Since being introduced to the capital in 2010, Transport for London’s public hire bikes have become a common sight in the city. There are now around 12,000 bikes in operation, with users picking up and returning the cycles from 750 docking stations throughout London.
Popularly known as ‘Boris Bikes’, because Boris Johnson was Mayor of London at the time of their introduction, the scheme, initially sponsored by Barclays, has been sponsored by Santander UK since 2015. The scheme is now being run as Santander Cycles.
A new generation of Santander Cycles is being rolled out, with thousands more to become available over the next few years. Around 500 new bikes will be introduced each year as the older models are phased out and the first batch are already on London’s streets.
The latest cycles offer improved handling, safety and comfort, with a new gel saddle, lower frame, tyres with puncture prevention, new gear hub, improved front and rear Blaze lighting, and Bluetooth.
The bikes are built by England's longest established cycle manufacturer, Pashley Cycles in Stratford-upon-Avon, as part of an industrial team assembled by scheme operators Serco. They are designed to be easier to ride and maintain, so that more cycles are available to hire more often, with reduced maintenance costs.
High tech and safer
Pashley isn’t the only innovative British business that’s part of the new design. British start-up company, Blaze, has helped transform the lights on the new Santander Cycles, to include a brighter brake light and greatly enhanced Blaze Laserlight at the front, with 180° visibility. The Blaze Laserlight is now fitted to all 12,000 Santander Cycles to make riders more visible and increase safety.
Other high-tech specs of the city bikes include inbuilt Bluetooth and the capacity for GPS technology. This data gathering technology will help Serco, which maintains the bikes, to record performance and to distribute cycles around London, ensuring that docking stations are full.
There has been robust testing of the upgraded bikes, including mountain bike testing.
A popular part of transport planning
Last year was a record-breaking year for Santander Cycles with an unprecedented 10.3 million hires - 4.4 per cent up on 2015. This year there have been more than 8.7 million hires, with five of the nine months beating year-on-year records for the number of journeys being made.
Encouraging people to cycle is one of the key components of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. The strategy aims to increase the proportion of people using active and sustainable travel options, and to create streets less dominated by motorised traffic. The Santander Cycles scheme helps Londoners get about quickly without having to use a car - benefiting their health and improving air quality. And they don’t need to buy, maintain or store a cycle of their own.
2017 will see Santander Cycles extend into Brixton, with seven new docking stations providing space for up to 200 bikes, being installed across the borough this winter.
Public bicycle hire schemes are growing in popularity around the world and becoming a widely used part of urban traffic planning. Also called bike-share, schemes operate under a range of management systems, from community-based non-profits through public-private partnerships to wholly privately-run schemes. In the UK, recent cities to embrace the trend include Manchester, Cambridge and Brighton.