How to Hire a Bike in London

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London offers a widespread, simple and affordable cycle hire scheme.

Known as the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme (or more affectionately as Boris Bikes), London offers over 14,000 bikes for hire from 781 hire stations principally located in zones 1-2.

Hire costs £2 for as many 30 minute journeys as you like in a 24-hour period. Longer journeys cost £2 for each additional 30 minute period. A yearly membership option is also available for £90.

It is extremely simple to hire and return bikes. As for the bikes themselves, they are well maintained and offer a basket for bags or shopping and three gears. But they are extremely heavy and so won't be setting any speed records.

Riders are encouraged to use the numerous cycle superhighways and quiet-ways that have been springing up across London and improved over the past decade.

Don't forget to take the usual cycling precautions: wear a helmet and high-visibility clothes; obey the highway code; and be especially careful around large vehicles.

1. The Santander Hire Scheme

Introduced in 2010, the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme has been responsible for between 9 and 11 million cycle hires since 2014.

The docking stations

The schemes 781 docking stations each comprise a touch-screen docking terminal at which you can hire cycles in about 2 minutes and a row of between 15-40 bikes which can be released when a five digit code is entered.

The bikes

Santander bikes offer the following features:

  • Three gears.
  • Front and back lights.
  • An adjustable seat.
  • A front basket in which bags/shopping can be easily secured by an elastic band.

The original Canadian built brand of Boris bikes weight a staggering 27 kilograms. These things are not built for speed. The second generation bikes, built in Stratford-upon-Avon, are ever so slightly lighter but a little slower.

Top tip: set your saddle height a little lower than you usually would. Most journeys will involve multiple stops at traffic lights.

Hiring a bike from a docking station

It is easy to hire a bike from a docking station:

  1. Touch the screen and accept confirm that you wish to hire and agree to the terms and conditions.

  2. Tap your debit or credit card as instructed and wait for your payment to be validated.

  3. Take your release code from the docking station and select the bike you want to hire.

  4. Tap in your release code using the keypad next to the front wheel of your bike. The bike will be released automatically if you've got the code right. Set your saddle height, put on your helmet and off you go!

  5. When you return your bike to a docking station at the end of your journey, you need to really push the front wheel in and hold it. You'll hear a bleep and see the green light flash.

Hiring a bike using the app

If you are a regular Boris Bike user, you are much better off using the Santander app. Once you've installed it and added your payment details, you can hire a bike up to 10 minutes in advance. To release the bike, simply tap in the key-code displayed on the app. In other words, you don't have to go anywhere near the computer at the docking station.

The app is good in other ways:

  • It times your journeys and displays distance travelled and calories burned.
  • It shows you nearby docking stations and tells you how many bikes each one holds.
  • It has a fun 'achievements' section and tots up your distance travelled/calories burned over the past seven days.
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