Wednesday, August 4, 2010

London Gets Bicycle Rental Stations

London's new bicycle rental system is being launched this week. It is called Barclays Cycle Hire, named after the same bank that sponsored the Cycle Super Highways and sponsors the rental stations for £25M. It is modeled after Montreal's Bixi. 6,000 bicycles have been built at Devinci Cycles in Batgotville Quebec. Even though they are not British-made, these cycles are built to last. In fact they are built like two-wheeled tanks: they weigh 50 lbs., so that they can't be vandalized easily. They have three gears so serious riders will pass them by with disdain.

The bicycles have been specially modified for the London user with 43 changes from the Montreal cycles. The lights stay on for 2 minutes after pedaling stops. This means that they are illuminated for the length of a traffic light. There are better mudguards because of the rainy weather. The baskets are smaller on the front handles so that joy-riders are not encouraged (however, not much can be carried in them). There are no locks except at the docking stations. Which means if you run into a shop, you run the risk of the bike being gone when you return.

For now, residents of London can sign up for a day, weekly, or yearly membership. So far 4,500 have already. Tourists are going to have to wait a little longer for the chance to ride one. Below is a step by step guide that I found online that explains how to rent a bike and start riding.
bike canal photo

First the system: after you register for membership you get an electronic key. You put the key in the slot, a light shines red if the bicycle is not available, amber while your details are being checked, and green when they are recognized. Then you hoist the bike out. The seats can be adjusted to any height.
key in photoadjust-seat.png
purse holder photo
perplexed photo
bike-map.png
Finding the docking stations is easy. There is an app available for the iPhone. There are good maps at each station which show where you are and where you can go. There is also a computer terminal which helps.
The price: the first half hour is free. After that it is £1 for the first next 30 minutes and so on.


caution left photoThere are some wrinkles to be worked out, of course. The key doesn't work in every slot, people don't put the bikes back properly and get charged for longer periods, the app isn't the most precise about nearest locations, etc.  For short trips, it's faster than the bus, great exercise and a thrilling addition to the greening of London's streets.

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