Spanish bank has reportedly edged out Coca-Cola with £50m seven-year bid

Boris Johnson may be a true blue Tory, but the bikes nicknamed after him are set to turn red, with Santander and Coca-Cola vying to replace Barclays as the new sponsor of London’s Cycle Hire Scheme – with the Spanish bank reportedly favourite to win the battle.

According to Sky News, Santander will be named the new sponsor after seeing off Coca-Cola’s challenge in what has become a two-horse race in recent days, although no contract has yet been signed.

The financial institution, which established a UK presence through the acquisition of Abbey National in 2004 and later added Alliance & Leicester and the branch network and savings business of Bradford & Bingley, will reportedly pay as much as £7.5 million annually for the seven years of the deal, with total investment of around £50 million.

That’s £2 million a year more than the £5.5 million TfL was seeking when it announced it was putting the scheme out to tender last June, when it said that any new partner would be involved in the future development of the initiative.

TfL's director of commercial development, Graeme Craig, said: "We are currently going through the final stages of the contractual process to appoint the new sponsor of London’s Cycle Hire scheme, and will announce it in due course.

"We’re at a really exciting point in the evolution of Cycle Hire, including record numbers of users in 2014.

"The new sponsor will have the exceptional opportunity to be entwined within the fabric of London and help us deliver the scheme further to get even more people on to two wheels."

Recently, Coca-Cola signed a deal with tourist attraction and theme park operator Merlin Entertainment Group to sponsor the London Eye on the South Bank.

In the UK, Santander brand ambassadors include golfer Rory McIlroy and Olympic heptathlon champion, Jessica Ennis.

It is also a sponsor of both the Ferrari and McLaren Formula 1 teams. The latter deal was due to end in 2010, but late in 2009 the bank decided to renew the sponsorship after it found that its backing of the Surrey-based team had seen its brand awareness in the UK jump from 20 per cent to 82 per cent.

TfL began its search for a new sponsor after Barclays said in late 2013 that its sponsorship of the scheme would expire during 2015, despite Mr Johnson saying four years ago that it had been extended until 2018.

The bank was criticised over issues such as using a commercial confidentiality clause in the contract with TfL to block Freedom of Information requests, and being able to claw back money when usage targets weren’t met.

It is understood that neither of those will feature in any new contract, and it has been noticeable in recent months that TfL has all but stopped using the Barclays name in press releases about the scheme, which last year enjoyed record levels of use.

As the picture above shows, there’s already been a red Boris Bike, here modelled by Martin Keown,

The former Arsenal and England defender joined former rivals for a photoshoot in 2012 when bikes were painted in the colours of London Premier League football clubs to help promote the scheme.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.