Boris bikes are a menace: I'm not surprised they're being dumped
Boris bikes combine inexperienced riders with basic technology and fling them onto the capital's streets
AS A London cyclist, I don't like Boris bikes very much. Not the bikes themselves, you understand - it's the people who tend to ride them that cause the problems.
The first person to be killed on a Boris Bike was a French student called Philippine De Gerin-Ricard. The 20-year-old was struck by a lorry in July as she rode on one of the city's cycle superhighways in East London.
Her death - like the deaths of the six cyclists killed in November - was tragic. And you might argue that riding a Boris bike makes no difference to your chances of having an accident in London. But I would disagree.
From my observations, made on my daily ride to and from work as well as lunchtime forays in central London, Boris bikes often entail a dangerous blend of clunky machinery and wholly inexperienced rider. The fact that those riders are often tourists who have no experience of the idiosyncrasies of the capital's roads simply adds to the problem.
Don't get me wrong - I love bike hire schemes. I've ridden municipal hire bikes in Paris and Seville and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But Seville is a relatively quiet place with a well-marked bike lane that encircles the city. Paris - with the exception of bone-shaking boulevards like the Champs-Elysees - also seems less frenetic than London.
Tourists aren't the only people doing dumb things on Boris bikes, of course. Every day I see harried-looking, middle-aged men (don't ask me why they're invariably men) hurtling through central London with coats and scarves flapping in the wind and an oversized briefcase or bag balanced precariously in the front basket. They look for all the world like over-dressed actors auditioning for the bike courier movie, Premium Rush.
Is there such a thing as Boris bike compensation syndrome, perhaps? A need to push a little bit harder to make up for the fact you're riding a rental machine that appears to be constructed from blue scaffolding and bears the name of an unloved bank? At least that problem will be solved in 2015 if Barclays, according to reports, ends its three-year £50 million sponsorship of the scheme.
Sure, Boris bikes are built tough for a reason. They have to survive on the mean streets, just like De Niro. But their insipid rear lights seem inadequate to me and they handle poorly. When you set out to ride in London traffic it helps to have a bike that's agile, stops on a dime and isn't going to throw its chain in the middle of Regent Street. If you ride at night, it's best to be lit up like Robbie Williams concert.
Something else: I wonder if some Boris bikers rush because they're trying to return a bike before their ‘free' 30 minutes is up and the mayor's meter starts running. That would explain the wobbly ‘Wiggos' I see weaving between traffic each day on Goodge Street. Riders who seem to think the heavy-duty build of their borrowed bike will protect them from the oncoming lorry.
Like most cyclists I want London to be a cycling city and a successful hire scheme is an integral part of that vision. But I'm not surprised people are abandoning the Boris bike at the rate of 200,000 a month.
I still have heart-in-the-mouth moments every week on a bike I've ridden and maintained for over a year. And that's on a route I know like the back of my hand; a route where every pothole, pinch point and blind corner is familiar. Pity the Boris biker from Venice or Vienna flung into the vile intersection of Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road, for example. Pray for the neophyte from Naples who decides to pedal a rental bike around Marble Arch.
In the meantime, I'll try to like Boris bikes a bit more. But many of them will continue to be a menace to other cyclists and, more importantly, to themselves. ·