With just one mile to reach the 2,000 plateau for the year, I traveled to London on another business trip. When I was there in May, I made a small attempt to use London’s bicycle share program, Barclays Cycle Hire. I abandoned my attempt due to the frightening (to me) conditions on London’s roads, the unfamiliar street pattern, riding on the left side of the road, no helmets, and a prohibition on sidewalk riding.
With time to reflect on my wimpiness and mentally prepare myself for these challenges, I resolved to get on one of those bikes and zip around the city. Thus it was on Tuesday when I confidently strode up to a bike station near Whitehall Place in Westminster and began punching buttons at the kiosk. After reading and acknowledging two pages of instructions, I was ready to hire a cycle.
The machine wouldn’t let me.
The stupid thing kept returning me to the start point of the process. For an American in London, much of survival is paying attention to little details. Quite often, things appear straightforward but the small differences in language and process can trip you up. I read very carefully and yet ended with the same result each time I tried to get my bike.
After about ten attempts, I concluded the machine wasn’t working and walked a few hundred yards to the next station on The Embankment. I was able to proceed further at this kiosk and the machine encouragingly wanted me to insert my credit card for payment. At this point, the kiosk ended the transaction with a brusque “Unable To Complete Transaction.” Several more attempts yielded the same result. Switching credit cards did not help. I was defeated.
The irony here is that one of the goals of the bike share program is to encourage its use by tourists. Sadly, it did not achieve its goal with this highly-motivated tourist, who decided a walk might be more in order.
I wandered across a pedestrian bridge to the south bank of the Thames, where I found yet another bike station. I made one final attempt and got the same result as with the second station. Glumly, I wandered eastward on Stamford Street, where I happened to see a curious sight: a man riding a plain-green bicycle while holding the handlebars of an identical plain-green bicycle.
Could this be an employee of a bicycle rental business?
I quickly gave chase, by which I mean I increased my pace from shuffling to “hoofing it.” After two turns, I followed the man to Gabriel’s Wharf and discovered I was right. He was an employee of London Bicycle Tour Company!
They looked like they had quite an array of bikes for rent. Unfortunately, by the time I found them, the day was waning and I had a dinner engagement to get to. This would have been perfect for me had I only found them earlier in the day. Next time, I’ll be ready. Although they are less iconic than the Barclays bikes, they appear to be far superior in quality. Better still, I’m pretty sure the shop keep will accept my credit card.
And thus concluded the cycling portion of my visit. I did plenty of walking and jogging in and around Westminster and I believe I am more than ready to go on a cycling adventure. Now that I’ve found a bicycle hire company, that might just be possible.
People of London, you have been warned.