I signed up
for the CycleHire scheme. Not completely sure why I did, since I have my
own nippy and convenient Brompton but I imagine there will be occasions
when I’m in town without a bike and need to make a short hop without
paying the extortionate bus and tube fares. So anyway, I’m hooked up to
the scheme for a year. The key arrived in the post a day later and I
tried my first bike yesterday.
It’s very early but for now I’m not
impressed. The gears on the bike are extraordinarily low. I was on the
top gear for the whole journey and barely, I would say, got above 10 mph.
I’m not sure what the first two gears are for - the bikes are only
available in central London so I’m not sure Parliament Hill or Primrose
Hill will see a lot of use and that’s about as steep as London gets. I
wonder if it’s a neurotic safety concern; they don’t want high-speed
fatalities on these bikes but actually the slow speed makes them tiring
to use and less manoeuvrable.
Second, they are astoundingly heavy. I
know they don’t want sleek and desirable bikes that would get stolen
soon as look at them but the weight - and the gun-metal colour - made it
feel like I was cycling a tank. The handlebars have the gear cables
tidied into them which makes them feel like a motorbike.
Third, the basket at the front is very
poorly designed. It’s an open sided magazine rack design, with an
elasticated loop. You actually need to have a substantial bag for it to
be of any use. I travelled to a meeting with a notebook and had to hold
it the whole way.
Fourth, the seat is very uncomfortable.
Perhaps this is to encourage short journeys, like those old perch seats
in McDonalds many years ago that hoped to stop kids loitering there all
day. Okay, but I was feeling uncomfortable fifteen minutes into my
Fifth, though this may change, the phone
lines seem to be in meltdown. I queried my account details when I
signed up and was told that they were overwhelmed and they’d call me
back. They haven’t. Then when I first tried to take out a bike, I didn’t
do it quick enough and the system locked me out for five minutes. Then
at the end of the day, coming back from my meeting, I find I can’t get
any bikes out and had to get a bus. I haven’t tried since and may still
be locked out. This, I accept, may be teething problems but the others
are not. We’re stuck with these metal monsters.
It’s a shame because the scheme is
obviously a good idea and I signed up in part to support it. The
experience of riding the bikes, however, is not up to the ideals of the
Oh and the branding. Barclays are all over this - just as they are all over the Cycle Superhighway. Admittedly the blue cycle paths are very distinctive and probably clearer for drivers who seemed to be avoiding those paths when we did the CS7 route to Morden. But how much have Barclays paid? And why do they have to be all over the road and all over the bikes? It’s extremely intrusive - on the front of the bikes, on the wheel hub, all over the website, on the posters, and on flags by the side of the road. Didn’t companies once appreciate the virtue of subtle promotion? This is about goodwill surely, and they seem to be undoing that goodwill be the aggressive way they are pushing themselves forward. Mindful of Kenneth Williams use of the bank for rhyming slang, I must say I’m not impressed by those bankers.