Turn of the screw

Cycling in Nottingham: Citycard Bikes

7 October 14 words: Cycling
This month, we look at the revolutionary 'Borisbikes' of the city and ask whether they're really worth pushing
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Image: Christopher Paul Bradshaw

A few months after Citycard Cycles were launched in October 2012, local media obtained figures that showed an average of one person a day was using them. With £350,000 start-up funding from central government, and £50,000 annual running costs, the scheme was costing the taxpayer nearly £110 per day - you can see why folks were cynical. Whizz the clock forward and the city council tells LeftLion that the bikes have had ‘10,000 days hire’ in a little over a year. Sounds impressive, but it doesn’t translate into a specific figure for the number of users since the bikes can be hired daily, weekly and yearly. What the figure does suggest is that they’ve generated at least £10,000 for the city council since the bikes can be ridden for £1 per day. Still a long way from breaking even.

Regardless, there are plans to increase the number of bike hire locations from 22 to 34. Increasing bike visibility with Borisbikes and police capture bikes is great for ‘normalising’ cycling - surely one of the main targets of the scheme. Bike hire is an essential marketing tool for any modern European city these days, isn’t it? A contemporary art gallery. Trams. Bike hire. Tick! Although one can argue that £400,000 would have been better spent; surely cycle paths with a strategical, safe infrastructure trump lime rent-a-bikes.

But are they any good? I found out by nabbing one from Market Square and riding up to Lakeside Arts Centre. Day hire is a hassle; you have to ring up to register, pay by card and then send a text to get a code to unlock the bike. All this was done on my hands and knees as the details were on a sign next to the ground. However, when bike 405 was finally mine I was soon pedalling merrily along Nottingham’s equivalent of a bicycle superhighway - Castle Boulevard. I can report that bike 405 felt safe and stable with three responsive gears. The ‘Fabrique en France’ words gave a continental feel although the basket wouldn’t fit a baguette. Other cyclists smiled at me indulgently as if I deserved a pat on the head. However, most notably, the bike was heavy and tiring to ride, making it suitable for short rides only. How tiring? Perhaps the person best qualified to answer that is the bloke who, for a lark and some good photos, took a rent-a-bike and tried to cycle it to Germany earlier this year.

John (not his real name) hired the bike from the Nottingham Contemporary stand, fitted some panniers and took off along the Grantham Canal. At Grantham, he put it on the train to Newcastle, cycled to the ferry port and sailed to Amsterdam. His plan was to cycle it across nice flat Holland to Germany. Alas, after sixty miles he was so knackered that he called it a day and continued his journey by train. “It was hard and slow-going,” he tells LeftLion. “At the end of those sixty miles I felt pretty dead.” Although John cycled quite a few miles in Germany, his return journey to England was also mostly on the train. Back in Nottingham he locked the bike up at its stand and nobody was any the wiser.

John has mixed feelings about the impact of the bikes in Nottingham. “They’re a step in the right direction because they do increase the visibility of cycling,” he says. “People see them or use them and think, ‘ah now I’ll get myself a real bike.’ But you have to wonder: how many cycle paths would the money spent on the bikes have built?”

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