I've now taken three trips on the new London hire bike(s). It should have been four, but the system was up the spout last night, so my Tour de Commute became a Tour de SlowWanderHomeViaEveryCycleHireDockOnTheWay, including nine minutes from my mobile to the 0845 number, to be told "Our main call centre is really busy at the moment, can I take your details and someone will get back to you. Within twenty four hours. Not a lot of use to me when I'm trying to use a bike to get home last night. As I type this, they have three hours to get back to me.
I am starting to be reminded of how much I used to really enjoy cycling. Despite me being way to large to be comfortable for much longer a ride than the
twelvenine minute Tour de Commute, I am already expanding the list of criteria for my next gaff to include "somewhere to keep a bike" (as well as "availability of more than stock ADSL broadband"), so I guess you could say that in my case at least, the bike hire scheme looks like it's going to work, in terms of getting more people on bikes, and getting people fitter.
There are a couple of lessons to be learned early on, fortunately I have managed to avoid a "stiff" bike, but if you're about to undock a bike, it's worth lifting it by the saddle, and giving the peddles a spin. Some of them hardly move, which could be either the dynamo for the lights, or a brake problem. Either way, not worth the hassle (unless you want a mega-workout). Also, the gearing is super low, so don't expect to be keeping up with the traffic, unless you can get your legs going like an actual Tour de France cyclist sprinting down one of the larger mountains.
Other than that, the bikes are pretty good, for solid lumps of idiot proof metal. You do have to give the bell a decent spin to get any noise out of it when the inevitable happens and Mr and Mrs Dopey Pedestrian just wander off the footpath in front of you.
All we need now if for TFL to have a decent status info somewhere (either on the phone line, on the web, or available as a datafeed for app developers to integrate into their apps) so that when things break, as they did last night, a simple check can say that the system is down, rather than messing around, trying various twitter searches, and calling an 0845 number from your mobile.
Incidentally, if you play with the touch screens on the info point at each docking station, one of the pages gives you a number for if your phone can't call 0845 numbers, obviously aimed at visiting foreign tourists, but there's no reason that us natives shouldn't call 020 8216 6666 instead of 0845 026 3630 is there? ;-)