These bikes are worth figuring out how to use because crusing around London on a bike really enhances your experience. The initial rate as of August 2011 was 1 pound per 24 hour period per bike, which is a great deal. Then your bike use is free as long as you correctly repark them at a Barclay's bike stand within 30 minutes. If you don't make it to a stand within the 30 minutes you'll be charged 1 pound for the next 30 minutes and 4 pounds for one hour. There are stands all over Zone One in London, probably no more than 2-5 minutes ride apart so you should be able to get lots of riding in without paying anymore than the initial 1 pound.
A few hints:
- The bikes are super sturdy and heavy, so very small adults and kids under teenagers may have trouble using them.
- we had some trouble with using our American-issued credit cards that don't have the chip that most European cards apparently have, but we were finally able to "swipe" them if we followed the rather complicated instructions very carefully. It took us a little effort to get through that process the first time, but we quickly became pros at it.
- start with using a stand where there are lots of bikes, because it seems like a lot of them are not operable for some reason (indicated by a light on the stand).
- when you get your 4 digit code (printed on a slip that you get from the stand) proceed to the closest bike in that stand NOT flashing a red light (disabled) and tap in your code. The code buttons are sensitive, so be careful to only push them very lightly.
- when the light on the bike indicates you have successfully entered the code, lift the bike from the stand. If it resists, lift the BACK WHEEL of the bike way up in the air, then pull the front end out of the stand. I don't know why that was necessary on at least half of the bikes we used, but once we figured that out, we had a much easier time finding cooperative bikes. This is a two-handed process, so make sure you have your hands free.
- set your watch for 20- 25 minutes and start riding! When your alarm sounds, start looking for stands to hang the bike up on. They are everywhere that typical tourists might want to go, but are sometimes pretty hard to spot - look for the blue Barclays logo. They are very common around Tube stops and major museums, etc.
- take a look at the map that accompanies any stand that is full of bikes to see where the next closest stands are located to help you locate a vacant parking spot.
Sounds very complicated (and it is much more complicated that any of the other bike hire systems we used in other European cities) but it was still worth the effort. I highly recommend riding in Hyde Park, riding just about anywhere on Sunday morning, and riding at night. Lights are built-in and are pretty bright. Be careful and have fun!
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