Scrambling down the stairs, looking for a clean pair of jeans it dawned on me. I am going to be late to yet another meeting! TfL had contacted me last Friday to see if I wanted to test the new cycle hire scheme bike. I was happy to oblige but with a pending trip to Argentina in three days I was finding myself even less organised than usual. As I powered my way through London to get to Victoria Street and the TfL press offices I pondered how many people had tried out the bike. I must be in the first few. Also, what would the bike be like? Fast, slow, comfortable, cumbersome?
Upon arrival at the TfL offices I have a decision to make. Secure my bike with a cheap lock and keep my expensive one for the cycle hire bike or the other way round? Someone had commented to me that if you do the maths the scheme is costing £18,000 per bike. While I hold strong doubts about this back of an envelope calculation, I was still certain I wouldn’t want to be responsible for the prototype TfL cycle hire bike getting stolen!
Heading up on the high-speed escalator I reached into my bag to grab my notepad where I had jotted down the questions my Twitterers wanted me to ask. I realised I had left it at home. Soon the high-speed escalator was not looking so cool as I struggled to remember what I was meant to be asking.
No time. I’m shacking hands with Nancy from the TfL press office and having a look at the cycle hire bike for the first time. We take the bike down to the lobby and it’s time to test Nancy out with my questions. Luckily, she knows her stuff.
How will the distribution be done and will electric vans be used?
There will be vans managed by Serco redistributing the bikes to ensure even distribution. These are highly likely to be electric.
Considering the thefts in similar schemes, such as the ones in Paris Velib, what security features will there be?
Compared to the Paris scheme the bikes don’t come with an onboard lock. Hence people are encouraged to leave them at the cycle hire docks. Also, the cycle hire dock is easier to use. Unlike the Parisian one, it is a one step process so people won’t forget to do step two, which is securing the bike. The bikes are also much tougher to remove from the cycle hire dock without paying thanks to the design of the dock. If you don’t return the bike then a £300 charge is made on your card.
Saddle height adjusted, good to go
Once my questions have been answered there is nothing left to do but try out the bike. I adjust the saddle to my height using the useful quick release beneath the seat.
Lifting the bike off the curve and onto the pavement I suddenly notice how heavy it is. You certainly wouldn’t want to carry this beast up more than a couple of steps. I glance behind and set off. I’m instantly feeling more European. I’m on a cycle hire bike that has a chain cage so you don’t need to roll up your jeans, a basket for your bag and a step over frame eliminating the need for that awkward leg over manoeuvre. This is cycling in a way someone from Amsterdam would appreciate.
I head to Westminster bridge. While everyone else is taking pictures of each other next to Big Ben with their hands in the V-shape, I park up the bike, kick the stand down and start to take pictures of it. My doing so attracts a lot of attention and interested glances. This isn’t at all surprising. The bike really stands out. Its big blue frame and silver plastic handlebar covers are very noticeable. I instantly make the decision: I love the bold design!
Time to race..
Pictures out the way I decide there is only one mature and adult way to put this bike through its paces. A race! So I head over to The Mall next to St James Park and spot a reasonably fast moving bike messenger up ahead. I switch to the third gear and pedal as fast as I can. I overtake. I’m sure the messenger was very bemused to see a big chunky cycle hire bike overtake him. I’m also sure, that if he realised I was racing him, he would of beaten me by a mile!
However, the experiment did prove that you can reach speeds of 20 – 22 mph on a cycle hire bike. Though your feet will be spinning like you are in a rollapaluza race. Overall the 3 gear choices are fairly good and provide a good enough range. However, cycling even slightly uphill is a noticeable challenge due to the weight of the bike. Luckily in Zone 1 your chances of coming up against a major hill are slim.
Heading out into the heavy traffic
With my confidence in the bike at an all time high I head out into the heavy traffic. Here I test out its manoeuvrability by heading between a bus and a HGV. Probably the least safe place in the world to be and an experiment I wouldn’t repeat. However, the bike steers well and the handlebars are not too wide so there is no problem with squeezing past tight gaps.
The bike is generally very comfortable and easy to ride after the first few minutes of getting used to it. You are in the upright position which gives you a clear view of the traffic. The chunky wheels mean it can handle potholes and a tiny bit of off-road action.
As my two hour introduction to the cycle hire bike drew to a close, almost as fast as it started, I travelled back to the TfL office. On the way back a motorbike pulled up next to me and commented on how funky the bike looked. I think it will be really interesting to be cycling around when the bikes first hit the streets in a mass number as they will be very noticeable.
Saying goodbye to the London cycle hire bike
The receptionist back at the TfL office was amazed at how chunky the bike is. Needless to say she was very surprised to hear it can reach speeds higher than 20mph.
Talking to Nancy again we agreed there is a great buzz surrounding the launch of the cycle hire scheme. She told me that having the first 30 minutes free encourages people to use the bike for short hops rather than borrowing it for the whole day. This should mean more bikes are available for everyone to use.
Hoping back on my own bike felt good. I’m not sure if this was because I knew I would no longer be overhearing whispers of “that’s that new cycle hire bike” or because I could zip around at a higher speed again. When the cycle hire scheme launches on the 30th of July I highly recommend you give it a go.