I spent all today on a Boris Bike.
Registered yesterday, £45 for the year, less than yesterday's return rail fare to Birmingham to do an episode of the Archers. Key arrived this morning, registered it online before going to work, bus to King's Cross, crossed road, put key in slot, had a bike! First 30 minutes free, biked to Soho, didn't have to take saddle off, find lock, find key, attatch bike to pillar, worry that bike would be stolen - no, just went CHUNK into a slot and strolled round the corner to do a voiceover for Jaguar sponsoring cricket.
Sashayed out 20 minutes later, put key in slot (in pouring rain), cycled gently to Knightsbridge to have much needed haircut, CHUNK, not my responsibility any more, ate sushi from Waitrose sitting on a wall (this bike business has got me on a fitness thing), had haircut, got bike back, went to Victoria to meet old friend from America, drank beer, reclaimed bike, drove up Mall, up Tot Ct Rd, turned right onto cycle lane city then, triumphant with new found excitement and fitness, just needing to ditch it at King's Cross to get bus home, couldn't find anywhere to dock the bloody bastard thing. In three different places, all the docking places were full, despite my brilliant iPhone app that told me they were free. Teething prob here - in the evenings, it will be impossible to find a docking station free near any of the mainline stations unless they make some more. Big it up for Errol from Maintainance who was pulling out a duff bike as I arrived at my last ditch docking port (this is beginning to sound like Star Trek). Top man Errol.
It's great. I have spent years bicycling around London and it's always been a hassle. The difference with this is that you've got a big London Transport roundel on the front and as such you're not a pesky cyclist, but a sort of one-man bus. In bus lanes I could sense Buses and Taxis giving me more respect. I know they loathe 'cyclists' - I've got an HGV licence and I know how difficult it is to negotiate people on bicycles driving a large vehicle. I can re-assure regular cyclists however that you don't pass that test until it is seen that you have a hyper awareness of cycles and pedestrians. The HGV test is akin to the idea of Noblesse oblige - "I know I'm the bigest thing on the road, so I don't, like some dickless midget in a BMW, have to keep trying to be, so I will be aware and considerate." Taxis slightly less so, but they too spent years getting the Knowlege and are to be respected. Buses I am never sure of, because their drivers vary from the absolutely brilliant, to the psychotic and lethal.
Also, when I used to ride my own bike, I felt that bicycle lanes were somehow an affront to my independence - I don't need some interfering, health and safety pedant telling me what part of the road I should wobble in - I'll go where I like - I'm free!!
Well I'm 57 now, and I totally adored the sturdy, sit-up-and-beg, London Transport, little bit of London, pootle down the cycle lane, ignore the driving rain, feeling sort of Dutch, stopping for the traffic lights, getting where you want to, CHUNK and walk away-ness of it all.
I had more conversations with perfect strangers today than I've had for years. Everyone was giving me the thumbs up, having a chat, 'What's it like?', laughing, 'Brilliant!' - if I'd been single I would absolutely have pulled.
Finally. 'Boris Bike". Ok, I know that it was Ken's idea in the first place, and good on him for that, but it really is a good idea and it will become as much a part of London as the double-decker very soon. What would we really rather its nickname was, a Boris bike or a Ken bike? I rather feel that if I'd ridden round London today on a Ken Bike, I might have encountered a girl on a Barbie Bike. I saw four others today on, to give them their true name, a Barclays Bike, and none of them were wearing helmets. I know it's dangerous but I was born in 1953 and spent my whole childhood on a bike -AND I'm pootling in a green cycle lane. I'm a Londoner. I like this freedom. It's more Boris-ish than Ken-ish.