London Bike Hire (Boris Bikes)

After my Waltham Forest odyssey, I took the opportunity to use the London Bike Hire with Alan P of, "A Grim North." Having heard ahead of time that the casual user system was fiddly and cumbersome, I decided to splash out the £3 to become a member. In the areas of the city served by the scheme, docking stations are readily available, although many of the ones I observed were somewhat lacking in bikes.

The bikes themselves are great; stable, robust and fairly comfortable. The gearing is quite low, but this is ideal for the stop and go traffic they are designed to be used in.


Step-through frame can accommodate a wide range of rider heights


The front carrier and elastic strap are provided as an alternative to baskets, which the designers felt would be used as bins. I discovered it can also be used as a makeshift aero bar to increase performance.


The front carrier included integrated LED lighting, which flashes when the bike is in use (and continues for a few minutes afterwards)


Rear lights are integrated into the frame at the bottom of each of the chainstays. The bike uses a 3-speed Shimano Nexus hub, and Shimano roller brakes (presumably due to the ease with which they can be replaced).


A chain tensioner is used, presumably to avoid the problem of the chain coming off due to low tension if a wheel is not replaced perfectly by Serco.


The front wheel has a Shimano dynamo hub and another roller brake






Left: The bike has a rotary bell, as is common on bikes in The Netherlands. Right: The Bike uses the standard Nexus shifter (which rotates the other way compared to derailleur grip-shifters). The brake activated by each lever is specified on the handlebar, presumably to help tourists from nations which use the right hand side of the road for travel (bike brakes are commonly reversed relative to the UK in those countries).

Unlike the bikes, the system controlling the hiring of bikes is very poor. In the day out I managed to hire around six bikes successfully, out of around twenty I attempted to hire. Several were understandably out of service, but far more common was that the system appeared to time out whilst authorising the bike to be released, producing neither a positive green signal from the dock nor a negative red one. Another problem was the dock occasionally returning a red light, indicating that authorisation had failed, before turning to green in around the same time it would take for someone to turn around and start top walk away.

The bike hire is a good idea and the bikes are fit for their purpose. The scheme is let down immediately by the infrastructure controlling the authorisation of hiring, and on a wider scale by the lack of adequate infrastructure provision for cyclists in many of the areas in which the scheme operates.

Despite the problems encountered, I had a really good day on the Boris Bikes. They are one of the few bikes I can successfully wheelie, and hot-docking is always fun too Winking smile


4 thoughts on “London Bike Hire (Boris Bikes)

  1. Interesting post to read, although shame about the inefficiency of the hiring system. I've read this on so many other blogs of people who've been using the bikes.The thing that amuses me most is that of all the European cities that the hire bikes are now available in, the London ones are the only one referred to after a politician's name… in Paris there's the Velib, in Italy is Ciclocitta` (or a variety of this), in Seville is SEVici, Girona is Girocleta… yet in London, despite being an initiative that started with the previous mayor + bank endorsement, they are now branded as BorisBikes ;)I hope to get to try them one day. Also did you hear that Chorlton is/was looking to starting a hire bike service? I read it in an old minutes-of-meeting from Manchester Cycle Forum.

  2. I do dislike the term "Boris Bikes," it is unfair to credit Boris for the scheme; the ball was already rolling before he was voted in. I think the reason why that name has become the De facto term is because unlike other cities, the scheme is heavily branded by Barclays, and the official name is very cumbersome (Barclays Cycle Hire) unlike in Paris (Velib) or Brussels (Villo).Many of those other schemes are commercially supported too, but in a more tasteful way.I like the idea of a hire in Chorlton, but on such a small scale I think it would struggle. I think a Manchester-wide scheme based on the Velib would be more likely to succeed, and there were hints at such an idea in the GM LTP3 document somewhere

  3. Pingback: Shimano and hub gears | Chester Cycling

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