Boris Bike

The other day, I took out a Boris Bike for the first time. This is for the London Cycle Hire scheme. Borisbikes

The scheme is designed for short hops of less than half an hour. An occasional user pays £1 a day for access (the clock starts on first use, it's 24 hours, it doesn't reset at midnight). If you're in London every day, then £45 per year is a better bet. After that, journeys of less than 30 minutes are free. The costs rise sharply, so it's a good idea to dock at 25 minutes and change bikes. Until the end of august you will need to pre-register and get a key (costing a few pounds), after that a credit card can be used. Personally, I was always going to opt for the key, so much more convenient.

As I'm an occasional visitor to London, I've got a key, set up to charge £1 access fee with auto-renewal.

The bikes are 'sit-up and beg' bikes. They're pretty heavy - but they're made for robustness, not as speed machines. To get one is simple. Find a dock (you are sent a map of existing docks with the key) and then choose a bike. Stick the key in the hole, the light goes green and pull the bike out. Ride. When arriving at the destination just push the bike into the dock - and ensure that the indicator light says it has been docked correctly (this is important, as the fine for losing a bike is large).

An online map of the scheme is available, unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a link (as I write) to a pdf of the leaflet they send out, this is much more comfortable for paper use (though would admittedly need some work to be suitable for home printing). I can't see a link to request a new paper map, either.

The bikes have hub gears, and felt very smooth, though the brakes aren't strong. The lights are dynamo driven from the front wheel and stay on for some time after motion has stopped. The hub gears were good, though I found the gear choices odd. First gear was far too low, gear 2 and 3 were fine... but gear 3 didn't go high enough. I'd had changed all the ratios up a bit (making the current gear 2 the lowest gear).

I took two bikes, one was a circular trip inside Kensington Gardens, the other was from Park Lane to Waterloo. I really liked that - it was a cool evening.

There were some problems.

I had been for a meal at Queensway, and planned to cycle back to the train. Being inside Kensington Gardens, the gate was locked and the bikes were inaccessible. Doh! This is why I picked up a bike from Park Lane.

Also, the docking stations aren't very obvious, on the docking stations themselves there is a map, but it doesn't show the location of other docking stations. The city would also benefit from signage pointing to the nearest dock (e.g. at tube station exits and bus stops). Also, the stations are further apart than the Paris vélib, which impacts the utility somewhat. I'm hoping that these issues will be addressed over time, that more docking stations will fill in the gaps, that the borders of the scheme are extended, and that maps appear. (There is a free iphone app fro Fiplab which gives locations to nearest docks, availability of bikes and routing - unfortunately I don't have an iphone. However, I do have an ipod touch, and the app provides a regular offline map)

On the website, it shows a record of the journeys made (but not the bike numbers - a shame, that could have started a collecting fad!). When I checked this morning I saw this:

17 Aug 2010
22:30 17 Aug 2010
22:37 Queen Mother Sports Centre, Victoria Vauxhall Cross, Vauxhall Hire £0.00
17 Aug 2010
22:07 Payment £-90.00
17 Aug 2010
22:07 Payment £-3.00
17 Aug 2010
08:31 17 Aug 2010
08:43 Albert Embankment, Vauxhall St. James's Square, St. James's Hire £0.00
16 Aug 2010
17:44 16 Aug 2010
18:06 St. James's Square, St. James's Vauxhall Cross, Vauxhall Hire £0.00
14 Aug 2010
19:01 14 Aug 2010
19:25 Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens Hire £0.00

What was going on here? Only that last entry was correct - my trip from Park Lane was missing, and it looked liked I'd been charged 90 quid?! On the dates in question, I was nowhere near London (the 17th is provable, we had gone for a meal, as it was our 8th anniversary).

It appears that the system has some problems. There are stray entries showing on accounts all the time. Seems to me that the database design isn't as good as it should be...

I checked back a few minutes later and it had sorted itself out.

22:13 14 Aug 2010
22:34 Green Street, Mayfair Jubilee Gardens, South Bank Hire £0.00
19:01 14 Aug 2010
19:25 Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens Black Lion Gate, Kensington Gardens Hire £0.00

All is now as it should be, but it does indicate that the IT behind this system is a little flakey. It'll need keeping an eye on.

That 90 quid shock to the system aside, I thought it was a really good scheme, though Monica found that the saddle was a little too high for her, she'd be okay once more comfortable on a bike. The bikes were pretty smooth rides - and the docking stations are pretty convenient for places I need to get to (though I can see gaps on the map).

It could be improved by having the dock suggest a cycle-friendly route from A to B - but I can see that this isn't a priority.