Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Boris Bikes Review

Since they were introduced back in July last year 'Boris Bikes', or more properly the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, have become a regular sight across the centre of London. With 6,000 distinctive bicycles at over 300 bike 'stations' across the capital they offer a viable option for getting around the city.

But what are they actually like to ride?!

'Boris Bikes' in action

I've been using the bikes for a while now, so here's my review:

Ease of Use/Practicality - 7/10
Before using the bikes it's necessary to register and provide payment details online.  All very straightforward and sensible, but for some reason it wouldn't accept my bank card, but my credit card worked.

A fob arrived within a couple of days.  This needs to to be pre-loaded with money - annual, weekly or daily apply.  I chose daily (at £1 a pop, compared to £5 per week or £45 for the year) as I won't be using the bike every week.

I missed the choice to automatically re-charge the fob after each use and, apparently, people have experienced problems with this even when it is set.  So I have to pay again online before each time I want to use a bike.  A minor niggle, but inconvenient.

A map comes with the fob, which is a good job, because the bike stations aren't always in the most obvious locations, although they are well spread and pretty easy to find with a bit of effort.

Another problem is that stations are often empty or have faulty bikes on them (according to one report I've read, nearly 200 are out of action at any one time).  I had to pass two empty sets of stands before I found a bike recently, adding 15 minutes to my journey - hardly to be relied upon.

But it gets easier, when you know where to look...

Performance/Handling - 7/10
Obviously we're not talking about a performance machine here - and there has been criticism that the bikes, considering they cost £900 a pop, are 'cheap'.

The bikes are heavy, the brakes are pretty feeble and the steering is a little jittery, especially with a bag stowed in the slightly awkward storage - you can't get much in there either.

I think it would have been more sensible, and stable, to have this on the back of the bike.  The bikes also don't balance on the stand with any luggage in place.

But the bikes are solid and perfectly serviceable.  Plus the 3 gears are well chosen to get around town.

Comfort - 8/10
It's basically a sit-up-and-beg design, without a top tube and with a big saddle.  So basically pretty comfortable and straightforward.  Although I'd love a Brooks saddle on there!

Value for Money - 10/10
The scheme itself has cost £140 million over 5 years (supported by £25 million from Barclays), the bikes are £900 each and Transport for London pays a set fee to Serco to maintain them.  I leave the London public to decide whether that is good value - although with

However the costs to cyclists - £45 per year, £5 per week, £1 per day, plus a £3 fob - are extremely reasonable and make it a very attractive alternative to public transport.  The first 30 mins of any ride are free, after that charges mount, so best for short-ish hops.

Reliability - 9/10
Apparently 181 out of 6,000 bikes are out of action on average at any one time, but at the end of last year only 3 bikes had been damaged beyond repair.

The bikes are reasonably solid, although I noticed a loose head set on one I rode and the brakes are pretty feeble.

Safety - 9/10
Only 10 were stolen in the first 6 months, significantly fewer than expected.  Unlike in Paris, the bikes do not come with locks, which means that they need to be parked at the very secure stations, which makes them far harder to steal.

The relative unattractiveness and low scrap value of the bikes has also contributed to that.  Also registering makes things trickier for the casual thief.

Personal safety is rather compromised by the scheme not providing helmets, although perhaps this could change over time.  While London does have cycle lanes, it's not a place I would recommend cycling to the inexperienced or nervous, as most of the time you are sharing the road with often aggressive drivers and pedestrians with a habit of stepping off pavements without looking (I've been knocked off my bike by someone before).

Bu as someone used to city cycling I found the bike very enjoyable to ride around the city.  And I suspect that drivers gave me a wider birth assuming I was a tourist...

Fun Factor - 10/10
Whatever quibbles there might be about aspects of the bikes, the overall experience - particularly when you know what you are doing - is fantastic fun.  Riding along a cycle route through Hyde Park on a sunny, summer day reminded me of why I love cycling!

Conclusion - 9.5/10
Overall the Barclay Cycle Hire Scheme is wonderful idea and one that can only improve cycling in London - the more people riding bicycles, the more bike-friendly the city will become.  Long may Boris Bikes reign!


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  2. Great review, and the bikes are even betrter now there are more of them and more places to dock. I've started my own blog at so have a look and maybe add a comment next time you're on a Boris!

  3. Just used the bikes for the first time. No need to register in advance. Just put debit card in and paid my £1 for 24hours.
    The bikes are really nice to ride and feel very safe. Just remember that they are heavy so you won't want to carry then up any steps! Also, the brakes could be a bit sharper. But they're ok.
    All in all it's a brilliant scheme. Well done all involved!!