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Ridden: the Barclays Cycle Hire bikes

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. 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, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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