Barclays Bikes/Santander Cycles benefits, tips and warnings

Hearing the news that Barclays Bikes (or Boris Bikes, named after Boris Johnson, the mayor of London) are changing their sponsor and name to Santander Cycles has made me reflect on how well this bike share initiative has served me. Having spent 18 months living in London, one of the best decisions I made there was signing up for a yearly membership. With the main goals of transportation and exercise, here’s why you should consider investing in a membership along with some warnings and tips to get you on your merry way.

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My favourite bikes to ride were the limited edition, yellow ones to promote the Tour de France

Benefits

Low Cost – For a mere £93 (£90 annual membership + £3 for the key), you have unlimited access to a bicycle for a year, provided you can find one at a docking station and use it for less than half an hour at a time.

Cost savings – Compared to the minimum £2.30 tube fare, I saved many a fare by cycling to places in under 30 minutes. In addition, my initial idea of buying a bike quickly morphed into buying a membership due to the fact if I bought a bike, I would have go to the trouble of selling it and by that stage, it would have devalued more than £93.

Convenience – Not having to worry about home storage, parking, lights, locks or maintenance were good enough for me. Also, having 24 hour access to the bikes made times like catching the early morning Stanstead Express or a late night commute home easy when the tube wasn’t operating.

Travel time – If you use any navigation app like City Mapper or Google maps, it’ll usually tell you the quickest way between two places in London is by car (excluding traffic) or bike. Cabs are expensive and I didn’t have a car so a bike was perfect.

Exercise – Sometimes when I was busy, this was the only exercise I was getting and it was an efficient use of time to exercise during my commute. It’s also great if you want to get some knee friendly, non impact exercise.

Exploration and sightseeing – traveling around on a bike really opened up the city for me and as a result, I got to see more of the city than just the inside of a tube carriage. Some of the places I frequently rode past included Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower/Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, London Eye, St Pauls Cathedral, The Gherkin, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and The Shard. Pretty much all of London’s most iconic sights.

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Tips

  • Use the Barclays Bike app or website to get live information on where to find a docking station or how many bikes/docks are available at each station
  • £2 buys you a 24 hour window to use the bikes, £93 buys you an annual membership (online only). If you use the bikes for less than 30 minutes at a time, there will be no additional cost to you
  • Before you undock a bike, adjust the seat to your preferred height. It also gives you an idea which bikes to avoid, usually the ones that have annoyingly loose or tight bolts to adjust the seat.
  • Take a look at your watch and remember what time you hired the bike if you’re planning on using it for less than 30 minutes.
  • Once you dock the bike, you won’t be able to hire another one for 5 minutes on the same membership. After that time, you’re good to go. Dock, walk to the next station, re hire. That’s one way to avoid additional usage fees
  • When you return your bike to the dock, ensure you get the green light confirmation the bike has docked successfully. If not, you’ll be charged for the usage period until someone docks the bike or even worse, you leave yourself liable to someone stealing the bike (kids have tried to do it to me but I always check for the green light)
  • Use the maps on each docking station. They’re extremely helpful for navigation, especially since they tell you the direction you’re facing.

Warnings

  • You may not always get a bike when you need it. On one occasion, I went to four different empty docking stations on my route before finding one. Using the app mentioned above should give you a better idea where to look and overall, availability was pretty good most of the time
  • If you’re relying on this to be your primary mode of transport, you’ll need to pre plan which docking stations to pick up and dock your bike. Have a contingency plan in case those docks aren’t available
  • Going over the 30 minute free periods can accumulate to a hefty about over time if you’re not careful. Monitor your usage to avoid excessive charges on your account
  • Having a Barclays Bike isn’t beneficial if you live outside the coverage zone or don’t travel in areas where there are docking stations. Check the website for locations and coverage zones
  • If you ride for more than 10 minutes, remember you may turn up to your destination a little sweaty so either bring a change of clothes and deodorant or factor in some time to cool down or shower.
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