London's Barclay Cycle Hire: Good, Bad and Evil

  • hire • good • comfy • evil • buttons • bad • bike • london • interface • cycle • oyster • barclay
  • 869 words

Last Sunday my girlfriend, my friend @lucabox and I decided have a go at London’s Barclays Cycle Hire. Wanting to enjoy the weather in Hyde Park, we agreed at meeting there: Luca cycled from Tate Modern, we took our bike at Hyde Park’s Queen’s Gate.

Boris and 'it's' bikes Boris and 'it's' bikes

The day was great, and the good weather helped. The experience with those bikes was… follow me.

The Good

Cheap to start

The price scheme is simple if you are not a member: we paid just £1.00 to access. The first 30 minutes are free, than £1 for the first hour, £4 for 1.5 hours and so growing. Details here.

Maybe not cheap if you are a regular user, but cheap enough for occasional usage.


The bike is really comfy. The sit is very wide and the position is straight, so that you don’t get tired too quickly.

VERY adjustable sit VERY adjustable sit

The sit is easy to adjust, and it has a lot of possible settings to suit every heights.

Not for racing

Of course, forget about going too fast: there are just 3 gears. The first 2 are quite “light”, while the third is only for sustained speeds.

It’s designed for an easy, pleasant ride - and that is a good thing if you ask me. Generally londoners are always on a rush - sometimes for no reason.

Smart-ass proof

One of the members of the group (I won’t tell who :-P) tried a trick: given that the price up to 1 hour is £1, instead of let the clock tick up to the second hour, he decided to try a trick: put back the bike and get a new one. In this way the second hour would still cost £1.

Pantani is back [Pantani]( is back

Fortunately (I say) the scheme is smart-ass proof: when you put back a bike, you can’t access any other for at least 5 minutes. Gotcha!

The Bad


The bike is pretty heavy. Again, the bike is not for racing, but it might result a bit difficult to handle for some people, given also that the breaks aren’t that great. I’m pretty strong, and still I had to push hard on the break stick to get the thing to stop.

Docking station lock is too hard

My girlfriend had some issues with the docking station lock: was a bit too hard to release or lock in. But I guess this is a trade off to make it solid and safe.

My girlfriend My girlfriend

Too many “defective” bikes

A lot of bikes, too many if you ask me, were in a defective state: they were in perfect conditions, but somehow the docking station thought they were defective and wouldn’t release those.

Pretty annoying sometimes.

Not very spread yet

Unfortunately the Barclays Cycle Hire is not very evenly spread across London (yet?). If you take a look to the official map, and zoom out a bit, you will see that only Zone 1 is covered. Come on Boris: let’s put some more on the roads!

The Evil

Unusable buttons at the docking station

I didn’t actually explain how you get a bike! Once at the station, you pay with your card and receive a receipt. On the receipt there is a code, a temporary code (that lasts 10 minutes only) of 5/6 digits, composed only of 1s, 2s or 3s.

On the left side of every docked bike is this:

authorisation code input buttons authorisation code input buttons: pure evil!

this keypad is a made of 3 rubber digital buttons. They are difficult to push (very small) and give you NO FEEDBACK WHATSOEVER. Only once you have entered the code, the light turns RED or GREEN (the former if the code is wrong or the bike is defective, the latter if the bike has been released).

The absence of any audio and/or physical feedback at every button push, and the fact that the buttons are almost flat it’s just terrible. Did anyone actually do any Usability Testing on those things before putting it on the road?

Looks like it has been left as a low priority task to the engineers that were on the project. And you can clearly see the terrible results. Double thumbs down Boris!

No freaking Oyster Card? SERIOUSLY???

OK, here I’m really REALLY disappointed: Oyster Cards have been pushed on Londoners for years before becoming widely accepted. Barclay itself made a special deal with TfL for an all-in-one card. And now what they do? They force you to pay for those bikes:

  • either using your credit card
  • or subscribing for a membership that will give you an electronic key

What about Oysters? I understand that this service requires a full identification of the user, but the service could be easily restricted to registered Oysters only. What is the reason for making people subscribe to a whole new thing? Nonsense if you ask me!


Well, regardless of the (major?) flaws of this scheme, I believe this is a good thing for London and londoners. It’s just the beginning, and different aspects need to be tuned, but this can become a good service with time.

Did you have a chance to give it a spin? What was your experience?