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

Column LAST UPDATED AT 15:17 ON Wed 11 Dec 2013

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. · 

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Yes, let's blame the victims rather than the lack of adequate infrastructure to protect them.

The one point I agree on is that it's stupid to be encouraging bike uptake when London's road are as dangerous as they currently are. They need fixing!

Replace 'boris bikes' with 'bikes', and you've just written a classic 'cyclist takedown' piece you would probably be railing against on another day - cyclists are 'slow,' 'inexperienced,' and a 'menace'. Individual cyclists and drivers are 'menaces,' not entire categories of road users. You're demonstrating exactly the same narrow-mindedness that leads to complete generalisations about a group of road users and the current state of what passes for debate about cycling policy.

I'd like the boris bike lights to be brighter too, but you're deluding yourself if boris bikes are somehow inherently unsafe because they are heavy. They stop as well as most on the road, and in my experience, precisely *because* they are heavy, they'll often be ridden at lower speeds and in a more predictable manner.

You're right, it can be a problem if tourists who haven't ridden a bike in years or who aren't used to driving/riding on the left use the bike hire scheme assuming London has the infrastructure to keep them safe. But an article that just says that probably gets less page views...

Obviously they're going to feel more like a hefty Dutch-style roadster than a nippy courier bicycle. But (unless perhaps they've been falling into disrepair recently) whenever I've ridden one, I though they handled perfectly fine.

Totally agree, roads need fixing and so does the driving culture.

How about the fact that most tourists are from countries that drive on the right, so "naturally" keep to the "wrong" side. Add in poor signage (Royal Parks being a good example) and you have a recipe for frustration.

Death to all cyclists! It's the only way to keep the roads safe for real roadusers, like Jeremy Clarkson and other real men.

The voice of reason is wasted on this article

With our new no immigrant policy I don't think you'll have to worry about tourists in the future, because no-one wants to visit a country full of xenophobes

I don't know, France is quite a nice place all things considered.