The Streets of London

There was a point last night when I was ready to give up on the whole idea of the Boris Bikes. I’d cycled into town in the morning and that had been okay, apart from the small matter of my somehow not having activated my key and having to talk to the nice man on the help desk and then not being able to get the bike out of the rack (‘give it some welly’ the helpdesk man advised) and then discovering that my memory of London’s geography was rather hazier than I’d hoped. And my search for a free docking station at my destination had meant not only being late for my lunch date but also over-running the free hire period by two minutes (there’s supposedly a way where you can ‘check in’ to a full docking station and get an extension but it wasn’t clear at all how to do that and I’d like to apologise now to anyone who saw me do an entirely illegal u-turn on Tottenham Court Road when I suddenly spotted a docking station with a couple of slots). And now I was trudging round Bloomsbury looking for a working bike to get me back to Vauxhall and wondering whether the tube wouldn’t just be easier (and, if I’m perfectly frank, a little less scary) after all. When I did find half-a-dozen at Malet street in working order there was a part of me that rather wished I hadn’t but I got my green light and, on the second go, wrestled the bike out of the rack (after applying a bit of welly), failed to adjust my seat and set off in a wobbly but stately fashion – it’s actually the only way to ride one – in the general direction of the river. After a shaky start and a couple of attempted side-swipes from some twats in sports cars I got my rhythm back and as I got out of the narrow streets around the museum I found myself in a stream of bike traffic – boris bikes and normal bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, folders, fixies, some lit up like mobile discos and some entirely dark.

I’ve never actually ridden through Central London at night – I never would have done it when I lived there partly because I wouldn’t have wanted to leave my own bike locked up anywhere in the area. But, while it doesn’t have the wonderful infrastructure of the Dutch and the Danes there have been enough little changes like helpful signs and cut-throughs and counter-flow lanes to mean that a yokel like me could sail along with the straw blowing out of her hair navigating by luck as much as judgement and make it back alive. It helps that most of the traffic (and some of the other bikes) give you a VERY wide berth when they see what you’re riding. Clearly I’m not the only loose cannon to have been unleashed on the streets of London on a boris bike. And while everyone was overtaking me (apart from the dying pizza delivery scooter which I overtook on the Kennington Road – sorry about that mate, I didn’t mean to humiliate you) and shooting past me at the red lights and no doubt wishing that the tourist on the Boris bike wasn’t in their way, I still felt part of the great mass of London Cyclists and I was delighted that I’d stuck with it after all. And then a white van man hooted at me and I called him a twat and I knew that there was part of me that would always call this city home.

My legs are aching this morning – fifty-plus miles a week over the hills of Scotland are nothing compared with heaving a Boris bike over the col du Waterloo Bridge. And I’m back on foot and tube and train as I make my way home. But I’m glad I persisted with my Boris bike and I’d recommend anyone visiting London – or even living there – to give it a go. Just remember, to get them out of the rack you really do need to give it some welly.

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11 Responses to The Streets of London

  1. Dom says:

    Oh, they’re a method of transport, I’d always assumed they were an elaborate method of committing government sanctioned suicide on the streets of London :)

  2. Lola says:

    What are the details – do you have to sign up in advance, how much does it cost? I suppose I could google these things, but what was your experience?

    I have an Oyster card, and when there’s an occasional problem (e.g. last time I was overcharged by about £4) it can be timeconsuming and very very annoying to get it sorted. What did your 2 minutes over time cost you?

  3. Autolycus says:

    While they’re still only open to people taking out a full year’s subscription (and there doesn’t seem to be any plan to integrate charging with the Oyster technology), I would hesitate to recommend them to the occasional visitor.

    But kudos to you – and didn’t you know already, the one sure way to get motorists to give you a clear berth is to wobble the handlebars a bit? Or maybe that’s an option only open to persons of a more wrinkly persuasion.

  4. [...] you get killed. The Guardian looks at the Bike Snob’s guide to cycling tribes. Town Mouse gives London’s Boris Bikes a go. Cyclists may have a persecution complex, but we really could use segregated bikeways. The [...]

  5. WOL says:

    I’m all in favor of folks biking. However, the world is not ready for a WOL on a bicycle and, frankly, neither is the WOL. Shanks Mare for me, thanks.

  6. welshcyclist says:

    A rewarding and interesting experience, sounds OK..

  7. indigoinc says:

    Hope you manage to revert to Borders manners when you head home, there always seem to be Boris bikes available in Malet Street (shiftless or poor students?) unlike some of the docking stations near by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erase/4790975063/

  8. disgruntled says:

    You don’t have to sign up for the full year, although you do have to sign up in advance. It cost £3 for the key and £1 per day and as I avoided zone 1 altogether by getting off at Vauxhall, I probably saved that amount in one day.

  9. John Gibson says:

    I’m afraid I don’t have your patience,I like to just get on and go, but I’m visting sin city on the 5th of next month and I’m wondering if I’m brave enough to give the bikes a try.
    Good Luck
    John

  10. Dave H says:

    Those who can come in via Peterborough (or Manchester – it should be a permitted route from Dumfries to Euston – and for a real scrooge you might mix & match – First Sc to CAR First TPE to MAN, cheap fare (XC or VT only) to SOT LM to BHM and Chiltern BMO-MYB) then you can hire a Brompton Dock bike for £5/day and a £10 casual membership charge. Keep the bike with you all the time and no need to hunt for a Boris Bike share bike, just jump on and ride – cross central London in 10-15 minutes (well 20 if you take it easy). Brompton Docks gradually appearing at more locations, Ealing Broadway is convenient for collection on way from Heathrow to London, and orders have been placed for units convenient for Gatwick in the near future.

    I do appeal for help through, as I need to rewrite the matrix for station to station transfer times, as my regular 12 minutes Euston Waterloo is rather shorter than the suggested allowance of 53 minutes, and the 4 minute dash Euston-King’s Cross makes the 35 minutes suggested for using the tube look a bit silly.

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