Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Biking for Boris

If you're a Londoner, you'll have seen these things:

Normally pedalled by people looking Very Pleased With Themselves. They're the iPad of bicycles. If iPads were heavy and cumbersome with all the grace of an iron-clad spinster.

A couple of weeks in and I've decided I Like Them. The system is actually really simple to set up - £2 for the electronic key and £1 for each day you decide to use one. Dead handy if you're thinking "well I'll cycle into town but I shall be too pissed to make the return journey".

The bikes are... well, the Evening Standard is valiantly insisting on calling them "chic" but they look like they've been designed by the NHS... but they're okay. They're a bit top-heavy so anyone over six foot will fall off immediately, but if you're Sandi Toksvig you're laughing. Once you get used to them they're very practical, even if pedalling them is a bit like stirring rapidly-setting wallpaper paste.

The only problems really are the docking stations - getting a bike out requires a kind of upwards-heave that's a bit of a trick, and finding one to park the bike is a bit challenging (Soho Square has a cluster of Boris Bikes circling hopefully in parking orbit). Apparently there's a very nice iphone app, and Boris does send you a map when you sign up for the scheme, but I don't have an iphone and I keep forgetting the map.

Worse is the fact that as soon as you get to a docking station, someone will immediately talk to you. It's usually tourists demanding to know how it works or wanting help unlocking a bike with their oyster card (no, it doesn't work, yes, that's sad, but I'm not the mayor of London).

Last night it was a club bouncer who had rescued a set of keys from a docking station and wondered if they were mine. Well, I say wondered. He was Very Determined that they were my keys. It was one of those odd social situations - he'd clearly spotted someone had left their keys behind and was determined to do an act of charity and had decided there was only one cyclist in London (either that, or we all know each other). He kept shoving this bunch of someone else's keys towards me. I kept politely declining. It ended up with me waving my own keys in his face while he said (in Bouncer Voice): "People should be More Careful with their keys."

So there we are: Today's lesson - when undocking a bike, don't leave your keys in the docking station. Which, now it's been brought to my attention, I now realise is a cripplingly easy thing to do. And will probably do it next time.

Thing is though, if I do, the customer service from the scheme will be amazing. I had a bit of trouble first time I hired a bike. Five minutes later they rang me to check everything was okay. "I see from our computer that you've just hired your first bike. Are you cycling right now? " Yes. I am wobbling through traffic as we speak. Your computer is telling you this. Can we wait till I've not crashed?

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