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Our experience of riding the new hire fleet on the mean streets of, erm, Lincoln's Inn Fields

Tomorrow. That's when the early adopters will be able to rock up to a Barclays Cycle Hire station and pick up a bike for their free half hour. With 6,000 bikes and 300 stations throughout central London in the first phase it's certainly going to be a genuine alternative to the car, bus, tube or your feet. But what will the bikes actually be like to ride?

Well, that's where we come in. road.cc was invited down to the smoke to have a go on a couple of the hire bikes before the official launch, and we were more than happy to give them a couple of hours on the city's streets to see how they performed. And we made a short video of our experiences, which you can watch below.

Overall it was a generally positive experience. The bikes are certainly heavy, but they need to be built to last. At over 20kg with some seriously sturdy rubber on the wheels they take a while to roll up to speed but the Shimano Nexus gearing is just about right for city bimbling; it's geared quite low so you won't want to do more than about 15mph but the low gear is good for nipping away from the lights or spinning up one of the capital's hills. We didn't try it on Swain's Lane though.

The riding position and handling is very friendly, with the step through design making it easy to hop on and off. You get instructions on your handlebar covers about how to use the bikes, but they're a bit plasticky and feel like the most vulnerable part of the design.

The bike has a single sided kickstand – it could maybe have done with a proper double stand – and a sort of magazine rack affair at the front, space which would have been better filled with a full basket as that would be much more versatile. There's a bungee to hold your stuff in the rack but again, that's going to be one of the first things to go.

No lock is supplied, which means that you'll either have to bring your own or return the bike to a docking station whenever you want to leave it unattended. Other schemes such as the Velib' bikes in Paris have an integral lock, but it's a deliberate decision to leave it out of the deal in this case to encourage bikes to be returned promptly; the pricing scheme will do that too as it ramps up very quickly after your free half hour.

TfL maintain that the bikes are built to last for 15 years of use, we don't reckon given the experiences elsewhere that many will last that long but it's nice to have a target. It'll be interesting to see whether TfL modify the design as the bikes are replaced, our first changes would be a proper basket and a double kickstand.

The bikes certainly provoked a lot of interest out and about, with cyclists, cabbies, pedestrians and policemen all asking us about how they rode, and the intricacies of the scheme. That's something we didn't get to try – no stations were open when we rode the bike – and the scheme's success will be largely based on how user-friendly the whole experience of hiring a bike is. We'll be back to the smoke to try out the scheme for real soon, so watch out for a follow up vid...

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

14 comments

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my1minuterant [10 posts] 5 years ago
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I have my key and am ready to go...although I already have a bike.

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Super Domestique [1596 posts] 5 years ago
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I spotted all the bike stand ready on my way out of London on Tuesday. I laughed to myself at the number of riders on the road that night too. When I used to be a Central London resident and cycle commuter (building the early ancestor of bikes like the Carrera Subway from basic mtb's back then for myself, friends, family, etc) I was one of just a few and most would acknowledge each other like we belonged to come kind of secret society!

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handlebarcam [601 posts] 5 years ago
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The reason for the lack of a proper basket is, apparently, because you cannot put anything that could conceivably serve as a container for trash on the streets of London without it quickly filling up with said material.

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londonplayer [620 posts] 5 years ago
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The scheme will never work - except that they will pump money into it to make it work. It is a waste of council taxpayers money in London.

Just because you are a cyclist, it does not mean that you have to support the scheme. Who is going to use these bikes? The last time I checked, most cyclists in London already own a bike.

As you mention, the only plus side is that it will annoy the hell out of the taxi drivers so they may have to call a truce to their long war on cyclists.

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Old Cranky [257 posts] 5 years ago
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Was tempted to join, but made the decision to buy a Brompton instead.

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timlennon [210 posts] 5 years ago
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"As you mention, the only plus side is that it will annoy the hell out of the taxi drivers so they may have to call a truce to their long war on cyclists."

Or, put another way, London drivers will have no option but to start dishing out a bit more respect - in terms of space and allowance - for cyclists.

Much as there are currently poor or dangerous cyclists out there, I would suspect that most of the people who cycle on the road in London are pretty clued up - as you have to be to stay safe. I don't imagine a lot of bike hirers will have the same level of road sense.

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solentine [95 posts] 5 years ago
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I have five bikes and have joined the scheme! I travel into London regularly for meetings and believe that I can get to most locations in under 30mins.Having used schemes elsewhere in Europe I believe this could be benficial to the city.

I imagine there are plenty of smug cyclist prepared to look down on users of these bikes but heyho they don't need to participate in the scheme.

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smithy [2 posts] 5 years ago
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Why is the guy in the video not wearing a helmet!!
He must be mad, particularly cycling in London.Not that it matters where you ride a bike. It also doesn't set a very good example.

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dave atkinson [6214 posts] 5 years ago
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you think every tourist who rocks up to a station to get hold of a bike for half an hour and pootle round london will have brought a helmet with them?

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John_the_Monkey [436 posts] 5 years ago
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I can see using one if I have to be in London & don't fancy bringing, or can't bring my Brompton with me.

Hopefully the "proper" cyclists down there won't mock me too harshly.

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Ush [674 posts] 5 years ago
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The guy probably isn't wearing a helmet because helmets are effin useless. He sets a great example.

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A V Lowe [575 posts] 5 years ago
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Bike sharing schemes don't work with helmet wearing - Mexico rescinded its compulsory helmet law when the Clear Channel scheme was launched in Mexico City, Melbourne is trying to work out how to do this with an automated system.

Shared helmets - no thanks - bigger risk issue with scalp diseases, and integrity of helmets which may have been crushed or dropped. The cranium has evolved as a very effective protection for the brain in most impacts (it is at 30% of its impact capacity at 20mph - a polystyrene helmet - designed impact - 12mph in square-on drop test - is past its impact capacity by 150%, and will be destroyed by a 20mph impact)

A lot of thought has gone in to the system, although I suspect a lot of learning is still to come.

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smithy [2 posts] 5 years ago
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?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'm guessing you've never had the misfortune of being knocked off your bike, resulting in your head making contact with the everso unforgiving road surface! I hate to think what state I would be in had I not been wearing mine after a collision whilst riding at 25mph. I appreciate its a personal choice but to say helmets are useless and that he sets a great example is laughable.

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purplecup [217 posts] 5 years ago
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yawn. can we focus on the point of the article, rather than this earnest should-we-shouldn't-we helmet crap?

it's been covered many times, including here if you want to add you 'opinions':

http://road.cc/content/news/19309-bbc-claim-not-wearing-helmet-illegal

perhaps you could 'appreciate it's a personal choice', smithy, by not peddling meaningless anecdotes