My Review of the London Bike Scheme

Posted by Krista on August 5, 2010


Even though I knew I was leaving London, I still paid the £45 quid to sign up for the Barclays bike scheme. Between moving out of my flat and tying things up at work, I knew I would be traipsing from flat to office to hotel to flat and back again over and over. Minicab prices were going to be £6 to £7 a ride. A Barclays Bike (or a Boris, as I prefer to call it) clocks in FREE if the ride is under 30 minutes.

I ordered my key on Saturday at 6 p.m. It was in my postbox by 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

From a mental accounting standpoint, I chose not to divide the £45 among each ride. To me, this was more of a sunk cost or a setup fee. When I'm back in London later on in August (see–you can't get rid of me that fast), I can use the bike scheme then too.

So I guess what I'm saying is…when given the choice between minicab and bike, I choose BIKE!

But ouch..I was foiled at the first hurdle yesterday. RAIN. But I wiped off the seat and made do. (Note to self: carry paper towels.) Then I stuck my bike key in one of the bike slots on Leonard Street (by Old Street) and nothing. Yellow light yellow light yellow light, then red. So I tried another. Yellow yellow red. And another. And another. I called the number on the kiosk and after a short wait on hold, I tried to explain the situation to the customer service rep.

First problem…getting through security with the Bike Scheme support line is worse than getting through security with my bank. He first asked for my post code, and despite my repeated attempts to Echo-Charlie it, something just wasn't computing. Once we got that sorted out, no matter how many times I spelled my name, the rep just didn't understand me. And then when he asked me where I was and I told him Leonard Circus, we hit a huge wall. "Circle? Circle?" "No, CircUS. CircUS." "You mean Circle? What circle?" Sigh. Then, once I tried to explain the situation–red light on every bike I'd tried, it was like it was the first time he'd ever been asked the question.

I asked another seemingly straightforward question–do I put the key in with the Barclays logo up or down–and the rep didn't seem to know what the key looked like. He kept conferring with someone else, which was fine, but slightly aggravating.

We eventually got to the point where he said that once you get the first red light on a bike stand, you have to wait five minutes before you can try again. I asked if they could maybe reset that manually on their end as waiting five minutes kinda defeated the purpose of me renting the bike, and he said no. In the interim, he had me go over to the kiosk and use my key there. I kept putting my key in the slot and nothing happened…until I realized I had to touch the screen to begin. Duh.

Anyhow, I was on the phone with the guy for over 15 minutes. He put me on  hold at one point and I thought "Surely it's been five minutes since I last tried a bike stand," I put my key in, and it worked. Score. I hung up on him.

And here's where he redeemed himself: HE CALLED ME BACK to make sure everything was okay and that I'd been able to get a bike out.

I biked over to my estate agent on Goswell Road and parked the bike successfully there. Afterwards, I decided to pick up another bike at a different stand on Goswell Road. No problems here either…I popped my key in and GREEN and go. Only problem was that as I'm riding, I kept thinking, "Shouldn't the left break feel like it's actually doing something?" Hmmm. Plus, I had the TimeOut map with me, and it made it look like there was a stand at the top of Great Eastern Street on Old Street so I headed there. No bike stands anywhere to be seen. I headed back to Leonard Circus. (I wasn't sure if the break thing was me or not, so I didn't report it in when I dropped this bike back at Leonard Circus.)

Thursday morning and here I go again. I decide to time my ride from Leonard Circus to Goswell Road. I start the timer right before I plop the key in. Bike unlocked, I hop on and I was right yesterday–there was definitely something wrong with the left break on the last bike. (Bike number 14318. I took a photo of it.) I head over to Goswell Road again and there's just one problem. The first stand on Goswell Road is FULL. No space for my bike. But luckily because of yesterday, I know where the next stand is and I bike over to there and there are plenty of spots. I lock the bike in the stand and check the timer…11 minutes and 3 seconds. I should really have someone walk this route while I ride it to see how much time I've truly saved, but no matter. Biking is definitely a better way of getting around.

One question I had as somehow who learned the hard way how NOT to get one's bike seat stolen…do the bikes have collars on them that would prevent anyone from just swiping the seat? Must check this on next bike.

Last point–I kinda feel like the handlebar gear works in the opposite way I'd expect it to. I would think I'd have to twist up to get to 3, but instead, you twist down. (I need to get on a 4th bike and think about this some more, so don't quote me just yet. Then I'll need to compare it to my bike that's currently in a container heading to the US and report back.)

So…I'm a huge fan of the bike scheme so far, but it has its foibles at the moment. My experience with customer support was pretty poor, although it eventually worked out okay. And I'm surprised that a break is already problematic within a week of the bike scheme starting. But all in all, I will continue to CHOOSE BIKE!

***Update: Noon on Thursday***

So after I said goodbye to my flat at around 11 a.m. today (sniff), I picked up another bike on Goswell Road (the bike point closer to Old Street) and just rode down to Barbican to go to Mailboxes Etc. I figured it was quicker than walking. I dropped the bike off at the bike stand there and ran into Mailboxes Etc. and was out again in 2 minutes. I went to unlock a bike and got the dreaded red light again.

The 5 Minute Rule Strikes Again!

I'm guessing that because I had only just dropped the bike off, you can't take another one until five minutes later. Rather than wait around, I walked over to Golden Lane and picked a bike up there and headed for Leonard Circus again.

But uggghhhh…Leonard Circus was FULL. I hung around for a few minutes hoping that someone would pick up a bike, but no dice. So I then consulted the map that shows you where the other statnds are and had to ride down Great Eastern Street to New Inn Yard. This sort of foiled my plan of dropping my laptop off at the office, because by now, I'd overshot the office by so much, it had defeated the purpose of taking the bike in the first place. I locked up my latest bike and headed over to my hotel.

So a few observations:
1. It really sucks when a rack is full.
2. I saw one of the repositioning trailers going down Aldersgate as I was heading to Barbican.
3. The bikes are really hard to get out of the stands. I've found that I've had to drop my keys to the ground and definitely use both hands and throw my upper body into it to get the bikes out.
4. The five minute rule sucks. I think I sorta understand it's purpose, but I've been foiled by it now twice! In just two days.

21 Responses to “My Review of the London Bike Scheme”

  1. Jack Bremer
    Aug 05, 2010

    The full-bike-bank scenario is what prevents me trying it out.

  2. Andy Roberts
    Aug 05, 2010

    It was a good idea to ID check that bike with the faulty left brake. I hope they fix it now. The phone call sounds like a nightmare, I’d have hung up much earlier.

  3. dcgent
    Aug 05, 2010

    Jack–what’s the real risk of finding a full bank, a £1 or two? Moreover, the risk is less in London than in Paris as I believe here, if you find a full bank, you can touch in at the full bank and get an extra 15 minutes of riding. More annoying, in my opinion, is having to wait 5 minutes between bike rides (or can one get a different bike). In Paris and other places, my wife and I will bike 25 minutes, rush to lock up, and then unlock the same bike. I realize that behavior is what they are trying to stop, however, so I can’t whinge too mich.

  4. Josh Delsman
    Aug 05, 2010

    There are so many good points to using the bike scheme. Not only is it convenient, but it makes for great exercise, because it only has three gears!

    I haven’t actually run into the docking stations being full problem as of yet. I have been told by a number of sources that they actually have people who move them around when the docking stations get too full based on usage. So, you may have been hit by a launch issue rather than a long-lasting issue with the service.

    However, I too had some issues with the call center. First, I couldn’t register with the website, so I had to call them, and they had no idea what they were doing, or what I was saying. I think sometimes they get tripped up with American accents, if that makes sense. They spelled my email address all kinds of wrong, and I am still having issues logging in. Terrible service!

    I’m so glad they finally have this, though. It surely beats putting out money for a bike, and its so cost effective. I wish more cities in the states would do this!

  5. FB
    Aug 05, 2010

    Just to let people know, as I understand it you don’t need to pay the £45 charge if you aren’t going to be using it on a weekly/daily basis. If you signed up and paid the £1 for 24 hours charge, every time you use a bike, it charges you £1 and you can then use as many bikes as you want in that 24 hours period, and then next time you use it, it charges you £1 again. This makes sense if you are unlikely to use it more than 45 times.

  6. 30in2005
    Aug 05, 2010

    The Leonard Circus bank of bikes is just opposite a building I work in called Development House. And although I don’t ride a bike myself I know that a huge proportion of people in this building do. If ever in doubt just pop in and ask for someone to come help you!!!

    Shame you are leaving London, I am a big fan and spend a lot of my time and money trying to eat at recommendations of your! Good luck!

  7. Laura
    Aug 05, 2010

    Thanks for the report Krista, it’s really helpful. Having made good use of the velib in Paris I found that there the full bank situation was an issue. Here in London though every station I’ve seen has had spaces, though it is early days.
    Good luck with the move and echoing everyone elses comments, I’m looking forward to reading about your eating experiences is Boston and I’ll really miss your thoughts on dining out here.

  8. Robin
    Aug 05, 2010

    The bike scheme is the lamest thing that I have ever heard of and I am surprised that this city is so supportive of it!

    I can buy a bike outright for £35.

  9. Krista
    Aug 05, 2010

    I like it. But then again, I don't posses a bike at the moment. So it works for me.

  10. Krista
    Aug 05, 2010

    One full rack today! One yesterday. Uggh.
    Chicago it is…not Beantown!

  11. Krista
    Aug 05, 2010

    Ah good to know. I totally missed that. Was not paying attention!

  12. Krista
    Aug 05, 2010

    Totally agree on the 5 minute rule. Been hit with it twice in two days!

  13. Laura
    Aug 05, 2010

    Right, Chicago – knew that, momentary mental block. Enjoy!

  14. I am too scared to ride a bike in London, but I suppose that the more bikes on the roads the safer it will be.

    I suppose I could go back and forth through Hyde Park for 28 minutes at a time to get used to it again?

  15. Jess
    Aug 06, 2010

    I’m obsessed with the bike scheme. Haven’t ordered my key yet as I wanted to do some more investigating, so I’m glad you posted. I’m quite concerned about your needing to throw your upper body forward to get a bike out. I wonder how much demand for NHS services will rise…

  16. Ricardo Duarte
    Aug 07, 2010

    Hello, I’m from Portugal and I go to London with my wife in September. We´re staying in Waldorf Hilton in Convent Garden. Can someone help me with good restaurants in London? Best if close to Convent/ Soho / Strand, etc. We are not rich but we like good food  We have 30 years old can someone help? Please?
    Ricardo Duarte
    From Portugal

    sory for my english and for the “deslocated” post i put this comment

  17. Margot
    Aug 08, 2010

    I wasn’t aware that the bike scheme is already running, haven’t been outside my part of London for a while now 🙂

  18. MB
    Aug 13, 2010

    I got my key already too, but every bike I’ve tried has given me the yellow-then-red light. Do you need to set the timer before putting key in? What is the trick? SO FRUSTRATING!

  19. Maya
    Aug 20, 2010

    People, don’t laugh at me, but I haven’t ridden a bike for about 25 years.
    Do you think I can ride these babies without being a danger to people, animals and myself or just ending on the wrong side of the Serpentine?
    Any suggestions for the rusty biker?

  20. Krista
    Aug 23, 2010

    You’ll be fine! The entire time I was riding, I just kept saying to myself, “Keep left! Keep left!” and it all worked out. Good luck!

  21. Around 5th May 2012, I rented a TFL Bike from Marble Arch London. Around forty or fifty minutes later I returned the bicycle to Lamberth North (Kennington) Greater London.

    According to the stand station pay point, the charges was suppose to be one Pound.

    Today I was charged ONE HUNDRED, FIFTY POUNDS for (according to TFL website (under charges) the bicycle was out for over twenty four hours.

    Having contacted TFL, I was advised that the payment will about ten days to return.


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