Since Nat gave the Brisbane citycycle a go, I thought I’d give the London version a go.
I initially tried the Paddington cycle station, however didn’t actually find it. To be fair
however, the station is so big that I probably just took the wrong exit and couldn’t really be bothered wandering the four city blocks the station seems to cover. So, I wandered down to the Edgeworth cycle station instead. There were two stations there (one on either side of the road). The station looks popular – although one side was quite full, the other station had only 3 bikes docked. And certainly, the scheme seems popular – I saw a lot of people riding them (maybe 20-30).
You don’t need to prepay – all you do is rock up, register on a touch screen, then swipe your credit card. The scheme costs 1 pound per day for access to the bikes. All trips less than 30 mins are free, and a trip up to 1 hour costs 1 pound. Costs increase exponentially from there. A cool thing is that you can have a look at the status of close by docking stations, to see where you want to return your bike.
The scheme seems to work quite well for the locals. For me? Well, the system seems very clunky. At the first station I went to, none of my credit cards seemed to work in the machine, and as there’s no alternative system to access the bikes, I couldn’t get one. At the second station I went to, one of my cards finally worked (funnily enough, a travel card). After you register, you have to reswipe your card to access a bike. This prints you out an access code which you type into the docking station. The first code I printed didn’t seem to work. Although the system said that it allowed me to undock my bike, it didn’t actually release. The code works for 10 minutes, so I was locked out of actually getting a bike for 10 minutes until I could print out another code. Finally it all worked.
The bikes themselves are sturdy affairs, with chain guards and fenders. No basket, but a kinda magazine rack, that you can bungee your bag onto (the front). This wasn’t nearly big enough for my backpack (which was a regular sized office type backpack). The bungee cord was useful, however, as I stuck my handbag in the rack, and bungee corded a map to the front of it.
The bike is 3 speed grip shift, which seemed adequate for London cycling (which seems very flat). A nice touch is a flashing front light that is run off a dynamo on the front wheel. The seat goes up and down and seems like it would fit most people – I’m 160 cms, and had no trouble at all getting the seat down low enough. The bikes are heavy – very heavy as I suppose they need to be sturdy enough to stand a fair bit of abuse. That being said, that it does make it difficult to jump off your bike and push it up the gutter if you want to get up onto the footpath in a hurry (as I did, when I accidentally went the wrong way down a one way street).
The docking station requires a pretty firm pull to get it out. It can be quite awkward to get them out, especially as the bikes are docked quite close together.
Overall though? I really enjoyed it – it certainly made it easy to get around central London. London has the infrastructure for cycling, and the fact that helmets aren’t compulsory certainly make it a pleasurable experience.