New Hire Bikes come to the West Midlands
West Midlands Cycle Hire have been launching bike hire schemes in lots of locations recently, including Coventry, and Birmingham. The Bike hire scheme in Sutton Coldfield has been in place for a few months now. What really interests me when it comes to this bike hire scheme, is how it will interact with existing cycle infrastructure. In Birmingham City Centre West midlands Cycle Hire bikes have been put in place. There are bikes docked along the A38 Blue route up to the University of Birmingham. I decided to get on a bike at the City Centre end and cycle to the university to test one out.
To use a hire bike you have to download a “beryl bike” app and sign up. You input your details, including your payment details. I found this to be much easier than signing up to the E scooter hire scheme. This is partly because you can only hire an E scooter with a valid full or provisional driving licence. Once signed up I tried to hire a bike on the A38 Blue Route. The app tells you where the bike docks are and how many bikes are available at each dock. The unlocking mechanism is a bit clunky, but once you figure it out, is simple to repeat. I made a crucial error when I first tried to use a bike. The stand of the bike that I chose was stuck with the pedals meaning I decided to lock this bike back up and get a new bike. I found out that this was a mistake because that counted as my free 30 minute ride! My 2 minutes of faffing around with the first bike without riding it, was my free trial.
Successfully riding a bike!
The second bike was easier to get into usable position. Giving the bike a quick once over, I noticed that it was a very sturdy and heavy town bike. It had an upright seating position and a wide saddle with only three gears. Trying to pick the bike up was a challenge as it has a steel frame. I cycled on the hire bike from the edge of the city centre to the university of Birmingham. There is a dock by the Selly Oak High Street entrance to the University. The bikes are very comfortable to ride., though the brakes are not very responsive.They are ideal for short journeys on flatish terrain. Combined with the wonderful A38 Blue route, the journey was traffic free, and extremely enjoyable. At points the A38 Blue route is not completely flat, which made the cycle slightly uphill a bit of a challenge. I wouldn’t want to cycle one of these bikes on my journey between Selly Oak and Northfield on the Bristol Road for example, as they are far too heavy for the hills. I also would not want to cycle these hire bikes in amongst heavy traffic, as they are slow and difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces.
What they are perfect for, are the segregated cycle routes like the A34 and A38 cycle paths. On my cycle to the University I saw quite a few people who appeared to be using them for the first time. I have high hopes for the bikes along this route. Students already use the E Scooter hire scheme on the A38 Blue route in large numbers. So much so that there is now a Voi E Scooter dock for the hire E Scooters at the University.
The hire E Scooters are very popular with students in Selly Oak and hopefully the new hire bike scheme will also be popular along the Bristol Road. It took me 19 minutes to cycle from the edge of the city centre to the University, costing me £1.95. I think that is a reasonable price, similar to a bus ticket and cheaper than a train ticket. What would make this bike hire schemes completely successful is more segregated infrastructure for them to be ridden on. I had a relaxed, and plesant ride that is a world of difference from the rest of my ride home.
With the removal of the bus lane on the A38 between Selly Oak and Northfield, that journey has once agains become more dangerous and scary. Cycling in the advisory cycle lane on the side of the road, allows car drivers to pass too close to be safe and think that they are doing the right thing. Overall I think the new hire bikes are a good thing and I will be making use of them again. Let’s get more docks of bikes available and let’s get more segregated cycle routes like the two blue routes in Birmingham that we have to get more people cycling in our city. If there was a city wide network of hire bikes and segregated cycling infrastructure, cyle rates would sky rocket. I don’t know if the hire bikes will be well used in places that does not have segregated cycle infrastructure.