After my Waltham Forest odyssey, I took the opportunity to use the London Bike Hire with Alan P of, "A Grim North." Having heard ahead of time that the casual user system was fiddly and cumbersome, I decided to splash out the £3 to become a member. In the areas of the city served by the scheme, docking stations are readily available, although many of the ones I observed were somewhat lacking in bikes.
The bikes themselves are great; stable, robust and fairly comfortable. The gearing is quite low, but this is ideal for the stop and go traffic they are designed to be used in.
Step-through frame can accommodate a wide range of rider heights
The front carrier and elastic strap are provided as an alternative to baskets, which the designers felt would be used as bins. I discovered it can also be used as a makeshift aero bar to increase performance.
The front carrier included integrated LED lighting, which flashes when the bike is in use (and continues for a few minutes afterwards)
Rear lights are integrated into the frame at the bottom of each of the chainstays. The bike uses a 3-speed Shimano Nexus hub, and Shimano roller brakes (presumably due to the ease with which they can be replaced).
A chain tensioner is used, presumably to avoid the problem of the chain coming off due to low tension if a wheel is not replaced perfectly by Serco.
The front wheel has a Shimano dynamo hub and another roller brake
Left: The bike has a rotary bell, as is common on bikes in The Netherlands. Right: The Bike uses the standard Nexus shifter (which rotates the other way compared to derailleur grip-shifters). The brake activated by each lever is specified on the handlebar, presumably to help tourists from nations which use the right hand side of the road for travel (bike brakes are commonly reversed relative to the UK in those countries).
Unlike the bikes, the system controlling the hiring of bikes is very poor. In the day out I managed to hire around six bikes successfully, out of around twenty I attempted to hire. Several were understandably out of service, but far more common was that the system appeared to time out whilst authorising the bike to be released, producing neither a positive green signal from the dock nor a negative red one. Another problem was the dock occasionally returning a red light, indicating that authorisation had failed, before turning to green in around the same time it would take for someone to turn around and start top walk away.
The bike hire is a good idea and the bikes are fit for their purpose. The scheme is let down immediately by the infrastructure controlling the authorisation of hiring, and on a wider scale by the lack of adequate infrastructure provision for cyclists in many of the areas in which the scheme operates.
Despite the problems encountered, I had a really good day on the Boris Bikes. They are one of the few bikes I can successfully wheelie, and hot-docking is always fun too