The first Boris bikes to be built in the UK were unveiled today as part of an upgrade of London’s cycle hire scheme.
The bikes are built by Pashley, known for its traditional cycles, and cost about £1,000 each. About 600 a year will gradually replace the older Canadian-built bikes that date to the launch of the scheme in July 2010.
They have been introduced under the £79.7m five-year contract with operator Serco that was signed by Mayor Sadiq Khan in September last year.
They are broadly similar in appearance, but have larger front and rear lights to improve safety and smaller wheels to make them easier to manoeuvre. A gel seat has been designed to improve comfort and there have been upgrades to the gears and brakes. The frame is about 1cm shorter to make it easier to get on and off.
Thousands of the bikes, built in Stratford-upon-Avon, are due to be added to the 11,500-strong fleet over the coming years. They are said to be easier to maintain, helping to reduce costs.
Mr Khan said: “Tens of thousands of Londoners and tourists enjoy using the bikes to get around our city every single day, so by making them more comfortable and manoeuvrable we’re hoping they’ll be even more popular. That’s good for our health, our air quality and for tackling congestion.”
Last year saw a record 10.3 million hire of the bikes, making the scheme, which costs from £2 a day to use, the second most popular in Europe after Paris. There have been 8.7 million hires so far this year, with a new record within sight.
The new cycles have inbuilt bluetooth and the capacity for GPS technology, which will allow Serco to record the performance of the bikes. They have undergone robust tests, including on mountain bike routes.
The bikes use the same docking stations as the current models. There are almost 800 docking stations across inner London, with the scheme, officially known as Santander Cycles, due to expand to Brixton this winter.
Adrian Williams, Pashley Cycles chief executive, said: “I am immensely proud of our team’s achievement in successfully developing a completely new bicycle for London. It is a bicycle of exceptional quality, designed with the rider’s safety and enjoyment in mind, whilst ensuring that maintenance and operating costs are kept to a minimum.”
My test rides on the new Boris bike:
At first sight, only the reshaped mudguards appear different. But on a test ride, the first thing I noticed was the speed of the new bike – it definitely felt slower.
There are three gears as before, but it didn’t take long before I was coasting along, with no resistance in the top gear to pedal against. Boris bikes were never fast – a factor that no doubt has prevented many accidents – but the Pashley bike gives as leisurely a ride as you’d expect from its own-brand cycles.
The lack of speed may also be due to the smaller wheels and the wider handlebars, which result in more nimble handling but poorer air dynamics.
There appears to be little difference in weight, despite a promised 2kg reduction in what in bike terms is something of a tank.
The good news, for those who have to endure the “rumble strips” in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, is that it copes with these slightly better than the older bike.
A new saddle-post clamp makes it easier move the seat up and down, replacing one of the most breakable parts of the previous bike.
I initially thought the vertical “guide line” had been removed – making it harder to avoid a wonky saddle position – but it has been moved to the side of the stem. Alas the temperamental bell has been retained.
New bikes are always a treat, but don’t expect to get out of the slow lane on this one.
- An edited version of this article appears in tonight’s Evening Standard