gone beyond 30 minutes on my first ride. Go beyond 1 hour and the cost jumps to £4, keep a bike for 24 hours and it’s going to cost you £50. Don’t do it, jump on, ride to where you’re going and drop it. If the trip is going to last more than 30 minutes, split it up.
I’ve enjoyed Boris Biking. The bikes are sturdy (they need to be) so they’re pretty weighty, but they have 3 speed gears and move along OK. They have lights if you’re riding at night. They’re made in Montreal. At the moment everybody is interested in them, so you have plenty of conversations with interested onlookers and Boris Bikers are still at the ‘wave to each other’ stage. I’ve tried the free bike schemes in Paris – the Velib – and in Melbourne, Australia – the Melbourne Bike Share.