Sunday, 1 August 2010

Boris bikes / Ken bikes continued... or Why can't London always be this way?

So, I decided to continue my Boris bike (Ken bike) exploration today.  Somebody really needs to invent a better name for these bikes, since nobody wants to call them Barclays Cycle Hire bikes on account of our dislike of corporate sponsorship (and big banks).  To be fair, it's also rather a mouthful.  But it seems disingenuous to call them Boris bikes when they were Ken's idea.  Barc Bikes is nicely alliterative, but alludes back to Barclays again.  Anybody any better ideas?

Anyhow, I wanted to go and discover whether the Lollard Street dock and the Kennington Lane Rail Bridge dock really existed, and if they worked.  I began at my local, Kennington Road Post Office, hopped on a bike, glanced behind me and set off.  I share the view of another commentator who remarked that the gears are set too low.  My legs were spinning around, Tom and Jerry-like, and I wasn't going very far!  They're also designed only to be ridden for short distances on account of having saddles that tip you forward slightly.  I've discovered that they're much more comfortable to ride when I raise the saddle so that my toes don't touch the ground.  I don't regard myself as short by any means (I'm 5'4"), but I can't see anybody much shorter being able to ride these and still have their toes touch the ground.  The other SE11_lurker (who is 4ft 11 and three quarter inches) cannot ride them at all, so they're yet another philandrist device, designed to exclude short people!  Other than that, they're a fine specimen of transport.

My ride to Lollard Street didn't take long, but upon arrival, I was detained by an older, slightly inebriated man who wished to engage in conversation about the bikes.  That is what I really like about the scheme.  Londoners have suddenly stopped to talk to one another.  The chap wanted to know what I thought about the scheme, how you used the cycles and how much it cost.  It seems to take people a little while to get their heads around the idea that there is both an access and a usage charge.  I explained that the bikes were designed for tourists to hire all day (eg. a rip-off for long-time hire), and most people would put them back within half an hour.  He was unconvinced that they were better than his bike at home, and I had to agree, but we chatted for 10 minutes. On Friday, I was detained at the Post Office by a man from an expensive flat and a woman who lived on the local estate who both wanted the scheme explained.  On Saturday, whilst I was experiencing the yellow light-red light issue, again at the Post Office, another woman wanted to chat about them.  When I put my key in, there's usually a set of passers-by wondering how they work.  And this morning, I was chatting to some Camberwellians who had noticed my TV appearance, and wanted to know why the bikes hadn't been placed further south in London.  Well, quite.  Boris probably doesn't travel much further south than Elephant and Castle, so that might explain it.  But it has led me to wonder, "why can't London always be this way?".  I really like these conversational excursus, although one has to ensure they're held /before/ you put the key in, otherwise you'll be using up the half hour chatting to strangers!  But, why not?  I hope that people keep chatting, even when the novelty wears off.

I made a bit of a mistake with Lollard Street.  It's one of those "out of the way" bike docks, and the bikes have been placed just outside of the former Lilian Baylis School.  There were plenty there, but it turned out that I'd hired one of those over-tightened back wheel affairs.  I realised within 15 seconds, but decided to plough on.  Phewww.  Exhausting.  I cycled as far as the Embankment, and went to see whether  the Fire Brigade Pier docking station exists.  It doesn't.  Do beware of that.  Whilst it seems to appear on some of the maps, I arrived at the place where it should have been, only to be greeted by a blank section of pavement and no electrical points here:

The bike had become seriously hard work by this point, but I pioneered on, heading for Vauxhall.  However, a little further up, I spotted the Albert Embankment dock.  I thought they weren't operative, so I zoomed to the right to chat to the chap in the yellow jacket.  He noted that I could choose to dock the bike and that I should press the red "fault" button, but that if I did so, I'd be unable to take out another bike.  Oh dear!  Here's the Albert Embankment dock (including some tourists looking curious):

I elected to cycle on to Vauxhall, hoping to find the Kennington Lane Rail Bridge dock.  I'd not spotted it before, because it's actually under the bridge (it's the tunnel just next to the Vauxhall Tavern).  I docked the bike, but completely forgot about pressing the fault button and by the time I'd remembered, 10 seconds had more than expired.  I turned the saddle around (like the French do) to indicate a fault, and hoped that some of the Serco chaps would spot it.  Here's the dock... (Photo quality is due to iphone camera):

At that point, things took a turn for the worse.  I decided to print out my journey thus far, and headed to the computer:

I went to try the screen on the other side.  Incidentally, I'm not fond of this particular spot.  Hanging around for 5 minutes inside a tunnel makes one look rather seedy.  Unfortunately, the back of the terminal was no better:

Whilst I was waiting, I spotted one of those rather curious poems/anecdotes pinned to the side of the tunnel (see below). So I waited for what seemed like five minutes and reinserted the key.  Oh no!  The yellow light-red light fault had recurred.  I was certain that I'd definitely got the green light when redocking, so waited a few more minutes to try again.  No luck.  Happily, I remembered that Kennington Tesco should have some bikes, and it's only a quick walk down the road.

Full of the joy of "I'm a friendly Londoner spirit", I very nearly stopped a man wearing a "Sex, bugs and rock and roll" T-shirt to admire it, but then I realised that I'd not got a cycle hire bike with me, and he might think I were mad.  I thought better of the decision to stop and chat!

I quickly arrived at Tesco to find another chap in a yellow vest who advised that there were no known problems at his terminal, so I tried the key again, attained the green light and hoiked out a bike.  From there, I just cut across Tesco car park, and zoomed back to the Post Office to re-dock.  As easy as pie!  It's fantastic.  And well done to TFL for ensuring that there are plenty of personnel on hand to explain how the scheme works.  Just one quick plea to Londoners... please don't stop talking to strangers!


Anonymous said...

Can we get a definitive version of whose idea the bikes were? I've heard someone else say Ken only suggested it in 2007 after it was reported Boris as a potential candidate was looking at the idea.

Mark L said...

I have to admit, I am really loving the new bike hire scheme... and am grateful for the TfL website that helps you find cycle routes along back roads, thereby avoiding traffic (for the main part).

What I am really surprised at is how quickly you can get around... Looking at my account, I've apparently got from Vauxhall to Goodge street in 23 minutes, and from Borough Market to Vauxhall in 21 minutes. I'm fairly sure to go to either by tube would take almost as long, if not longer.

Regarding the Ken vs Boris debate, Jenny Jones did a study for Ken in 2007, so the idea was definitely being kicked around then. I think the difference between Ken vs Boris is that Ken wanted to accompany it with improvements to the cycle route network in London, whereas Boris has just gone ahead and whacked in the cycle scheme regardless.

From personal experience this weekend... the improvements to a cycle route network are still desparately needed, and I really hope that the scheme acts as a catalyst for cycle route improvements in the city.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason they're not further south than Kennington is that they are really designed as an alternative to tourists taking the tube a couple of stops in central London. They are not really aimed at commuters.

The Bittersweet City said...

I commute on them (Vauxhalll to Waterloo) - despite receiving severe looks of disdain from real cyclists on their own bikes, who usually zoom around me. I also like that they seem to make tourists talk to you. And most of the time, I wish I had more time to talk back.

Re: the Ken v Boris debate, come on, 'Kencycles' sounds much better!

P.S. Great blog, I shall be back to

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