Although I arrived in London on a Thursday, I soon decided not to try out the Santander Cycles until Sunday, in hopes that the traffic would then be somewhat less ferocious. Also I was a bit nervous about riding on the left side of the street, which I hadn’t done since my last visit to Edinburgh ten years before.
But on the Sunday I did spend a good part of the day riding around London on the Santander bikes, which was fine especially on the quieter residential streets. I should explain that I often use the Vélib’ bikes in Paris, and have also used the on-street bike sharing systems in other French, German and Belgian cities, so I am well acquainted with the concept.
According to the London Transport website, there are now “more than 10,000 bikes at over 700 docking stations situated every 300 to 500 metres in London.” In other words, the London bike-sharing system is less than half the size of the Vélib’ system in Paris, even though London is much larger and more populous.
The first thing that surprised me about the London system was that it is not possible to sign up online for a one-day or seven-day subscription, as it is in French cities. In London (unless you are a regular user with your own “cycle hire key”) you have to insert your bank card (debit or credit card) into the docking station terminal each time you want to hire a bike. The first time each day you will be registered and charged £2.00 for the day, and after that the bank card only serves to identify you, with no additional charge unless you keep a bike for more than half an hour. I used my German credit card, which worked fine though I was a bit uneasy about flashing it around so much (since I usually keep it safely out of sight most of the time). Also I was worried about wearing out the card, though I suppose that was rather silly because the modern chip-cards are much more robust than the old magnetic-strip cards used to be.
On the whole, I found the London bikes to be newer and in better repair than the Paris ones, which is no wonder because the whole system in London is newer. The Paris bikes have been in constant intensive use since the summer of 2007, whereas the London system got off to a slower start and has only been in operation since December 2010.
A peculiarity of the London bike-sharing scheme (‘scheme’ in the British sense of the word, of course) is that it has no commonly accepted name. Some people call it the “Boris Bikes” after the mayor Boris Johnson, though the scheme was in fact initiated by his predecessor Ken Livingstone. From 2010 to 2015 it was officially called “Barclays Cycle Hire” after the then-sponsor Barclays Bank. In March 2015 the sponsorship was taken over by another bank, Santander UK, so the whole fleet of bikes had to be re-done to display the new name. (Perhaps that is why they are all in such good condition?)
The cycle station in my first two photos is the one at Kings Cross Belgrove Street just opposite the St Pancras and Kings Cross railway stations. I was very impressed when I saw that during the evening rush hour three men are employed here, detaching bikes and wheeling them into an adjoining storage building, so as to free up docking points for the steady stream of commuters who ride up, dock their bikes and cross over to the train stations. I assume that in the morning rush hour it works the other way round, though I was never up early enough to actually observe that.
This station was the closest one to my hotel, so this was where I started out on the Sunday morning to try out the cycles.
Third and fourth photos: The cycle station Kings Cross St. Chad’s Street is another one I used because it was also quite close to my hotel.
Fifth photo: After you identify yourself at the terminal by inserting your bank card, you receive a printed “release code”, like the two shown here. The code is a five-digit combination of the numbers 1, 2 and 3, since there are only three number keys on the docking point. So the release code might be something like “12323” or “33311”. As it says at the bottom of the slip, “the release code is valid for ten minutes and only at this station”.
At the end of your ride you can, if you wish, print out a “Journey Record” such as the one in the photo on the right-hand side. In this one, my journey lasted 27 minutes. My departure station was “Embankment (Savoy), Strand” and my arrival station was “Golden Square, Soho”.
Next: Cycling in London
Getting acquainted with a city on a guided bicycle tour is something I have only done in Prague up to now, but I really liked in there and am sure I would have liked it in London as well, especially since it would have helped me get re-adjusted to cycling on the left side of the street before striking out on my own.
The tour group in my photos was having a stop at Covent Garden. Their bikes were labeled “bexhillbicycle.com”, which was rather mysterious since Bexhill is a seaside town on the south coast of England, some 75 miles (= 120 km) from London. But it turns out that the Bexhill Bicycle Hire Company is affiliated with the London Bicycle Tour Company, and they sometimes borrow each other’s bikes.
The London Bicycle Tour Company offers various three-hour tours in English, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, French and Japanese, as well as “sportive” all-day tours from London to Brighton or Box Hill.
The group I saw was on either the “Central Tour” or the “West End Tour”, both of which include a stop at Covent Garden. The company also offers an “East Tour”, a “Night Tour”, a “Christmas Lights Tour” and a “Mystery Tour”.
Like most things in London, these bicycle tours are rather pricey. The Central Tour, for instance, costs £23.95 per person, which would be over 32 Euros in real money. A similar tour in Prague would only set you back 20 Euros = 540 Czech Republic Koruna (both prices as of 2015).
Directions: Location of Covent Garden on the cycle map.
Next: Golden Square
When I was in London in the summer of 2015, there was lots of road work going on for the purpose of constructing the new “East-West Cycle Superhighway”, which according to this sign “will provide segregated cycle lanes separating cyclists from traffic.”
The project’s website says the Cycle Superhighway will provide a “wide, substantially segregated, two-way cycle track; better safety with cyclists separated from traffic along the route at signalised junctions and bus stops; more pedestrian space with widened footways, traffic islands and bus and coach stops; and improved pedestrian crossings.”
A “North-South Cycle Superhighway” is also under construction at the same time as the East-West Cycle Superhighway. They will intersect at the Blackfriars/Victoria Embankment junction.
So at last London is starting to improve its cycling infrastructure, which up to now has been quite rudimentary in comparison with real cycling cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and lately even Paris.
Second photo: This couple on Santander Cycles is riding through and around one of the construction sites.
Third photo: This is a typical London cycling situation today. A cyclist and a double-decker bus trying to coexist on a fast and busy street.
Fourth photo: Twenty’s plenty is the name of a non-profit organization that is campaigning “for 20mph to become the default speed limit on residential and urban streets.” 20mph is the equivalent of 32 km/h. The banner in my photo says “Welcome to Islington, London’s first 20 borough.” But Islington is no longer alone in this regard. By July 2016 “10 of the 13 inner London boroughs will have borough-wide 20mph limits.”
See also: Speed limits in Paris on my Paris page.
Next: Guided bicycle tour
In and Around the London Area are various Automated Bike Depots wherein you can rent bicycles so that you can go around the famous places in London cheaply as. Unfortunately they dont accept oyster cards or the other unlimited day ride cards or even cash but they only accept debit or credit cards as the bike depots are fully automated with no person manning it.
the public bicycles only cost 2 GBP good for 24 hours (provided that the bike ride is less than 30 minutes to the next destination like say getting a bike in a bike depot near buckingham palace area and then going to Hyde Park and then returning it to the bike depot in less than 30 minutes means no additional charge. you can repeat the cycle getting bikes from the bike depots and returning them to other bike depots in less than 30 minutes means a flat 2GBP rate for 24 hours.
It costs £2 to access the bikes for 24 hours, and the first 30 minutes of each journey are free. Longer journeys cost £2 for each extra period up to 30 minutes.
according to their website:
Step 1 - Hire
•Go to the nearest docking station terminal with your debit or credit card and touch the screen to begin
•Select 'Hire a cycle', follow the on-screen instructions and take the printed release code
•You can hire up to four bikes at the same time (you'll need a separate release code for each bike)
Tip: Santander Cycles is for short trips. After your first journey, all other journeys within 24 hours are free, as long as each one lasts no more than 30 minutes.
Tip: Each bike release code is valid for 10 minutes and only at that docking station. Bikes are valuable so don't let anyone see your code before you use it.
Find out what you pay to hire a bike.
Step 2 - Ride
•Take a moment to read our tips for safer cycling at the terminal
•Choose your bike and check the tyres, brakes and bell
•Type your five-digit release code into the docking point's silent keypad and pull the bike out when the green light appears
•Adjust the saddle height and you're good to go!
Tip: The bikes have lights that come on automatically when you start pedalling.
Step 3 - Return
•Push the bike firmly into any empty docking point
•You must wait for the green light, which will show that the bike is securely docked (otherwise we will continue to charge you for your journey). If you don't get a green light, call the Contact Centre immediately on 0343 222 6666 (TfL call charges)
•If the docking station is full, select 'No docking point free' at the terminal and follow the on-screen directions to get an extra 15 minutes free
•To find a nearby space if the docking station is full, select 'Status of nearest docking station' at the terminal.
•Remember, if you're not using the bike, dock it back!
In recent years more people are cycling around London. In the central London and the City are not that many cycle lanes but in the recent years cycling had approved much more and more its getting done.
We have four Cycle Superhighways in London which they do give us more freedom but not all the time as a few of them are still running on the main roads.
SC2 from Stratford to Aldgate it’s the most dangerous one which I don't use that often.
SC3 from Barking to Tower Gateway which I use the most and it was part of my training before I cycle London to Brussels.
SC7 from Merton into the City
CS8 from Wandsworth to Westminster and I use part of this route when I cycle to Richmond Park.
Four more cycle superhighways are planned for 2016.
The Barclays cycle hire known as Boris bikes it will be free this weekend the 16th and 17th of August 2014 as they are celebrating their fourth birthday.
They will cover the 24 hour fee upto 4 bikes.
It's a great way of seeing London.
Officially called London Barclays Cycle Hire but referred to by locals as "Boris Bikes" after the mayor Boris Johnson who introduced them. The cycle hire scheme can be a great way to get around the city over short distances but I have seen many tourists wobbling precariously amongst heavy city traffic and only avoiding disaster by sheer luck.
I don't recommend them for general sight seeing unless you are familiar with London's crazy traffic and UK road laws but for the brave or utterly reckless this is how it works...
You pay £2 by credit card and take a bike from one of the docking stations like the one pictured and ride it to another docking station. If your ride was less than 30 minutes there is no extra charge and you can do as many 30 minute rides as you like within 24 hours all for £2. If you don't dock your bike within 30 minutes there is a small charge and if you fail to dock it at all there is a hefty charge to your credit card to recover the cost of the bike.
What they are great for, avoiding traffic and the serious risk of injury or death is exploring London's Royal Parks, Hyde Park, Kensington gardens, Green Park and St James Park.
There is a relatively new travel concept in London which began in 2010 and appears to be gathering momentum. All over the central part of the city you will see rows of bicycles like those pictured, and you will see them being pedalled around. In the way of Londoners, these bikes have already been given a nickname. They are known as "Boris Bikes" after the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, himself a keen cyclist. They are sponsored by Barclays Bank and so they, and the associated "cycle superhighways" are blue, that being the corporate colour of the Bank.
So, how do they work? Well, this is quite complex, although the attached website should assist. Basically, you pay a set fee for access to the system. Then you can go to any bikestand and access a bike, which you cycle to your destination and dock it again. there is a sliding scale of charges but the first 30 minutes of any journey is free. I think this is to encourage short trips as an alternative to using public transport. It then starts to get quite expensive. For example, if you have the bike for two hours it will cost you £6.
I should say that I have not used the system yet but I intend to sign up today. The most cost effective for Londoners is the annual membership which costs £45 or baout 12 pence per day. I should point out that this option is not available to non UK citizens.
Update 20th November, 2012.
Since initially writing this piece the system has been expanded considerably and there are many more docking stations although htere still remain problems with certain ones being full and others empty but it seems to be getting a bit better.
Now for the bad news. Two days ago, I received a letter from Transport for London (TfL) who administer the scheme. As of January 2013 they are increasing prices for the "Boris bikes". This is understandable with inflation and so on. Inflation in UK is currently comfortably in sinlge figures so what is the increase going to be? 10%, 20%? No, TfL are actually DOUBLING all charges for the privelege of reducing carbon emissions in London, making the citizens fiteer and so on. Yes, you read that right, a 100% increase in price. The yearly cost is now £90 rather than £45. I have no idea how they can justify such blatant profiteering, it is a disgrace.
Cycling is undoubtedly a healthy and eco-friendly mode of transport and it appears to be increasingly popular in London. It may be an option if you want to get around.
Update July 2014.
I read recently that Barclays Bank have pulled out of the sponsorshi of the bikes and the authorities are now looking for another corporate sponsor so we shall have to wait and see what happens in the future. I suspect the bikes will stay as they have become quite established now and a lot was spent on building the infrastructure.
On this years visit to London i realised that there were now many cycling lanes by the side of the main roads as Londoners save money travelling to and fro from work, but i also heard on the news that 50% of London cyclists have been hit by vehicles. So if you are planning on being in London for a while i suggest that cycling is the way to explore this great City.
A cycling map---www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling
There are also bicycle tours of London and if you search the net you will find places that will rent them.
I have mentioned before about the extremely confused relationship between public transport in London and bicycles. Various Tube lines allow bikes at certain times and on certain portions of their lines and trying to keep track (no pun intended) is almost impossible.
Even though I have lived in London for many years, I never realised that non-folding bikes were completely forbidden on the Docklands light Railway (DLR). Live and learn, as they say. I saw this sign a couple of days ago, and it was the first notification I had ever seen on the DLR of this prohibition. I submit this tip to try and ssave readers any problems because they didn't know about this.
I hope you have come to this page via my Boris Bikes (1) and (2) pages where I promised that, in the interest of fair reporting, I would write an update to these pages. Here it is. For those coming straight to this page, here is a btief outline. The so -called Boris Bikes, named for the cycling Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It is basically a system of public use bicycles that you can hire either by the day, month or year. You go to a docking station, access a bike, go to your destination and dock it in again. It is intended for short journeys and the charges escalate dramatically for longer use.
I had, to say the least, a fairly torrid time accessing the system, although I have now eventually managed it. The system is basically a good one but still fundamentally flawed. The two photos accompanying this tip demonstrate some of the problems. The night photo (apologies for the quality) is a docking station in the City of London at just before eight at night. Not a single bicycle for hire. I had to walk a considerable distance to get one at another station. Not good. Coming to the end of my journey, you can see the situation at the other end where I wanted to dock the bike. Almost full. Luckily, there was one space left but anyone coming five minutes after me would have had to go elsewhere. It appears that bikes tend to be cycled into the City in the morning, and cycled out in the evening.
The other problem is obviously the traffic. there are some designated cycleways but often you are riding in bus lanes. the problem with this is the buses (obviously) and licensed taxi cabs who are also allowed to use them. They seem to have little consideration for cyclists, and I have been "cut up" several times. Diesel fumes are also a problem. On balance, though, I am quite enjoying my cycling, and I was surprised at how quickly I can get around, even as unfit as I am!
As in other countries e.g. Paris, there are now stands where bicycles can be hired. Payment is made by credit card.
London has cycle paths , but some areas need cautious cycling as the cyclist will be at the side of busy roads.
A helmet is advisable.
Two days ago I composed a tip on the so-called "Boris Bikes", which are basically bikes for public hire and available at "docking stations" in various locations around central London. The theory is that you can either become a member for one day, one week or one year which allows you access and then you pay for the time you use the bike. They are really designed for short journeys so the first 30 minutes of any hire are free and then charges apply rising steeply the longer you have the bike. When you have completed your journey you "dock" the bike at another station and your credit / debit card is debited the appropriate amount. Job done. At least, that is the theory. Now let me tell you about the reality.
Two days ago, I signed up for the scheme, as I think it is a great way for me to get round and there are two docking stations near where I live. I went to my local cycle shop and splashed out on a helmet, which makes sense for cycling in London. If nothing else it caused some hilarity with my mates in the pub later on! I should explain that I cannot use the bicycles yet as I have to wait until they post me a "key" which allows me to access the bikes without using a credit / debit card every time. In the interests of VT research I decided to test drive or test pedal the system as a casual user, i.e. act as if I was a visitor to London so I could write a tip here about how easy or otherwise it was. OK, maybe I do have too much time on my hands.
Although sponsored by Barclays Bank, the system is controlled by Transport for London (TfL) which should have set alarm bells ringing. TfL are a disgrace, there is no other word for them. I cannot think of any other organisation that can disrupt the lives of so many hundreds of thousands of people on such a regular basis. I appreciate that running an integrated transport system in one of the world's major capitals cannot be easy but they seem to get it so wrong so often.
I shall digress slightly to cite you an example, and I promise you this is not staged. As I write this tip (1104 hours, 12th May, 2011) I have just checked the TfL website. In London there are 13 Tube (Underground, Metro, subway, whatever you want to call them) lines. As I write, and there are no planned engineering works, one is suspended, two are part suspended and a further two have delays. That is five out of 13 lines not functioning as they should. Such is the way TfL seems to work so it is no wonder that Londoners complain about them
Back to the bikes. I went to my nearest docking station, armed with a debit card that is completely different from the one I had used to join the scheme online as well as the one I had used. The two cards are from different banks with different account numbers and both are in funds. I did this so the system would not get "confused" as to the card I had registered with. At the docking station, I began to follow the fairly convoluted touch screen instructions. This necessitated my having to physically hunker down on my haunches as the screen is situated so low down and I am 6'5".
Thinking the docking station was perhaps defective in some way, I walked to the next docking station and, not wishing to bore you, I will keep it brief and say that exactly the same thing happened - two cards declined after a lengthy procedure hunkered down. Thankfully there was no-one else waiting or I would have been really embarrassed. By now, I was a little concerned about my cards and so I went to the nearest bank, a Barclays ironically, where I managed to withdraw money on both cards with no problem at all. The failure therefore is entirely with the TfL system.
Somewhat annoyed, I returned home with my still pristine cycling helmet and wrote to the contact email on the website. I got a computer generated reply saying they would get back to me within five working days. OK folks, no rush, I'll just walk until you send me a key or write to me. In the interests of fair reporting, I shall update this tip when or if they reply to me.
Our mayor, Boris Johnson, came up with this idea as an initiative to reduce pollution, combat traffic congestion, and as a way of getting the people in the capital fitter!
Many other cities like Copenhagen have this sort of arrangement, so it was bound to catch on at some stage I suppose..
Not all stations have this facility, but the ones that do have a decent number of bikes locked neatly to a cycle stand. There is a payment terminal stating the costs, locations of surrounding drop-offs (other stations with the same facility).
As an example, the first 30 minutes are free, upto 60 minutes costs 1 GBP, etc. But you must have arranged access to the bikes in the first place by paying an access fee.
Please don't think of eloping with the bikes, as the non-return fee is 300 GBP, a lot more than these Barclays-sponsored bikes are worth!!
Access fees: 24hr/7d/annual = 1/5/45 GBP
Usage charges: 60 mins = 1 GBP, 90m = 4, 120m = 6, 150m = 10, 180m = 15, 360m = 35, upto 24hrs (max single usage period) = 50 GBP !
Late return charge = 150 GBP
Non-return = 300 GBP
Damage = 300 (max)
Transport for London have now public bikes for hire at various sites across London. The bike is hired with a debit or credit card and then taken on its journey and the parked and left at another bike storage area.
Charges are reasonable with details shown on the website.
See also - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2010/dec/01/boris-bikes-scheme-expansion