A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Posts Tagged ‘Cycle hire’


Posted by Alan on May 5, 2011

Just before Easter we made a trip across the channel to Paris. Being a regular BorisBike user, trying a Vélib was on the to-do list.

Ruth a la Vélib

Ruth a la Vélib

First impressions were that these bikes are more flimsy. They don’t feel as heavy as the blue bikes of London and fixtures and fittings all seem a little smaller.

Velib: Basket not bag pouch

Basket not bag pouch

The first most striking difference is the basket, rather than the bag ‘pouch’ we have in London. This doesn’t make a lot of difference to me as I always carry some kind of bag, but I could see how if you didn’t how a basket could be much more useful. The gears and bell are exactly the same. Additionally you have a lock, so you can park anywhere if you need to – this means once you have a bike you can rely on it to be there. It is a source of frustration in London that the natural flow of bikes means that you’ll often find a city centre dock empty and have have to change your plans…

Saddle up

Saddle up

The saddle looks the same, though there are no helpful numbers on the seat post for quick adjustment. The docking mechanism is fitted to the side rather than the front – this felt a bit less solid than London, though it may mitigate against the idea of ‘hot-docking’ (riding into a dock without dismounting) for fear of leg injury!

Side dock

Side dock

During our days in Paris we saw many wrecked bikes in docking stations. According to wikipedia, many are vandalised as a backlash against the primary user group, the “bo-bos”: bourgeois-bohemians, the trendy middle class French. I haven’t yet seen this in London, despite the bikes being used primarily by a similar demographic. Towards the suburbs, the tyres and inner tubes seemed to be main target – many docking stations had multiple broken bikes in them.

Borked Bike

Borked Bike

Being a regular in London, I haven’t actually tried the casual hire process though I have been shown it. You put your card in and are given a receipt which you take to a docking station and key numbers in to the dock, using the 3 digit pad to the left of the wheel. Next time you want to take bike you put your card in again and it gives you a new receipt. It sounds onerous, but after Paris I can see how TfL came to that choice.

In Paris, you are given a card with a subscriber number on. This must be key in at the terminal where you then select your bike – if the only available bike happens to be 10 metres away at the other end of the dock so be it. Run! Push the button on the dock and the bike is released. I wasn’t too keen on this idea – at a nearly empty docking station it would be very easy for someone to take the bike you just rented and in the process lose you €150 in bike non-return fees…

Anyway I enjoyed the two circular trips I made and if I do go back to Paris I’ll certainly be using Vélib again.

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No monopoly on borisbikes

Posted by Alan on February 25, 2011

So the real reason Mr C visited London was to play about on the Boris Bikes. Being the scheming planning type I thought – why don’t we try something a bit different. How about trying to visit every square on the monopoly board using only Cycle Hire? Great idea. In their glory, here’s the map of all the points:


The docking stations of Monopoly

Starting at Angel there were two bikes in the dock – only one would undock. Stop. Walk to the next docking station halfway down Pentonville Road.  Undock. Get distracted and cycle to Marylebone via the segregated route parallel to Euston Road (in doing so miss Euston Road & Kings Cross station).  Due to roadworks even this didn’t go well as the eastern end was closed!

Access Denied

Access Denied

Docking at Marylebone, we then struggled to find another two bikes in the same rack. Which resulted in a walk to Marble Arch and ultimate abandonment. Having not really planned a route between the docks or really thought about it past potting them it probably wasn’t ever going to go well. However, we did then cycle all the way across Hyde Park and back again. And the further east eventually finishing at Liverpool St. So it wasn’t an entirely wasted day.

Jelly family

Jelly family at Marble Arch

Ideally I need to find someone adept enough with computers to run a travelling salesmen algorithm across the points to get the most optimal route.  The two main outliers (Old Kent Road / Marlborough St) might cause you to spend a quid but otherwise everything is easily within 30 minute cycling distance of Charing Cross – but even then I’m sure with a bit of gusto and traffic lights in your favour it would be possible.

For anyone who fancies a go – here’s my Boris Bike Monopoly spreadsheet listing the squares, docks and co-ordinates of the docks.


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A real cycle superhighway

Posted by Alan on February 24, 2011

At speed - on a bike

At speed

A few weeks ago Mr C of MCR Cycling came to visit, mostly to play on the BorisBikes (more of that later) as well as drink scotch at WhiskySquad #11 and buy a shiny Brompton.  As part of our day on the cycle hire scheme we took in what I would call a proper cycle superhighway.  Straight and segregated, the paths across Hyde Park stretching from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner and onto Kensington are absolutely fantastic. They aren’t quite wide enough for really comfortable passing at speed but it was easy enough to pass with care.

In 30 seconds we pass 4 bikes coming out of town – if there were more lanes like this maybe more people might be persuaded to use pedal power to commute regularly.  I haven’t got to commuting myself yet but after Bogle is done, I’ll be onto training for the C2C so I’ll need to build up some stamina and ditch the final 10 kgs before I hit ‘normal’.  10-11 miles each way will be hard to start with but having cycled into town once now I know it is at least not beyond my capability.

Talking of Bogle – sponsorship is now open. I hope you can spare a few quid and gift aid via http://www.justgiving.com/AlanP-Bogle2011! There’s just over a week left before the epic overnight walk begins. Exciting times!

On a lighter note – during the quiet spell mid afternoon, Mr C managed to perfect a wheelie technique. Well, it isn’t specifically banned under the code of conduct!


Oh look a wheelie

Posted in Cycling | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

I say old chap, might you lend me a bike?

Posted by Alan on August 11, 2010

Yesterday my cycle hire key fob arrived. So today I was very eager to give it a go and see what it was like. My first journey saw me pick up on Cheapside and dock again at Abbey Orchard St as part of a journey between two meetings. A total distance of 2.5 miles completed in 23 mins so around 6mph. Not incredibly fast but in my defence as this my first ride al fresco (sans tin lid) and I was in my work suit!

So what of the bikes? Well, after my initial fear of breaking it in undocking (you do have to tug properly) it’s easy enough to get going. The basket/clip thing on the front isn’t bad – I got a bit worried my bag might be working loose but it held up fine. The bike was comfortable, quite easy to handle – yes they are heavy but this does make it feel sturdy/chunky. Along the Victoria embankment I felt like I could have really done with a 4th or even 5th gear – I reckon once I’ve settled into using the bikes I’ll basically use them as a ‘fixie’ in 3rd! Docking at the other end was easy enough and my journey appeared in on the website within minutes, so I was reassured that I hadn’t spent another £1 crossing town.

When it came time to clock off and go home, I decided it would be a great idea to cycle back east before picking up either the tube or National Rail at Liverpool St. On arrival at my closest docking station – disaster: no bikes!

Access Denied! - no bikes at the cycle hire point

Access Denied!

The terminal listed a few other sites locally with a few bikes – all westwards so I decided to walk east and use my paper map to see what I could find. It’s hardly surprising that at 1730 a docking station in Victoria (aka Mandarin Central) is empty but still a bit disappointing. Next time I will check on departure!

The next terminal eastwards should be at Storey’s Gate – but it isn’t there. Continuing eastwards, Horse Guards Avenue – this time there was some Herras fencing and a portaloo where the red dot on my map is. Never mind… they did announce not all of the bikes and docking stations would be ready on day one so I knew to expect some missing. Finally, on Whitehall Place opposite Charing Cross/Embankment tube a huge swarm of bikes could be found and I was back on my way eastwards with vigour, basically the reverse of the earlier route but continuing up Queen Victoria St and on past Bank eventually landing near Liverpool St having gone past the front door not knowing where the docking station was!

This journey hasn’t appeared on my account yet which is a little worrying – I was docked by 6pm though so assuming I left the office around 1720 then walked to Charing Cross I don’t think I would have passed the 30 min mark (phew!)

All in all – a good experience. I don’t think I have any cross building meetings tomorrow but on Friday I think I have to go from Southwark to Westminster and then onto a house party in Bermonsey. I think I might have to go by bike.

Posted in Cycling, Travelling around | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »