We at Velocity are pretty much of the view that all public bike hire systems, anywhere, should be applauded and backed to the hilt. We aren’t fussy like that. So when the city in which Velocity editor David Taylor lives took up the trend, well, what could be better, for commuters and tourists alike? Not much, to be honest.
So, what’s it like to hire a bike in Brighton and Hove?
I unlocked one on a rather drab and grey Monday lunchtime. A couple of hours before, I had joined the scheme, opting to pay £72 for a year, which gets you up to 60 minutes of free riding every day. That's just under 20p an hour, which seems pretty generous; and 60 minutes daily is plenty for nipping to the station or tootling around town.
For that is clearly what this “Social Smartbike” is aimed at: tootling. The handlebars are a little narrower than their London cousins, so getting out of the saddle is pretty tricky. The bike's weight is roughly the same, I’d say. The ride is steady, but solid. Shimano gearing – eight gears to get up some of Brighton’s notorious hilly bits; disc brakes; and a Bianchi-like blue-green colour scheme to mirror the city’s seafront railings. Comfy, “lady-friendly” saddle. There’s a metal basket at the front (for small dogs, natch), a stand and a bell. At first I thought there was no front light, but the people at BTNBikeshare have tweeted Velocity to say there is one that comes on automatically when it’s needed.
The maintenance of these machines will have to be good to get them through the salty, sea-air battering they will receive, and it is hoped that they won’t get trashed by high-spirited locals. For day-trippers and other non-members, an alternative payment rate of 3p a minute (or £1.80 an hour) is available, which also seems reasonable – even if you work at McDonalds…
The bikes are available at docks across the city (37 are listed on the scheme’s website, which says 15 more are planned). Rather neatly, you punch your customer number and pin code into a computer mounted on the bike's rear wheel. Once you’ve put in your details, it releases a “U-lock”, which you store in the bike’s holster while riding, and use to lock up at the other end of your journey. The computer also displays the duration of your ride once you've locked the bike back in. And it’s solar powered. Hurray.
There's an app to show you where you can park and so on, too, with a map indicating the number of available machines at each dock.
Infrastructure and start-up costs for the scheme were £1.45 million. An award of £1.16 million was granted by the Coast to Capital (C2C) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with match funding of £290,000 from Brighton and Hove City Council. But once live, the project is to sustain itself financially.
All in all, a pretty good addition to the city, and one which will “shrink” it for when the Brompton is not to hand and the road bike involves too much lycra-and-cleats-faff.
Well done, Brighton.