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London's new hire bike unveiled

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Tom Edwards has an exclusive look at London's new hire bike

By Tom Edwards
BBC London, Transport Correspondent

BBC London has been given the first look at the capital's new hire bike. If all goes to plan, 6,000 of them will be parked on 400 docking stations next summer.

I was the first journalist to give it a go...

It looks retro, heavy and robust with wide handlebars, 3 gears and a small metal rack on the front - but in dark blue it's certainly distinctive. The only give-away that it's a bit different is the Transport for London logo on the frame.

They only let us use it for just over an hour but I gave it a good run out around City Hall.

As one of Boris Johnson's spin doctors said about the bike: "That's ten times better than I thought it'd look."

Form & function

There's no doubt it is built for durability not speed, but that said you can still get up a fair lick on them. You do have to pedal quite hard to get the speed up in the "sit up and beg" position though.

I wouldn't fancy doing a long journey on it, but for tootling around in town it could be pretty easy to use and the idea is it will be convenient.

It's a lot heavier than my hybrid commuter bike for example but it handles pretty well. There's no cross bar and there's a chain guard to stop your suit trousers getting shredded. There's also a dynamo-driven LED light on the front.

The gears are simple - a twist grip and a touch of the old Grifter there - and it only slipped into the dreaded "neutral" once in an hour. I do wonder from my own experience how many problems mending those gears will cause the maintenance crews...

LONDON CYCLE HIRE SCHEME
The bikes will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
People will be able to pick up and drop off hire bikes at 400 locations across the nine London boroughs and several Royal Parks in Zone 1
There will be a docking stations every 300m in the cycle hire scheme area
An initial 6,000 bikes will generate an extra 40,000 daily cycle trips in central London

How it'll work

It is based on a similar scheme called the Bixi in Montreal in Canada.

You'll use credit cards to place an automatic refundable deposit on the bike or you'll be able to do a weekly, monthly or annual subscription.

The prices haven't been worked out yet. And the bikes will be parked at 400 or so docking stations around Central London. You'll be able to return the bike to any of the other docking stations around town.

The dark blue bike is designed so it won't be attractive to thieves and the deposit is meant to stop it ending up in the Thames every Friday night. Paris in particular has seen thousands nicked.

Get the bus instead?

Critics give you plenty of concerns : No Oyster card compatibility (we think) , no helmets, too expensive, no docking points near train stations, it's too Zone one and there is of course the cost.

Unlike the Paris Velib scheme the cost will come straight from central funds (Transport for London) and not advertising.

London's cycle hire scheme will cost £140 million over 6 years.

Safety

The real issue though is safety.

It is estimated 10 cyclists have been killed this year on the capital's roads.

Transport advisor Kulveer Ranger outlines the new bike hire scheme

Transport for London will tell you the number of cyclists injured or killed has fallen 20 per cent in the last decade while the number on the roads has gone up 100 per cent. But with cycling novices and tourists heading off into the capital's traffic on this hire bike - the fear is there could be more accidents.

Tfl are trying to combat that by running safety awareness courses. Will it be enough?

The people's choice

What really surprised me was the reaction from other Londoners. The bike certainly turned heads on Tooley Street near City Hall as it looks striking and it is unusually large.

I asked a few Londoners for their opinion and all of them apart from a builder said they loved it and they would definitely give it a go and use a bike hire scheme. The builder said he wouldn't be able to carry his tools on it. Even a lycra-clad cyclist said he'd love to give it a go.

The Mayor Boris Johnson wants these bikes to be the most sustainable, environmentally friendly form of public transport ever seen in the Capital. He wants them to be part of his legacy. Now they just have to deliver it.




SEE ALSO
Can London be a cycling city?
20 Aug 09 |  People & Places
Are two wheels better than four?
21 Aug 09 |  TV & Radio
London and the Copenhagen effect
20 Aug 09 |  People & Places
Met's drive to halt cycle deaths
17 Aug 09 |  People & Places
Cycling challenge set for workers
01 Jun 09 |  London
The bicycle backlash unfolds
06 May 08 |  Magazine

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