Getting around central London just got a little easier this year; but only if you're prepared to do a little work yourself. The Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, more commonly referred to as the Boris Bikes, provides Londoners and visitors with a way to get around central London by means of pedal power alone. How it works A series of docking stations can be found around the city. Within the central congestion zone you are rarely more than 5 minutes walk from your nearest station. Here, assuming there is a bike available, you pay a £1 access charge by credit card. This allows you to hire a bike from anywhere in the city for a 24 hour period. And the best part is, in most cases this is all that you'll end up paying, provided you return the cycle on time to another station. Usage charges Once you've paid your access fee, hiring a cycle costs the following: up to 30 mins - FREE up to 1 hour - £1 up to 1.5 hours - £4 and upwards from there. But the point is, you're unlikely to need to hire a bike for over an hour to get around the city. You can always replace your bike to a nearby docking station and wait five minutes before releasing it again, thereby restarting the clock. Docking stations A word of warning: many commuters take the bikes from the main stations to the centre of London in the morning and back again in the evening rush hour. So if you arrive at King's Cross after 9am you're unlikely to find an available bike. Likewise, the docking stations in the heart of the West End are usually very full during the day, meaning a possible wait before you can return your bike. If you're forced to wait for a free docking point you can request a 15 minute extension to your time period at the terminal. Is it safe? London's roads are very busy and cycling along some of the main streets is not for the faint-hearted. Cycle lanes do exist and when you find one of these the journey is delightful. If you are intending to cycle regularly while staying in London it's wise to bring your own cycle helmet with you, as these are not provided. I've hired a cycle three times so far and will use them again to get around the centre of town. It's as quick as the tube in many cases, you get to see a different side of London, and best of all it's an easy way to get your daily dose of exercise.
On yer bike! London by pedal power
Friday 27 May 2011