Two wheels good: London’s Borisbike cycle hire scheme proves its worth

Four months after launch, London’s new bike hire scheme is securing its place in Londoners’ hearts. We take a look at the ‘Borisbikes’ as they mark their millionth ride, along with a few tips on cycling in traffic.

Written by Jessica Furseth

london borisbike by daria hlazatova
Illustration by Daria Hlazatova

To be honest, I was skeptical of the idea of a bike rental scheme before the launch. If we are going to spend £140 million on cycling I’d rather see we build more bike lanes, I thought. London needs to make roads safer for cyclists, and in my experience, this is the number one reason why people are put off getting bikes.

But in the weeks since 30 July’s launch, when 6000 solid, bright blue bikes where installed in 315 docking stations, my objections have been put to shame. Now, as I roll into London Bridge every morning on my trusty hybrid bike, I invariably find myself accompanied by city workers scurrying around on rental bikes. And I swear the number of ‘regular’ bikes have increased as well – the profile of cycling has shot up as everyone loves the ‘Borisbike’.

Borisbikes by Mina Bach
Mayor Boris Johnson by Mina Bach

While the need for more bike lanes prevails, there is safety in numbers as every extra bike on the road makes it safer to cycle. Over a million rides were made on the Borisbikes in the first three months, the Greater London Authority declared as it held the first appraisal of the scheme on 12 October. Once implementation costs are covered within three years, the scheme is expected to become profitable – in fact it will then be the only London transport system not to run at a loss. Only five bikes have so far been stolen, a fact the Police Cycle Task Force attributes to a sense of ‘community ownership’ among Londoners. And I think that’s true – having spoken to numerous people about this, there is a feeling that these are ‘our’ bikes. In a sometimes very anonymous city like London, where being spoken to on the tube by a stranger can actually feel intrusive, the bikes are becoming a symbol that after all, we are all Londoners.

london bike rental by genie espinosa
Illustration by Genie Espinosa

Mayor Boris Johnson’s introduction of the bike scheme grants London a place in a worldwide club of bike rental cities. But the Borisbikes, and the the 12 cycle ‘superhighways’, were actually the suggestion of former mayor Ken Livingstone, following a visit to Paris to see the city’s ‘Vélib’ cycling scheme. This is the biggest in the world with 17,000 bikes, suggesting this is only the beginning for London’s 6000 bikes. Our numbers are soon to reach 8000, however, as the system expands beyond central London to cover all of Tower Hamlets and more of Hackney, in time for the 2012 Olympics. The bikes themselves are identical to Montreal’s ‘Bixi’ rental bikes; 23 kilos would be excessively heavy for a regular bike, but for a rental it makes it a very stable and durable ride, plus very unattractive to steal. Vandals are further deterred as most of the wires have been placed inside the frame, and the bikes also boast extra-strong tires and dynamo lights.

London bike scheme by Carla Bromhead
Cycle superhighway by Carla Bromhead

So as Londoners get on their bikes – here’s a quick guide to safe cycling in traffic:

* Claim your space. Make sure drivers can see you, and ride a good foot’s distance from the kerb. Signal clearly and look behind you before turning, and they will respect you for it.

* Watch out for cars turning left. If you see vehicles indicating to the left, stay behind, or, if there’s time, get far in front where they can see you.

* Overtake on the right if you can. Instinct will have you overtake queuing vehicles on their left – this places you in a blind spot so only do this if there’s plenty of space.

* Avoid lorries. Stay behind, or overtake on the right. But as statistics dictate that if you get injured while cycling it will be from a lorry, it’s best to just steer clear.

* Follow the traffic rules. Cyclists who plow into pedestrians to get ahead give us all a bad name. But every now and again, it might just be safer to get ahead of heavy traffic by jumping a light. But be extremely sure before you do this – and mind those pedestrians.

boris johnson by daria hlazatova
Mayor Boris Johnson by Daria Hlazatova

Sign up for the London bike hire scheme here. Read more about the scheme in Amelia Wells’ article about the launch, or have a look at our tips for getting ready for winter cycling here.

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3 Responses to “Two wheels good: London’s Borisbike cycle hire scheme proves its worth”

  1. Glad the scheme seems to be finally getting over it’s teething troubles!

    Just one point, I would say riding a foot from the curb is way too close – you should be at least arms length so you can indicate a left turn without clobbering a pedestrian! Also getting further out avoids all the broken glass and you stand less chance of hitting grids. I usually find local councils are very helpful for beginners and people who can’t judge distances in this regard, as they usually paint white dashed lines with a red/green/blue (delete as appropriate) zone to show you the bit to avoid ;-)

  2. Jessica says:

    hi sheffieldcyclechic,
    you’re right – a foot is really the minimum. but in morning rush hour in the city i find it’s hard to ride too much further out than this, as it would hold up the traffic. we desperately need more central london bike lanes! or maybe i need to get bolder … :)

  3. [...] December 11, 2010 in Amelia's Magazine Published in Amelia’s Magazine on 22 November 2010. Original article here. [...]

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