A third 24-hour tube strike crippled London’s public transport system (pic: www.CGPGrey.com)
I signed up to the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme out of curiosity and to use in the event of an emergency – think the inflatable life jacket of public transport. And Wednesday’s tube strike left me sinking and in need of a Boris Bike to avoid the throngs piled onto London’s overcrowded buses.
Boris Johnson’s now iconic blue bikes hit the streets in July and have gone down a storm – the one million journey milestone was reach last month after less than three months on the road.
The beauty is in its simplicity: register, pay for an access period, grab your nearest blue chariot and hit the streets.
Although my daily commute is only a shade under four miles each way – ideal Boris Bike distance – I have avoided them in favour of my own two-wheeled companion.
But a combination of meeting some friends in south west London and not wanting to leave an RCUK test bike – the KHS CX200 – locked on the capital’s streets made a Boris Bike debut to Waterloo an attractive alternative to an under-resourced public transport system.
With the clocks turned back at the weekend and commuting now a tunnel of darkness, the bikes are lit up with five-LED front and rear lights and alternately flashing hub lights.
The bikes are built for safety, durability and ease of use. With just three gears to select – low, lower and lower still – I was spinning out on even the slimmest of descents headed for Clerkenwell. Still, it made for an easy ride and the necessary gearing to be able to pedal 23kg of metal uphill is far more important.
Negotiating London’s traffic confidently takes practice but negotiating the streets swollen by the weight of additional tube strike induced car drivers tests your patience.
I had no problems tackling a familiar route although, naturally, the heavier, bulkier, less responsive Boris Bike made for a nervy journey when weaving through traffic compared to a more refined ride.
But the bike done exactly what it said on the tin – got me from A to B (three miles), safely, in 22 minutes and having broken only a mild sweat.
That said, the first docking station on Stamford Street, my planned drop-off point, was full and a search guided only by instinct wasted valuable minutes when I had a train to catch. It turns out, however, that if your chosen docking station is unavailable, a map on the terminus points you to the nearest alternative.
Waterloo, the UK’s largest railway station, is poorly served by docking stations and Concert Hall Approach 2 on the South Bank is London’s busiest on weekdays. Therefore it’s right for TfL to ensure a healthy supply of bikes but it’s equally key to leave space for those at the end of their journey.
The scheme continues to be extended throughout central London, with new docking stations now open at Macclesfield Road in Finsbury, Oval Way and Vauxhall Street in Lambeth and Queens Gate by Kensington Palace Gardens.
TfL have moved to address the shortage at Waterloo and work has begun on a 124-space docking station which is set to open in mid-December.
Still, no harm done. I returned my bike to the docking station at Jubilee Gardens and made for the station. With another 24-hour walkout due to start on the evening of November 28, a Boris Bike provides the perfect remedy to public transport.
I hadn’t crammed on to an overcrowded sauna of a tube train – the few that were running – nor had I had my face pressed inside a sweaty armpit on a bus.
But my journey wasn’t over and it was my turn to head into crowds and join the swathes of disgruntled commuters ready to confront the delights of National Rail.