Biking on Boris' Barclays bikes

Being in London, I saw these Barclays bikeshare bikes all over the place, they seem pretty popular.  There are literally docking stations everywhere around central london.  The hire rates are quite cheap, they are free for the first 30mins and go up from there.   Unlike the bike share scheme in Melbourne, helmets are not compulsory here in the UK so you can just go up to the station, press a few buttons, put in your debit card and you are off.  I just hired it to cycle a few blocks and partly to give it a go.

Each docking station has a post where
you can use your debit card to hire a bike.
The bikes themselves are built pretty sturdily.  The drivetrain is semi-enclosed with a chain tensioner connected to a 3 speed Shimano Nexus hub.  There are heaps of covers and security bolts to stop people vandalising them, they are reasonably hefty but are made to be tough.  The tyres they use are the venerable Schwalbe Marathons which are known for being heavy but near impossible to puncture.

They have a built in dynamo in the front wheel hooked up to front and rear LED lights.  My gripe is that they are both flashing LED's not constant.   The Vélib in Paris had quite decent front dynamo lights (some  kind of Busch + Muller setup), however for a city bike flashing lights only are useful for being seen, no seeing where you are going.  Flashing lights are harder to track when moving, even if some people believe they draw more attention.

My bag secure and snug in the basket

The basket design is a bit naff, it's a U scoop shape in profile with a bungee cord that goes over the top, the sides are completely open.  This means if your bag isn't secured it'll come off around a corner or when you hit a bump.  Personally I think the good old wire basket would have done fine, although I have read that the reason they didn't use that was because they were afraid of people leaving crap in them.  Still it fit my bag with the strap over it and held it quite securely.

Full mudguards, skirtguards, mostly enclosed drivetrain and
plenty of anti-vandalism protection over the parts.
The bike rides pretty well, the seat is adjustable with a quick release, the controls are standard Nexus bits including the hub roller brakes.  It rolls quite well and you can get reasonably quick on the flat.  It's probably not the best hill climbing bike but the weight is there for durability which is more important - it's much easier to just grow some lungs and some legs rather than whinging about weight.  After riding it for about 1km I chucked it straight back into a docking station at my destination.  If you find the docking station is full you can get a 15min extension.

Overall I was pretty impressed with the bike share, I'll probably be getting a subscription.  For £3 you can get a key with it which means you can just stick it in the dock right near the bike rather than having to go through the debit card rigamarole every time.  It's really convenient for just going short distances and you don't have to worry about locking it up and getting it home.  I'll probably report back after I've used it more but the first impression is a positive one.


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