In the space of about three years, the UK and Ireland have gone bicycle hire crazy. Two years ago this month, London’s Barclays Cycle Hire launched, 12 months ago Newcastle’s Scratch hire bikes were put into action and Dublinbikes will be three years old already come November.
And it’s not just cities getting in on the act. Brompton has begun a programme of opening ‘docks’ at railway stations up and down the country, the first in Guildford and then Manchester Piccadilly in March.
As usual, we’ve been beaten to it by a number of other countries. Paris’ Velib got off the ground in 2007, the same year that Barcelona’s Bicing started running. Perhaps predictably, Copenhagen got in there even earlier. Off to a shaky start in 1995, most of the first bikes got stolen, but by ‘96 they refined the scheme – using distinctive bikes and parts that were non-standard, thereby reducing the temptation to strip them for parts. And from there the scheme has grown and become ever more successful.
The bike hire scheme bug is seemingly insatiable as the story doesn’t end there. Now we’re seeing ever more reports from North America. Round about now there will be around 10,000 hire bicycles set up in New York, no less, with 600 stations covering Manhattan, Brooklyn and more.
So what the devil is it all about? How have we done without bike hire until now?
Is it a flash in the pan? I’d say it’s still gathering steam. Is it a move that has made bicycles a permanent fixture where they are installed? I’d argue, yes. Whatever you think of city (and rail station) bike hire schemes, they’ve upped the visibility of bikes wherever they’ve been installed.
Picture the scene, if you will. Your name is Colin the non-cyclist (bit of a long-winded last name, that). You’re not especially into bicycles and it’s been a good few years since you’ve been in a bike shop. You’re stood near a bike docking station near Hyde Park, it’s a sunny day, you can see a few cyclists and you’ve got an hour to kill. Suddenly it’s very easy indeed for Colin to jump on a bike and enjoy the wind in his hair (Colin is not yet balding) and – here’s the equally crucial bit – popping into his local bike shop suddenly seems like something he should do sooner, rather than later.
There are millions of Colins out there, just waiting to be encouraged to get into biking. If bike hire schemes can boost that process, then bring them on.