Over the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of regularly using what have come to be known in London as Boris Bikes. (Website – opens in new window) It is the first time I have been able to describe myself as an early adopter. A regular ride is from home to that displaced piece of Manhattan around Hatton Garden and Farringdon.
The bikes mark the ebb and flow of the centre of London, nearly all are gone from our stands on the edge of the central Zone 1 by around 9am, and it’s hard to find a free stand to leave it in the West End at the weekend. Complete strangers ask about the bikes, asking what they’re like to ride (heavy and stable), how you join (easy), and where you’re going (enhancing one’s storytelling skills). The cost need be no more for the year than a few taxi rides and even the guys who take supplies of spare ones around to rebalance the availability are friendly and knowledgeable.
I have noticed that cyclists on their own bikes do not like being overtaken by me skimming along in a suit, however that’s more usually downhill, uphill with the weight of the Boris against me I can only overtake the lower quartile of the 70 year olds. The Borises have fundamentally changed London and the way people see it, I think they are fantastic. As the first year of use begins to turn there will of course be things to get used to: I already take a rag with me to wipe off the early Autumn dew from the seat; which coat to wear when it gets colder will be a matter for trial and error; and if I brave frosty mornings will they ice up? I must remember too to buy some gloves. However as spring comes round I can see them really taking off.
Whilst it’s hard to be too serious when you’re riding one, on reflection they are an extremely good example of a place-shaping initiative which has some unforeseen effects reaching beyond the original intentions. They have changed language and habits and created conversation. There is a clear identification of them with London, and whilst they are sponsored they are never, ever, called Barclays bikes, nor even blue bikes. They are always ‘Boris Bikes’. So who said that being an elected Mayor makes no difference to a place, particularly one notorious amongst other things for cycling? You would not in any country on this side of Perestroika find them being called ‘Transport Committee Bikes’.