The London Cycle Hire Scheme

Have you ever used the Barclays Cycle Hire bikes in London? The ‘Boris bikes’? Me neither (well, unless you just answered ‘yes’ to the question I pose…). On my fairly frequent forays into London I regularly walk past the docking stations and consider having a go but then have a rethink as I assume they are complicated or you have to register in advance to use them. Well, as an Olympic volunteer (‘Games Maker’), I’ll be working in central London quite a bit this summer, travelling into Paddington on the train and then making my way further into the centre to my base near Park Lane. I could take the tube but there is no direct line from Paddington to where I need to go and I would have to change at least once. I could walk; it’s not that far across Hyde Park and quite pleasant on a nice day… But it would make more sense to get into the habit of jumping onto one of the bikes. So, am I correct in thinking that it’s complicated or that you have to register in advance? I’m about to find out…

I’m doing this in real time; I have no idea as I type what formalities are required. First stop is the TFL website page which tells me I have to register and following the link I land upon this page which tells me I can become a ‘member’ on line. It’s a club! Give me a few moments to fill out the details. Chat amongst yourselves…

OK. This is not good news. It keeps telling me that “we are having a problem with your request” and I have retried but without luck. Should I ring 0845 026 3630 for help? Perhaps later… Is it necessary to become a member? No, but it will make life easier as they apparently send you a key that you can use at the docking stations – see the picture – and you can, should you choose, pay £45 and have unlimited access all year round! But there is a daily and weekly option which is probably better for me. Here is the full schedule of charges:So, if I turn up at Paddington, I will need to pay £1 to access the bike but probably nothing for usage as my journey from the station to Park Lane won’t take me more than 30 minutes. If I register for 7 days, that cost per day is reduced to 71 pence per day but the most I’m working in any one week is four shifts so it makes sense to stick to the daily access fee. OK. We are making progress! I think…

There is a second option of buying “access at any docking station with a credit or debit card“. Perhaps I should try that. It’s referred to as ‘casual use’ (so make sure you aren’t wearing a suit and tie!). Full instructions are here but it boils down to this; stick your debit/credit card in the terminal at the docking station, following the instructions on the screen, you are given a ticket with a code that you then punch into the keypad next to the bike (I assume all codes consist of only the numbers 1, 2 or 3). That seems quite straightforward.

I’m still tempted by the key thing however (just so that I don’t look like a tourist!). I’ll call 0845 026 3630. What’s betting it’s a recorded message… Press 1… Press 1… And I’m speaking to someone!! (Although he can’t spell ‘Reading’ or ‘Huddersfield’)… Lots of information to give (and the debit card didn’t work first time around!) but success! I have been charged £4 which is made up of £3 charge for my key (which will be dispatched in ‘3-5 working days’) and £1 for the first time I use the bike. Thereafter, I’ll pay £1 plus the usage charge which will hopefully be zero!

Next thing is to test the bikes & I’ll hopefully do that next Saturday as I have to attend a training event at the Olympic Park. The scheme has just been extended to the east so it would be possible to cycle all the way from Paddington to the Olympic Park but I think I’ll test out how long it takes for me to get from Paddington to Park Lane, hopefully in under 30 minutes. Watch out for updates, live from London (as they say on the best reality TV programmes – you need to shout it) on Saturday 28th April!

Categories: Cycling

4 replies »

  1. When I was in London I would use the Boris Bikes 1-2 times a week. I found the £1 worked quite well because I would get both the morning ride and evening ride for that and my journey was around 25 minutes so I never ended up having to pay extra.

    The scheme only started 6 months before I left but I think I may have considered a annual subscription if we had stayed.

    Having a look where the docking stations are is a good idea, the stations can be quite busy but often there is another stand not too far away. The various apps are good for seeing rough availability but are not always that accurate as there is always a bit of a delay in updating the numbers.

  2. Go for a key. They’re more reliable and easy to use than paying at the terminals. I started paying by card at the docking stations and had quite a few problems – half the time I never managed to get a bike. In the end I took the plunge and got a key and haven’t regretted it. Even if you are a very casual user I think £45 is worth it for the convenience and reliability.

    I’ve been using Boris bikes for commuting between station and work for about 10 months and they are a great way to get around town. Ok you occasionally get a duff one, but it beats being stuck on the tube. Tip – look for bikes with a new, bright chain. Biggest problem can be finding one at the main commuter stations as their use is tidal. Commuters like me can quickly clear them out first thing in the morning.

    • Thanks for that Richard. All very useful stuff!
      As a casual user, it’s probably more cost effective just to do the £1 every time you need to hire a bike, no? The £1 charge is for 24 hours so could include several free 30 minute rides (with a 5 minute gap in between each one!!).
      There is an app that you can download which allows you to see how many bikes are at each station but I don’t know how quickly it is updated. This might help with the issue of there being no bikes at the docking station you plan on using as you can go to one where there are bikes.
      I like your tip about the chain – good thinking!!

What do you think?