Insider tips from Boris Bikes pioneers

If you are one of the pioneering users of the cycle hire scheme then the rest of us owe you a pint! As a pioneer you’ve struggled with bikes that don’t dock, over tightened bicycle brakes that require extra pedalling effort and call centres that won’t call you back.

Here are some of the tips from those pioneers of the scheme that have been leaving comments on London Cyclist and on sites such as the Boris Bikes forums that should make your cycle hire experience as smooth and as pleasurable as possible:

Boris bike rear wheel with Barclays logo

Check that your chosen bike has a rear wheel that spins smoothly by lifting the bike and spinning the back wheel.

Cycle hire docking station at Bricklayers Arms

If you need to do a journey that is longer than 30 minutes you can dock your bike. Wait 5 minutes. And then undock the bike again to continue your journey for free.


Use an application for your mobile phone to see where the nearest docking stations are and how many bikes are available there. There are great applications for the Android or iPhone.

Boris Bikes dongle

The members key is money well spent. For £3 you can quickly undock bikes.

Be careful as to how you use multiple cycle hire keys system. People are reporting that activating one key will activate all four thus costing you money. Also people are reporting each key requires an annual fee and is not covered under the initial key.

Cycle Hire Docking station with a guide to the lights

Be sure you get the green light from the docking station when you return the bike. Check to see the bike has been correctly docked.

The serial code on a Boris Bike

Print a receipt of your journey to check that the bike has in fact been docked correctly.

Be aware that popular terminals such as Waterloo and Kings Cross are likely to suffer from poor bike availability. The chances are you may have to walk or cycle an extra 5 minutes to find hire docking stations in less popular locations.

Leave any tips you have for first time users in the comments below.

Images via: Steve Punter and Charlotte Gilhooly

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41 Responses to Insider tips from Boris Bikes pioneers

  1. LukasPop 12/08/2010 at 10:52 am #

    Just leave it in 3rd. The gearing on the bikes is so absurdly low that 1st and second are essentially pointless. Well 1st is totally poinless.

    • Joe Velotta 18/05/2012 at 11:41 am #

      I am being charged for a bike i never had, I am being ripped off by this Scheme, I have had £150 taken from my account and i never rode a single Meter. not happy

  2. Nic Wise 12/08/2010 at 11:34 am #

    Nice article – after my rides yesterday, I agree with those. I need to move my account to an annual one, which from the Boris Bikes forum, I’m not looking forward to.

    I did the “spin the back wheel” thing, which is good advice. Wouldn’t have thought to do that.

    BTW, there are now a lot of iPhone (and possibly android) apps around, including mine 🙂

    One of the main distinguishing features is the timer, which tells you how long you have been going (assuming you start it when you set off!), how much it’ll cost, and it’ll warn you (even if the phone is off) if you get close to the 30 mins. One of the other apps does this too, but their alerts only work if the app is actually running, in the foreground.

    I am, of course, slightly biased 🙂 If I could generate promo codes, I’d send you one over, but thats US-store only, sadly. If you have a US iTunes account, email me 🙂

  3. Nick Hudgell 12/08/2010 at 11:40 am #

    Carry a plastic bag. After rain you don’t want to sit on those seats…

  4. JonF 12/08/2010 at 1:18 pm #

    I used the system yesterday for the 1st time. My plan was to use it extend my 2-6 travel card into the west end and back, I picked the bike up from Vauxhall at 6pm. I returned around 11pm to discover that the docking points were all full. I had to go back to Lambeth North before finding somewhere to dock the bike. I tried 8 stations. The first few terminals kept giving me an extra few minutes to find the next station, then this stopped – maybe when I had topped the time up too much. Eventually got home using the night bus.

    Its worth knowing that the bikes tend to migrate like a commuter, so don’t bank on finding somewhere convenient to dock late at night. I suspect most outer docks are full by 7:30pm(commuters), by when the bike movers have stopped for the night?

    • Richard 13/08/2010 at 12:28 pm #

      I had the same problem in Vauxhall, took a bike from Lambeth Road to Vauxhall at about 8.30pm. Vauxhall Cross docking stations were full, but it said that under the rail bridge there was a space. Got there and there wasn’t, but said there was one at Vauxhall Cross. Needless to say there wasn’t and again it said that there was one under the rail bridge. Went instead to Albert Embankment (3 spaces free), none were. Ended up going to Pimlico where I was further from my destination than when I started!

      I think there’s a point here about Vauxhall. It’s right on the extremity of the cycle hire zone and is probably more prone to docking stations being either empty or full, since there’s less choice of surrounding stations. Maybe Serco should put more effort into maintaining a balance of bikes and empty docking stations there?

      • Andrew 14/08/2010 at 12:16 am #

        High demand for bikes/spaces at the extremities of the bike hire zone surely means the zone needs to be bigger? Time to expand already Boris!

    • walltoall 13/08/2010 at 1:41 pm #

      Better still keep a towelling facecloth in the plastic bag for wiping the rain off the seat and it doubles up as a face wipe (so long as you were a scout or guide of course)

  5. JonF 12/08/2010 at 1:19 pm #

    I was surprised to find there was no bell on the bike – don’t tell me, there’s an app. for that?

    • djc 12/08/2010 at 1:30 pm #

      JonF. there is a bell. It is usually under the left-hand, but sometimes is rotated to the top of the handlebar.

      The tfl online map shows availability by is not always up-to-date. Last night I checked at 22:15 and there were >6 spaces at Ampton Str, and more at Gt, Percy Str. fifteen minutes cycling later there were no spaces left at Ampton Str and I bagged the last one at Gt. Percy Str.
      And this morning at 11:00 there was one bike left at Ampton Str, (the person 25 yards in front got there first but failed to get a green light), not that it would have mattered had I got a bike: 12 minutes walk later the rack at Theobalds Road was full.
      I’ve said it before but having spaces to dock is as important as finding a bike to start.

  6. Nic Wise 12/08/2010 at 1:20 pm #

    Mine had a bell (and I’m sure there IS an app for that).

    Left hand side, UNDER the hand grip. It’s a bit hard to find. Flick it with your finger/thumb to make it work.

  7. Knit nurse 12/08/2010 at 1:53 pm #

    Just had a long conversation with the call centre about the use of multiple keys. I have two keys on the same account with a 24 hour access period auto-renew – the idea being that I can use one by myself and sometimes take friends with me. BEWARE! Once you activate one of the keys, you have to pay the access period on EVERY key EVEN IF YOU DON’T USE THE OTHER KEYS!

    Effectively this means that I am paying twice as much as everyone else if I go on my own. If you have four keys and you go solo, it will cost you FOUR times as much!

    Neither myself nor the poor chap at the call centre could think of a good reason why the system should be set up this way.

    The only alternative for me to use the keys the way I want to use them would be to have two separate accounts, each with one key registered. But for that I would need not only a different email address, but also a different credit or debit card!


    Incidentally I suggest users check their bills very closely – I was overcharged by £9 for ‘admin fees’ because of problems trying to get the autorenew system to work.

    • djc 12/08/2010 at 4:37 pm #

      The multiple keys problem must be a software design or specification error. It makes no sense at all. Having a spare key for visitors would make a lot of sense, but it would only work if each key could be activated separately (and with the option of having pay per day on the spare key even if an annual sub on the main account.
      A good thing it is only the ‘pioneers’ the moment. It is a good scheme, but lots of minor problems. Waiting until the tourists have all gone home next month before opening it up to casual users would be a good idea.

      • Pete Cruze 27/08/2010 at 11:10 am #

        I have more than one key and have worked out how to avoid the problem.

        I leave auto-renew ON, that way if I go over the end of my access period with a hire then I don’t get done for the late return.

        If I only want to ride on my own, I buy a new access period for one key. That then autorenews just for that one key. Looking at the website, they’ve changed the wording to make this clearer.

        If I want to change back to two, i buy a two key access, then as soon as that’s finished I buy a one key access again so I don’t get caught by auto-renew on the two. This seems to work, but probably I’ll just change and buy annual for two keys – an extra 12p a day shouldn’t hurt in the long run.

  8. Adam Bowie 12/08/2010 at 3:44 pm #

    1. Remember your seat height number printed on the side. It makes things quicker when you get going. And after the over-tightened brake issue, the only other common “fault” I’ve seen has been people over-loosening seats – perhaps they’ve been used by people unfamiliar with quick-releases. It results in the seat twisting when you’re cycling. Make your saddle adjustments before undocking the bike. You don’t want to waste one of your free minutes!

    2. Learn where the bell is on the lefthand side of the handlebar. In W1 where I work, it’s tourists and others idly wandering into the streets without looking who are the biggest danger rather than motorised vehicles. And with the schools out now, there are lots of kids and families wandering around. I’ve seen children nearly hit twice in two days (both times, the kid’s fault but nonetheless…).

    3. Get a feel for the brakes before you need to use them in anger. It’s quickly apparent if your brakes are over-tightened, but I’ve had a couple of bikes that slowed down pretty slowly. Just worth knowing.

    4. Double-check you’ve not been overcharged by carefully going through the full Activity Log on the bike hire website. You need to click on Activity Log to see the full listing.

  9. Corin 13/08/2010 at 10:47 am #

    The gears are on a dial at the base of the grip on the right side handlebar.

    Although 1st and 2nd are pretty pointless it’s good to know where they are in case you’re trying for a relaxed approach to, say, Savoy Street.

    Took me a good five mins to work it out!

  10. Russ 13/08/2010 at 11:50 am #

    I’d love to try the bikes, but so far of the two keys I got sent one of them has worked once, and that’s it.

    And, as Knit nurse mentions above, I have a charge of £2 on my account for use of the one key – i.e. they’ve charged me for both keys for the activation of one.

    They’re sending me a new key (at least, they promised to on Monday, but no sign of it yet) and I’m waiting for a call back about the double charge.

    So, thus far, not mightily impressed.

    • walltoall 13/08/2010 at 1:44 pm #

      To Corin,

      Quite. And the change is backways so to get a higher gear you rotate it back towards you. Are these gear changes Australian

      • James R Grinter 13/08/2010 at 3:18 pm #

        Is it really backwards, though? It’s just that Shimano Nexus hubs/cables work the opposite way to Sturmey Archer hubs (i.e. pull the cable to go up a gear, versus slackening the cable.)

      • djc 13/08/2010 at 5:04 pm #

        Not just me then. It’s taken me a week to get into the habit of turning the gear twist the right way, I find myself with legs spinning wildly instead of going up a gear.

        • Pete Cruze 27/08/2010 at 11:12 am #

          I just try to think of it like a motorbike throttle grip – twist it towards you to go faster. Not that I’ve ridden a motorbike, but it just feels right!

  11. Dawn 13/08/2010 at 2:26 pm #

    Definitely get a print out of your journey at the end of your ride, for your own piece of mind. Or make a note of your bike number and the time you docked it until you can check your account to confirm the times.

    Don’t get a hernia from yanking the bike out of its docking station!

    Enjoy being out on the bike and the freedom it gives you rather than being wedged shoulder to shoulder in a bus or train.

    • Pete Cruze 10/09/2010 at 1:23 pm #

      Having had two hernia repairs in the past, I don’t want another one.

      To get a bike out with minimum effort, just lift the back of the saddle an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm would also do!) and let the bike gently drop and bounce while pulling it out with very little effort.

  12. Susan 13/08/2010 at 5:39 pm #

    HI Everyone,

    Touch wood I’ve obviously been really lucky so far. Got my key fob in 2 days, activated it no problem via the website and have had 6 trouble free journeys thus far all under 30 mins. Yes the bike was a bit heavy first time around, but I’ve got used to it and managed to go 4.5 miles yesterday in 30 mins!

    Only issues are:

    1. The seat often keeps swivelling around
    2. Taxi drivers who obviously hate anyone using this scheme as it reduces their potential users.
    3. Full bike ranks hence nowhere to dock the bike.

    On this last point I keep reading that if you want to re-dock a bike and the rank is full you can get an extra 15 mins to find another free one. Only problem, does anyone know what I have to do to get the extra 15 mins? I checked the main terminal last night but couldn’t see what to do. Thankfully I was able to find another rank with a free space within the 30 mins but I may not be that lucky next time.

    I have contacted the call centre, got the overflow messaging lot and to my astonishment I did get a callback from them 4 days later. Unfortunately they couldn’t answer my question above.

    Lastly I wonder how much the bikes will be used in Winter. Personally I think it’s great. It’s saving me a bomb in tube, bus and gym fees!



    • Pete Cruze 10/09/2010 at 1:31 pm #


      I think it’s in one of the answers above: To stop the seat swivelling around you need to tighten the seatpost quick release before closing it. Hold the lever and turn the bit at the other end clockwise. Or hold the other end and turn the lever clockwise works too!

      Not too much, or it will be impossible to close.

  13. Adam Bowie 13/08/2010 at 5:43 pm #


    You have to go to the touchscreen built into the terminal at your docking station. There are four main options – one of which should say something like “Docking station has no spaces” or “Docking station full” (I can’t remember the precise wording).

    You press that button and it asks you to insert your key. It then adds 15 minutes free. A second option then points you in the direction of the nearest docking stations with free space.

    • Susan 14/08/2010 at 12:55 am #

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for the reply. I only looked at the touchscreen once and it appeared to have conked off, so have never actually seen the options you mention.

      Still at least now I know about it, it should make my life alot easier. The docking stations around me tend to be empty in the morning and full in the evening, so this will help alot!



  14. mike 14/08/2010 at 10:21 am #

    I’ve enjoyed the cycling to work but the customer service is a nightmare when you do get a problem – like charging random amounts from my bank account when i changed my card details and a promise to get it refunded (still waiting). Bikes at charing X didn’t unlock last week I called the stressed call centre who said they would call me back within 24 hours (still waiting!). I’ve stopped using the service until they can sort themselves out.

  15. Paul 14/08/2010 at 4:01 pm #

    If you ever need to call TfL Cycle Hire from your mobile, use the “OVERSEAS” number below rather than the 0845 number – this comes from the TfL page itself

    “0845 026 3630 or +44 (0)20 8216 6666 from overseas”

  16. Andrew Yeomans 16/08/2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Check out which graphs the availability of bikes at each docking station over the last 48 hours.

  17. Mark 16/08/2010 at 9:50 pm #

    I think Boris is addressing some of the docking station capacity issues at the mainline stations. Tonight when I got to Paddington at 1845 all the docking stations were full but Bojo has employed a security guard to chain all the surplus bikes together so that you don’t have to cycle around to find other spare places!

  18. Andrew Yeomans 18/08/2010 at 7:10 am #

    @Mark – also by adding bikes – if you look at more bikes were added to Drummond St Euston at about 8:30 and 9:00 – soon went though.

  19. Frederic B 19/08/2010 at 6:11 am #

    I just want to point out that there is also a Blackberry app to find out which stations have bikes or docks.

    It’s called Spotcycle, and it’s a free download from Appworld.

    It covers multiple cities using the Bixi system originally conceived for Montreal. Just go to options and pick london. It doesn’t have a map, but it can use your GPS and find which stations are closest to you and rank them in that order.

    I hope Borisbikes work as well in London as they have in Montreal, at least eventually..

  20. Peter 20/08/2010 at 6:22 pm #

    @Mark – I also saw a Bojo security guard last night removing bikes from the docking stations and chaining them up, to free up slots for more bikes, at Stamford Street near Waterloo.

    Has anyone seen list of docking stations where this is happening?

    • Pete Cruze 10/09/2010 at 1:26 pm #

      Certainly at Concert Hall Approach near Waterloo and Belgrove Street near King’s Cross / St Pancras, mornings and evenings. Any other railway stations?

  21. brendan 25/08/2010 at 7:18 pm #

    I’ve used the BB twice for sub-30 minute trips from work in central London to Soho and to Tooley Street with no hassle at all apart from dock anxiety. I found myself pootling amiably behind another guy on London Bridge on a BB until I realised he was probably heading to the same docking station as me. The thought that there might not be a free docking station popped into my head and I ended up pedalling furiously to ensure I beat him to the punch. Not very brotherly, but it worked.

  22. Ali 12/09/2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Does anyone have any advice on what to do if you dock a bike and the light doesn’t turn green?

    I docked a BB at Covent Garden. The dock made a funny grinding noise and the light stayed amber (I think) but I couldn’t pull the bike back out so I figured it was fine. I’ve called the help centre and apparently I don’t have any unexpected charges but now my key fob doesn’t work. All I get is the “computer says no” red light when I try to take a bike.

    Any advice??

  23. James R Grinter 13/09/2010 at 3:07 pm #

    When I’ve had docking problems I’ve either been able to pull the bike back out (lock didn’t engage) or I’ve been able to release it by inserting my key.

    (Sometimes it hasn’t registered a dock/lock and it hadn’t registered the start/any of the journey either. That I cannot explain.)

  24. girlandsteed 20/09/2010 at 1:35 pm #

    I love it, I’ve written a blog about the illicit thrill of cheating on your real bike:

  25. Mark 28/09/2010 at 2:13 pm #

    There’s a blackberry app with scrolling maps and live bike availability etc

  26. Enrike 05/01/2013 at 4:16 pm #

    more informations about iPod Apps, iPod Docking Station, iPod Nano Watch, and iPod Nano 8GB. Check here for free rpenirt license: Review of Apple iPod

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