Cycle Hire Bike 14964 will always have a vivid place in my haunting memories.
Yet, when I first approached it, it didn’t look so sinister. If anything Cycle Hire Bike 14964 looked kind of friendly and welcoming. Like an old friend. It wanted me to sit down. It wanted to show me the places I can see. The people I can meet. The fallen leaves I can gently trample on beneath its comfortingly large wheels.
Confidently I held out my London Cycle Hire Key as I approached the bike. I knew what needed to be done. I’d seen hundreds of fellow Londoners do it with ease. As I slid in my key the light predictably turned from red, to orange and finally the all-clear green.
I pulled the bike. It didn’t move. I pulled it again. That’s strange? This time I put more force into it, hands firmly on the handlebars and pulled with all my strength. Still no movement. Confused I stepped back. Was I missing something? Was there some kind of a vital step in this oh so simple looking extraction of a bike from a docking station process?
Unfazed, having faced bigger challenges in my life, I put the key back in the dock. But by now it was too late. Cycle Hire Bike 14964 was not budging. My mind started to spin. Presenting me with hundreds of unthinkable scenarios of why it didn’t work. Perhaps it’s a well known secret amongst Boris Bikers that you never, never borrow Cycle Hire Bike 14964? Perhaps this is a plot by Boris Johnson to prevent London Cyclist from borrowing a bike and suddenly he will emerge from the nearby bushes laughing full heartedly at my miserable situation and snapping pictures on his iPhone to put up on his Twitter account.
Damn him and his evil plots.
My friend, who was with me at the time, looked at me with her Boris bike. I could see the disappointment in her eyes. I vowed to find a solution. With my phone now in my hands I found myself about to embark on one of the toughest challenges of my life. On the 9th of October 2010 at 17:38 and 27 seconds whilst stood next to Berry Street Cycle Hire Station I was about to call the Barclays Cycle Hire Support Team.
I dialled the number knowing that they were the only ones that could help me now.
Pleased with the speed of someone answering my call and goaded on by passing their security check I optimistically waited for their words of wisdom. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all..
“Have you tried pulling out the bike?”
I was glad to see they had a sense of humour. Of course I had tried to pull out the bike. Why did they think I was standing here? I was no Boris biking fool.
Next they suggested I pull harder.
I started to pull with all my strength. Maybe this was the solution. Maybe we would all laugh later at my embarrassing lack of strength and all would be well again with the world.
But it wasn’t to be. The bike was not moving. We needed something else. A new approach, some blue sky thinking. I awaited their next suggestion, keen by now, almost desperate to try the next thing.
They suggested I pull again, but this time harder.
Surely we’ve already tried this? Einstein said the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. But I doubted myself. Maybe I truly wasn’t pulling hard enough.
So once again I pulled it with all my strength. The passing cars started to look at me funny. Like I was vandalising the bike. If a police car arrived I’d soon be in the back of it, explaining to them that it’s what Boris’ minions wanted me to do.
Again I searched for answers from the support staff. Again they suggested I pull the bike harder. This continued for around 10 minutes at which point it was time to step things up a level. I wanted to speak to a supervisor.
To protect his name, let’s call him John. John will have the answers I thought. He’s the kind of person where if there’s a problem with a bike he’ll deal with it. On John’s watch no Boris Biker is ever left behind. Or at least so I thought. Once again the suggestion floated to pull the bike really hard. Once again it didn’t work. I had lost count of how many times we’d tried the same suggestion. Desperation was beginning to turn to anger.
As I took a deep breath and received a sympathetic pat on the back from my friend I stated the facts as I could see them to John:
“We’ve been trying the same thing for about 15 minutes now John and let’s face facts, it isn’t working.”
For good measure I threw in some encouragement:
“Now we’re both on the same team here.”
And finished with a bit of light-heartedness:
“Isn’t there some kind of magic button you can press to release another bike for me?”
I’d pulled off the friendly customer 101. Surely now a solution would be on my hands and we’d soon be on our way to Regents Park.
John had other ideas. Had I tried lifting the bike and dropping it?
As someone who was trying to rent a bike not test to see if the gravitational pull of the earth is still working I can’t say I had tried that. I promptly did, realising this was the only way to move to the next stage in this ever escalating game of ridiculous suggestions that I seemed to have unwillingly entered myself into.
Once this stage was finally passed and I had lifted and dropped Cycle Hire Bike 14964 three times John relented.
He told me to hold the line.
What happened next on the other end of the line I can only imagine happened as follows..
John called up Boris Johnson. He asked him for authorisation to use the secret button. Boris gave the go ahead. Then two little elves appeared with a secret key. John placed the secret key into a keyhole under the desk. A red button emerged labelled: “Solve the customers problem”. He pressed it.
Back on the line with me he told me to try another bike. I slid in my key and the bike released without any issue.
Putting the phone back against my ear I thanked John and cycled to Regents Park with my friend.
Two days later I received my phone bill:
I learned three things that day:
- A 23 minute and 09 second call to an 0845 numbers costs £3.94.
- Boris Bikes are really, really theft proof
- Before you call the support line lift and drop the Boris Bike at least 3 times and try and pull it out with all your strength for at least 15 minutes
I’m not sure if Cycle Hire Bike 14964 is still out there. Causing misery for people. Heed my warning. If see Cycle Hire Bike 14964 stay away from it. It’s cursed.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.