Despite being subjected to the Ken ‘n’ Boris bashing column in the Evening Standard for at least a month now, I still have no idea who would be the best candidate for LDN’s twenteen years. In a bid to help me make my mind up, I decided to have a go on a Boris bike. Often hailed as one of the blonde one’s better inventions, the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme has seen an influx of around 6,000 bikes since its introduction in 2010. It’s also the reason behind many a hilarious image of a suited commuter wobbling his way into the City with an expression of unbridled terror on his expensive looking face.
First impressions: Chunky, blue and awesome.
On first sight, it’s easy to see why the bikes get their fair share of ridicule. They look chunky and cumbersome, like they’d be a pain to push around. They also have nerdy lights on the front which flare up when you brake. Don’t let these cringe worthy details put you off; despite being aesthetically unappealing, these features are what make the bikes so great. Yes, the frame may be less than elegant, but you’ll be grateful for its sturdiness when you’re feeling a bit unsteady in the saddle. There will, inevitably, come a time when the nerdy silver lights start to seem cool.
Park ‘n’ Ride: Hiring without the hassle.
Hiring a bike is a lot less of a hassle than you may have imagined. Instead of faffing around with an attendant or ticket booth, you just press a bunch of buttons on a machine and insert the relevant credit card. Simples! The instructions are pretty easy to follow, although the T&Cs go on for about 35 pages so I’d recommend skipping them if you’re in a rush. A 24 hour ‘access’ fee, which gives you a code allowing you to take a Boris bike from any parking facility in the city, costs just one pound. The first half an hour’s worth of riding is free, and after that you have to pay an extra charge. Certainly a much cheaper option than the tube, but undeniably more dangerous (and slightly sweatier).
Wheels appeal: Newbies on the road.
Now, I don’t know what it is, but bikes bring out the deeply buried tomboy in me. My extra X chromosome is drop-kicked out of the window as soon as I step in the saddle, replaced by an uncontrollable urge to skid, race and ‘holla.’ This is where Alex says in a smarmy tone that in fact I did none of these things, but the point still stands that I WOULD have engaged in all three of these activities if I was (a) drunk or (b) naturally wildly uninhibited.
Anyway, back to the biking business. On the whole, I really liked these chunky contraptions. The brakes were smooth, the saddle was soft (never underestimate an uncomfortable saddle) and the height could be changed without having to fiddle about with an Allen key. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually go pretty fast on the things. Navigating hills is a bit of a nightmare, as there are only three gears, but in London this doesn’t present too much of a problem. Designed for hip city dwellers who wouldn’t be seen dead in a scruffy backpack, the bikes also have baskets which securely hold your handbag in place.
For cycling newbies like me, the bikes are a fantastic way to feel eco-friendly in what must be one of the world’s most polluted cities. What’s more, the mayor’s blue namesakes have made way for a sort of make-shift community of crap cyclists. You feel a strange sense of camaraderie when you see a fellow Boris biker wobble awkwardly by in their decidedly non-luminous clothing. All in all, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme gets my stamp of approval. Whether I will be voting for Boris Johnson in the upcoming elections remains to be seen.