My how they grow, Boris Bikes turn 5!

Free hire this weekend, August 22nd and 23rd

It is time for a celebration of the Boris bike which has been roaming the streets of London for 5 years now. As a sort of reverse birthday present, Tfl and Santander are giving you free hire this weekend, Aug 22nd and 23rd, 2015. Huzzah!

First however, I start with excuses. I have been living back in London for a year and this time 5 years ago when the Tfl scheme launched I had just arrived in the US. In the time since I have been back in London I have commuted daily but always used my own bike. Living in North London means I am not within easy reach of a dock so I have never been able to use them to get home. I am also somewhat adverse to standing in the street trying to figure something out, cowardly yes but there you go. 

So, I sheepishly admitted to Andreas when I started with London Cyclist that I had never actually used a Boris bike. He was slightly appalled. Therefore, when we got the press release for this years free birthday weekend, it seemed like the natural time for me to give one a go, and of course blog about it. When the scheme launched we wrote about the experiences of early pioneers, I would like to think of myself as a cautious pioneer – I may be a bit late, but I avoided having to scout the trails.

Boris bike van

We covered the birthday events last year as well, this year it seems a little less publicized and a little less involved When I went to the dock this morning the screen told me, eventually, that I have a free bike. It did make it seem like it was free for a whole 24 hours which is not true, the first 30 mins are free rather than £2. Thats still pretty good, you can get a long way in 30 mins if you really go for it. However, the person after me was perplexed and had no idea why it was free – it didn’t actually tell you on the screen, it just came up as £0. There seem to be no events this year, even though it is Santander’s Summer of Cycling and I am pretty surprised that there was nothing on the screen – maybe it’s too hard to change for just a weekend.

Boris bike success

In five years there have been over 42 million journeys on the bikes, and one poor bike has been used nearly 4300 times. A Boris bike has been up Mont Ventoux and back in less than 24 hours. There are currently 11,500 bikes in the fleet, docked in 748 stations with big plans for a further 1000 docks, although there is no time frame for expansion. In recent weeks with the tube strikes, the bikes have been in great demand with extra emergency docks put into parks, a real testament in a way to their use for the London commuter. The bikes are great for visitors as well, seeing this city by bike is really a very nice experience. With the change over from Barclays to Santander there are promises of better bikes, more top ups at popular stations as well as the continued expansion of the fleet.

My first hire

Me on Boris bike

I downloaded the Santander app to rent a bike, but failed to get it to work. This may be a technical deficiency on my part, but I got frustrated and gave up as I couldn’t get it to connect and register my details. Therefore I had to just suck it up and go down to my nearest dock, one in Camden, and use the screen at the docking station. One thing the app did help with was finding a station with a good compliment of bikes, and I can see this being very useful should you be needing a bike at a busy time. Using the docking station turned out to not be the traumatic experience I was expecting. I do seem to have a general problem with devices that recognize me as a person – touch screens and automatic doors being the main ones – so I was pounding on the screen angrily a couple of times. However, I was successful and obtained a bike from the dock. They are not really too bad to ride, the gears are pretty low so hauling the weight away from a traffic light is fine. Most people will know all these things already. 

I am pleased I have done it, and I am pleased it was free. I think a little more publicity wouldn’t have gone a miss to make it clear that hiring for 30 mins is free this weekend, but maybe they didn’t want a run on the bikes and the negative publicity that could cause. Who knows.

If you wish to hire a bike for free, you have until the end of tomorrow, Aug 23rd. Details can be found on the Santander/Tfl website.

What was your reason for first hiring a Boris bike? Do you have any big birthday plans for a bike this weekend? Let us know!

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

8 Responses to My how they grow, Boris Bikes turn 5!

  1. MJ Ray 24/08/2015 at 8:35 am #

    I hired bikes when I didn’t have a folding bike and still do when I can’t readily carry the folder into my destination.

    The OpenBikeSharing app works in London to show dock locations and status, as well as many other cities, so you don’t need Santander spyware on your phone.

    • robert william 24/08/2015 at 11:57 am #

      but i think app will make everything easier.
      don’t you thnik that???

      • MJ Ray 24/08/2015 at 1:15 pm #

        No, I think the app will run down my battery and run up the data charges on my phone bill, while still not letting me book a bike – see Emily’s experience above.

  2. Mik 24/08/2015 at 10:13 am #

    I’m yet to use one, I work more on the edge of London so am just outside the rental zone. I got the key fobs over a year ago (they probably don’t work anymore) with an intention to use them when in London ‘proper’ but never seem to be doing the multi stage trips that would make having rented one worthwhile. I’m either happy to just walk because it isn’t too far, or my tube/DLR journey in has dropped me at my destination anyway. It never seems worth the money to do a single trip on one, I’m rarely in London, on my own, in that much of a hurry that walking isn’t good enough.

    We came close to using them after the Nocturne in ’14 but naturally every bay was devoid of bikes.

    I’m sure I’ll use one eventually.

  3. carl 25/08/2015 at 4:43 pm #

    I’ve used the Boris bikes since they have started. I think they are great, I use it to get from Canon street station to spitalfields and back each day. I pay the yearly set fee and personally think its a very handy way of getting around town. I’m sure it has encouraged more people to cycle within London and give it a go. Once tried most people never look back.

  4. Cameron 01/09/2015 at 9:56 pm #

    Ah Boris Bikes, the gateway drug which helped rediscover my love of cycling. No longer a regular user since I have now bought my own single speed for commute and roadie for the weekend.

    I’m 15kg lighter now too.

  5. Patrick 01/10/2015 at 5:40 pm #

    I know it is short hand but could we please find another name for these other than Boris bikes? They were not Boris Johnson’s idea , they were actually initiated and planned by TFL during the tenure of Ken Livingstone. Johnson may be a cyclist himself but they just happened to be introduced during his term of office. Credit where credit is due but continual use of the term just perpetuates the myth that the cycle hire scheme was Johnson’s personal project, while his actual contribution to transport policy especially cycling issues has been very mixed to say the least.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santander_Cycles#History

  6. Andrew 04/03/2016 at 6:57 am #

    A great idea and even better execution. I drove around London on one of these last year with my girlfriend, and I must say that there is simply no better way of getting an intimate feel for the city and all it has to offer. Plus it made for great memories.

Leave a Reply