City 'isn't ready' for bike hire scheme thanks to poor infrastructure say fearful riders...

A bike docking station in Belfast has been vandalised just two days after being installed as fears grow that the city is not yet bike-friendly enough to sustain the hire system

The city will launch a new Boris Bike style scheme later this month, and almost 600 people have already registered their interest ahead of the launch on 26 April.

There will the 300 bikes to hire, but only during the hours of 6am and midnight, and there will be 30 docking stations around the city for use by locals and tourists alike.

The Coca-Cola Zero-sponsored Belfast Bikes are similar to London’s, with a small rack at the front to hold belongings.

Anne Madden, of sustainable transport charity Sustrans, told the BBC she praised the move.

"The bike has come of age in Belfast and about time, too, " she said.

"More people are turning to the bike as a way of getting around and for health and fitness.

"Cycling Ulster, the governing body for cycling in here, have told us they've seen a seven-fold increase in their membership in the last five years.”

But she said that more needed to be done before people would feel ready to take to two wheels en masse.

She said: "Cycling in Belfast has, until recently, not been properly catered for. Feeling safer comes with better infrastructure - it is slightly chicken-and-egg."

Jude Collins, who has previously cycled in the city, told the broadcaster he agrees with the concerns. He said while he  "loves the idea", he would not want to cycle in the city.

"It sounds wonderful and it's flourishing in Dublin, Paris and other cities throughout the world," he said.

"But it's the safety of it. I'd be afraid to cycle in Belfast. Will there be the secure bike routes for people to use the scheme?"

The Coke Zero sponsorship will provide £300,000 over three years, with a £400,000 contribution from the council.

Coverage is still patchy too, with no docking stations in east or west Belfast. The furthest south is at Bradbury Place and the furthest north at Carrick Hill.

We recently reported how anyone aged 14 and over who can ride a bike will also be able to apply for free on-road training.

The bike share scheme will initially comprise 300 public bikes and 30 bike docking stations in the city centre. Users can pay £20 for a year-long subscription or £5 for a three-day pass. The first 30 minutes of every journey are free with incremental charges from then on.

Frank O’Donnell, general manager of Coca Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland, said that the firm’s investment in what will become known as Coca‑Cola Zero Bikes was part of a wider commitment to help encourage active healthy lifestyles.

Transport minister, Danny Kennedy, said: "As 'pedal power' continues to grow here, we must all harness the momentum and continue to develop each opportunity to make cycling an everyday, safe, accessible and fun activity for all.

"Charges for the bike hire scheme are very competitive and I am confident it will provide an attractive, sustainable and inexpensive transport system for local people and visitors."

Belfast city councillor Deirdre Hargey said the pricing had been set so as to be as affordable as possible to as many people as possible with the aim of encouraging people to make short trips around the city by bike.

Last year, Londoners and visitors to the city were able to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the launch of the Barclays hire scheme by borrowing bikes for free. It was also revealed that July had seen the highest ever monthly usage with 1,170,000 hires.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.