Monthly Archives: June 2012

Boris Biking: recycle that bicycle

I would say that this is the first in an occasional series, but let’s face it, reviewing free cycle loan/rental schemes in metropolis’ is a fairly niche market. So this may remain a unique ditty.

Yes, yes, I know we’re not aroundtheworldin84days any more but I miss writing so am seizing a travel-esque moment here while the moment exists.

Indulge me.

Today I found myself at the British Olympic Assoication HQ on Charlotte Street in Laaaan-dun town with temporary travel buddy and fellow corporate warrior D (not his full name). It’s a freebie event by a Olympian founded consultancy and we spend the morning having our thoughts provoked. At the end of our chin stroking/teeth sucking/eyebrow raising session we are out on the street contemplating a journey across town.

Olympic Motto at the BOA

Our next meeting is at the Royal Society for the Arts just off the Strand.

It’s just around the corner in a cab, 3 stops on the tube, 20 minutes on foot: 1.6 miles of urban jungle to cross. Contemplating our options, the latter appeals most as it’s an un-rainy day – such a rarity so far in summer (so called) 2012 – and free. NB: we are travelling on legitimate company time here and are claiming expenses. However, spending company money is such a no-no that we automatically eliminate the cost options. (I do hope our MD & FD are reading.)

Whilst maps are consulted on mobile devices I note that I am leaning on a Boris-Bike kiosk. Not unlike a pay-and-display unit in a car park only with a bike-rack alongside.

“Wait a minute…”

Sceptical D is persuaded to push buttons and offer up a credit card whilst I helpfully bark instructions back-seat-driver stylee. A few overly-complicated moments later, we have a code to release bike number one.

Overly complicated? There’s a 35 page Ts & Cs document to tab through! Thirty-five pages! Luckily you can simply press “agree to terms” in the same way as everyone does when they install a new bit of software. (Can you imagine what we’ve collectively signed up for in the digital age? I sense a distopian Charlie Brooker screenplay waiting menacingly in the wings. Or a re-run of the Monty Python donor card sketch where the surgeon arrives to remove the donor’s liver whilst he’s still using it. “Should have read the small print.”)

The eagle eyed among you will have noted that D was submitting credit card details. He eyed me seriously muttering about liability. I eyed him back and smiled.

So, type in your code and voila, nothing happens. Try again. Try another bike… Finally we have 2 magnificent steeds. Yeah baby.

Check them out: 3 speed, bag carrier on the ‘bars, a natty bell and a Barclays logo. Chunky mind. Hefty. You wouldn’t nick one. You just wouldn’t. It must have taken serious design genius to make them this undesirable and such forethought must be applauded. Of course you ride it like you stole it because of the simple fact: it’s free for only 30 minutes. No time to admire the engineering further, let’s crack on.

I have a misspent youths’ worth of BMX racing, a mountain bike habit and many thousands of miles on motorcycles. Two wheels? Leap on an go with nary a second thought. At this point I realise that D’s cycling competencies have not been sufficiently explored. To compensate I call a cheery “y’alright?” over my shoulder as I pedal towards Oxford Street. He’ll be fine. Probably. Or he’ll get squished by a big red bus. (They are painted that colour so as not to show the bloodstains apparently.)

We’re rolling.

The air is apparently less humid once freewheeling. The sights and sounds of the city reveal themselves at a faster pace. We cross Oxford Street and round Soho Square. Builders yell something about “the gorgeous bird on the bike” seemingly in reference to D’s fetching pink shirt. (Real men wear pink shirts. I got married in a pink shirt.) It’s funny, we proceed down to Shaftesbury avenue and get totally disorientated.

Boris doesn’t do cycle helmets and neither do his bikes. So you are PPE free. Initially liberating, yes. When you are mixing it with delivery trucks, buses, cabs, courier motorbikes, chauffeur driven Rollers on a main artery of the capital city it’s more of a worry.

Essentially, unless you are an experienced local, have built in satnav, don’t care where you end up or use the force stopping to consult your map is an essential. Thank goodness for smartphones. The signage and directional assistance for cyclists is RUBBISH. Of course it is. Yet you only realise that this is a flaw in your Boris-Biking plan once underway. Well, I only realised. I think D had assumed I knew exactly where I was going.

You really notice the potholes, manholes and ruts in the road. There are many. You also notice the kamikaze pedestrians, no entry signs, rubbish road markings. Strangely, red lights are less obvious…

And yet… and yet… we skirt Piccadilly, glimpse Trafalgar Square, peek at Horseguards, nod to Big Ben*, salute the MOD, spy the London Eye and before you can say Tour De France are depositing our noble steeds at the Embankment.

Summary? 20 minutes of practical fun. (So much so I am moved to write about it and briefly rediscover my blog mojo.)

Behold the mighty Boris Bike

We only nearly got wiped out (seriously) once when a Post Office van cut up a trucker who swerved to avoid the deranged Postie. A classic biking incident: driver of wagon takes evasive action to avoid the corporately owned recklessly piloted heap of junk, squashing the minding-their-own-business privately owned human being. Obvious prioritisation and ethical values are thrown out of the window when we climb aboard our motor cars, vans, trucks. Preserving the easily repaired and expendable metal trumps over avoiding damage to fleshy, vulnerable pedalists.

But hey, we live to fight another day.

Once at the RSA we shake hands with our next appointment who despite having lived and worked in London forever has never cycled and certainly not Boris-Biked. Strike one to the country folk! Although his logic of it being “too bloody dangerous” is undeniable: “seen too many incidents from the back of a taxi.” Hmmm.

I loved it. D loved it. We smiled, we saw the sights, we swerved, we dinged our bells. We arrived safely at our destination for free more quickly than the tube, probably quicker than a taxi and certainly quicker than Shanks’s Pony.

Long term use? You’d struggle to get good value life insurance cover. Cycling in town is a risky proposition. If you knew the back roads and are super-sharp on two wheels it’s viable day-to-day but only  a matter of time before you’d be an A&E customer. As (business) tourists we got a kick out it: it’s a great scheme.

Finally, a word on those red lights. In a motor vehicle you’ve got registration plates. On an anonymous Boris-Bike…. it’s virtually begging you to disregard the Highway Code.

Not that we did. Oh no. We’d never do such a thing on company time would we D?

D?

*Big Ben? It's never been called Big Ben! But just the other day it was decided it'll be renamed Elizabeth Tower in honour of our Diamond Jubile-ing monarch. So now we can all still call it Big Ben and still not realise we're still referring to it by the wrong name.
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The Final Post by The Beers: an Oddly specific list of things

We have been back in the UK now for four weeks and it’s hard to believe that we travelled around the world for three months… was it all a dream? Luckily we have hundreds, thousands(!) of fantastic photos and our blog to remind us that we did actually do it and what an amazing time we had. Our last post records our random highs and lows along with other notes of significance (recorded mainly for our benefit so that we don’t forget them!):

Travelling around the world has been a great experience for a ten year old girl. My highlights have got to be swimming with dolphins in New Zealand, a dream I’ve had since I was little, holding a koala in Australia Zoo, the home of Bindi Irwin (the girl I took a shine to  as a toddler) and watching “The Magic Flute” in Sydney Opera House. Most of all, I’ve loved being with my family for three months. (Josie)

I had a fantastic time travelling to different countries around the world. My favourite part was riding and washing elephants in India, flying in a helicopter to the top of a glacier in New Zealand and white water rafting in New Zealand. I am looking forward to visiting more countries like Spain and Italy next year. (Morgan)

The trip fulfilled and exceeded my expectations. I would pack my rucksack and do it all again tomorrow, with alot less worrying. Thanks to my family for being top travel companions and sorry about the swearing! (Gilly)

All of it. (Ian)

Most jaw dropping places: the Grand Canyon, the temples in Maduria India, Lake Tekapo NZ

Best rooms with a view: apartments in Kaikoura NZ and Sydney

Top snorkelling beaches: Mantanani Island and Turtle Island (Borneo)

No 1 place to eat: The Boat Shed, Nelson, NZ

Scariest moments: The House of Horrors (Josie and Ian), Rickshaw rides in Delhi, walking around the (wide open, mile-drop o certain death) rim of the Grand Canyon (Gilly)

Grumpiest waitress: “Yippee-ei-o! Steakhouse”, Tusayan, Arizona

Coolest moments: Watching the Tandem surfing in Noosa, Australia, cruising Palm Springs in the Mustang (with the roof down of course!), watching the skateboarding on Venice Beach, LA.

Bruises, scrapes and bumps: grazed nose and chin from being dumped surfing in Noosa (Josie), pecked by a parakeet in Sydney (Morgan), bumped head in the playground NZ (Morgan), bruised shin from running into a tree stump after one too many glasses of wine in Punakaiki, NZ (Gilly)

Biggest annoyances: Losing clothes in Hawai’i, Sandflies in New Zealand, Morgan waking everyone up most nights with his sleep talking!

Worst swearing: Gilly (mainly at laptop and Ian’s driving in Borneo)

Tastiest burger: “Woodys” in Palm Springs

Top experiences for kids: riding, feeding and washing elephants in India, swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, NZ (Josie),

Top family experiences: watching green turtles lay eggs on a moonlit beach in Borneo, white water rafting in Queenstown NZ, watching wild seal pups playing in the water in NZ

Biggest thrills: helicopter ride to the top of Franz Josef glacier (Morgan and Ian), rides at Universal Studio, rollercoasters in Las Vegas

Comfiest bed slept in: 7 Springs Motel, Palm Springs

Best nights out: Sydney Opera House to watch “The Magic Flute” (Josie and Gilly), stargazing on top of Mt John in Lake Tekapo, NZ

Best nights in: disco dancing in the sitting room at Jelly Mold in Marlborough Sounds NZ, watching the amazing night time view from our apartment in Sydney

Noisiest night: staying in a Yurt on the Big Island, Hawai’i (cockerals crowing and dogs barking)

Best airline (by far): Air New Zealand (just check out their in-flight safety videos: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm37fEYZ0L4  or even better: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM6EHG_NbEc )

Worst airline: Hawaiian airlines (expensive, bad service and terrible food)

Funniest moments: teaching the kids to toss a coin at the only restaurant open in Carmel Junction America, Morgan tasting some white ‘milk’ from a rubber tree, looking for a pair of skateshoes to buy Morgan in America and when we finally found a pair he wanted to know where the wheels came out!

Most unique and tranquil homestay: Manayath Heritage Residence in Chellarkovil, India. Thank you Mr Thomas and family!

Hottest food: spicy chilli pineapple (sorry Josie!) at “The Billiardiers”, Delhi

Most eco-friendly homestay with delicious home cooked food: Sans Souci in Golden Bay, NZ

Biggest suprise for the kids: meeting their Aunty Sue and Uncle Darren at the top of “The Stratosphere” in Las Vegas

Teeth lost: 2 in America (Josie)

Countries where they drive on the correct side during our trip: 5

Countries where they drive on the wrong side:  1 (US was the only one on this trip, bless them. And they decided to drive on the left by the toss of coin. Muppets.)

Hire cars with two pedals: 2

Hire cars with three pedals: 1 and what a slug – the Perouda Viva 660

Flights taken: 14

Aircraft manufacturers: 2 (Boeing and Airbus. How dull air travel has become.)

Weight of kids rucksacks: 4.5-5.4 kilos depedning on which airport scales they were weighed on.

Mum’s rucksack: 14kg

Dad’s rucksack: 17.8kg

Population and denisties therein per km2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_population_density

India: 1.2bn at 386 people per km2

Borneo: 19.8mn at 26 people per km2

Singapore: 5mn at 7148 people per km2 (a city state!)

Australia: 23mn at 3 people per km2 (they all live round the edges. The centre has NOTHING so it’s a bit misleading is it not?))

New Zealand: 4.3mn at 16 people per km2

UK: 62mn at 255 people per km2

USA: Who cares per km2

First Cousins visited: 1

Bowls of noodles consumed with distant Cousins in Singapore: 1

Numbers of cousins by marriage who have written illustrated guides to the Birds of Borneo: 1

5.11PM 24th March 2012, 11 Duncan Street, Sumner, Christchurch, New Zealand: kids experience their first earthquake. No damage done.

Rugby matches attended: 1

Points the Canterbury Crusaders beat the (South African) Free State Cheetahs by at the inagural game at Christchurch Stadium: 7 http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=10794401

Months since the Crusaders played at home (due to earthquakes): 22 In days: 680

6 Nations Grand Slam champions 2012: Wales. (We were in Toowoomba at the time.)

Happy Birthday Sydney Harbour Bridge: 80 on 19th March 2012 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-17439925

Highway code changes in host country during our visit: 1 (New Zealand)

Jupiter and Venus in unusual conjunction: March 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/interactive/2012/mar/13/venus-jupiter-conjunction-interactive

Time to sign off for now. As for future adventures for The Beer family, well, watch this space………………

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

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