Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Boris Bike - First Time Lucky

After yesterday's kerfuffle, getting the finger from four docked cycles and two docking stations before finally releasing a blue steed, today's cycle hire ride in from Oval was a lot smoother. I arrived earlier, and at 8:05am there were a good ten bikes still at the Kenningotn Road docking station. Spoilt for choice, I squeezed the tyres and spun the wheels on a few bikes before selecting a mount, which released first time. I discovered a previously unnoticed feature on the bike - a kickstand. The stand is made out of the kind of steel normally used for scaffolding poles, which it needs to be to support the massive bulk of the bike. It's rather handly and avoids trying to support the bike upright while trying to juggle your cycle hire key , bag and any other personal possessions, while adjusting the saddle to the correct elevation. On that subject, some of the bikes are starting to show their age. The seatpost on today's model had the scale completely worn away, so it took a bit of guesswork and trial-and-error to get a comfortable level. I discovered that if you set the seat a little lower, the shape of the saddle allows you to sit a bit further back on the bike, which I prefer.

I am really starting to enjoy riding the bike, with all its faults. The beast weighs more than a Barclays banker's wallet at bonus time. Shifting the considerable bulk gives you a really good workout. Pedalling over Lambeth Bridge, a relatively gentle slope I would sail over on my old MTB (which tips the scales more like  Frank Bruno than Frankie Dettori), is a real lung-buster on the Boris Bike. The gears are a real pain - you can't easily operate the shifter while using the brakes, shifting under load is hit-or-miss, and first gear is completely useless, giving you two usable ratios. The front brakes seem to be a toss-up: yesterday's bike would stop fine given a good squeeze on the lever, but today's displayed a considerable reluctance to slow down. The drivetrains seem to be universally noisy. But despite all that, it's fun. It's not really like conventional cycling, and there's a sense that you don't get treated like a cyclist by other road users.

When I arrived at Charing Cross, at an empty docking station, a be-suited 'vulture' was waiting to pounce, helmet in hand. "Do you usually get a bike here?" I enquired. "No. Very rare," he replied. "Usually have to walk down there, " he lamented, pointing towards the Northumberland Avenue dock. So I made somebody happy.

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