One of the best ways to see London up close and personal is from the seat of a bicycle. Hop on one of the city’s blue rental bikes, which the locals nicknamed Boris Bikes after Boris Johnson, the London mayor who introduced the popular bikes in the summer of 2010. In reality, they're named Barclays Cycle Hire because London-based Barclays bank contributed money in the form of a five-year sponsorship. You can find 8,000 rental bikes at 570 locations, called docking stations, which are open round the clock, seven days a week.
Boris Bike vocabulary
Before you seek out one of the city’s blue bikes, it’s good to know British English terms relating to the bikes. The bike distribution is referred to as a "scheme," which just means "plan" without the negative connotation that word has in American English. When you rent a bike, it is called a "hiring a cycle."
Boris Bike basics
You can hire a bike for up to 24 hours and return it to any docking station. You don’t need a membership, so the bikes work equally well for visitors and locals. Just slide your credit or debit card into the terminal located at all docking stations, select one-day or seven-day access, and accept a charge that includes your first 30 minutes of rental time. Punch your code into any bike's docking point to release the bike. When you return the bike to any docking station, a green light will indicate that the bike is locked into its parking space and you're done.
Choose a seven-day access for £10 ($15) or a one-day rental for £2 ($3), which includes the first 30 minutes of rental. The next half hour is £1. Since the scheme is designed for short journeys, the fees are progressively higher after your first half hour. Two hours is £6, three hours is £15. If you're anywhere near a docking station, it's cheaper to return the bike, wait at least five minutes, and rent again than to keep the bike while you duck into a shop or pub.
So far, the plan has registered 18 million journeys, and usage has increased at 35 percent a year. BCH says it intends to expand the plan widely into sprawling London.
Boris Bike features
Boris Bikes are equipped with safety lights, front and rear reflectors, automatic lights, adjustable seats, mud guards on their wheels and chains, elastic bands to secure items in front, and a bell. No helmet is supplied, nor are helmets mandatory for bicyclists in the UK (which means if you plan to cycle on your trip to England, consider bringing your own). The three-gear bicycles are regularly serviced.
Lock it or dock it
Obey the rules of the plan and you're automatically covered by third-party liability insurance of £2 million, less £250 excess ("deductible" in American English) per claim. Users are not covered for theft or loss. Since the bikes do not come with locks, those planning to make a stop must bring their own locks or find docking stations. Those buying access must be age 18 or older, and cyclists must be at least age 14.
Plan a ride
Fortunately, an interactive online route planner makes all this easier (there are also apps for Android and Apple devices). Just enter your starting point and destination to see a suggested route via easy, moderate, or fast roads. Visitors unfamiliar with London and not accustomed to having traffic on the other side of the road should read tips on road safety and stick to the back roads and paths wherever possible. Have fun!
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Photos: A row of rental bicycles near Covent Garden in London, England. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Mayor of London Boris Johnson (L) cycled on London Cycle Hire bikes with Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of City Hall in 2011 when the two met to discuss low- and zero-emission technologies. (Photo by Fred Duval/Getty Images)