Biking Cities Everyday Adventures Jubilympics

Boris Bike London Nightride

Boris Bikes London
Written by Kirstie Pelling

An accidental adventure

The Boris Bike London Rush Hour Nightride

Kirstie Profile SmallThere’s nothing like hop-on, hop-off tours of a city for stress free sightseeing. But have you thought about hopping onto a bike? Many European cities offer a network of cheap bicycles that locals and tourists can use and they can be a great way to get around town. And you don’t need to have panniers, Lycra or Bradley Wiggins with you to make that leap onto the saddle. I know that, because I pedalled my way around London in high heeled boots…  

I wasn’t expecting to go biking     

If I’d known I would be biking across London I’d have invested in cycle shorts and a backpack. If I’d known I’d be biking Oxford Street in rush hour, I’d probably have gone for full body armour. But here I am, a country bumpkin in the city; dressed for work in a posh white coat, black leather boots and a girly handbag. And looking for the way to Shepherds Bush, on a Boris Bike.

Boris Bikes London

Boris Bikes in London. There are pick-up and drop points all over town

It wasn’t supposed to be like this

When I set off to my meetings in the capital, the only exercise I planned on doing was brainstorming ideas and tapping them into a laptop. My first mistake was being married to a man who can’t walk past a bike rack without stopping to admire the contents on display. My second mistake was bringing him to the meeting. And my third mistake was agreeing that the Boris bikes lined up outside the Soho offices were ‘a good thing.’ I meant they were a good thing for a student, a tourist, or anyone not in an expensive white coat. But a few minutes later, one of them is good for me.

I can’t master the machine, let alone London traffic

I say a few minutes. It’s actually twenty. Ten minutes spent messing about with the machine, trying to insert a credit card into every orifice and hunt for a code to tap into the bike rack. Five minutes spent wrestling with the rack, and five minutes spent calling Boris to complain that the rack had eaten our code but not spat out the goods. Actually I’m not entirely sure we were talking to Boris. The person on the end of the line didn’t sound like the kind of guy that would drop into the Olympics on a zipwire.

Kirstie on Boris Bike Oxford Street Night

Suddenly I’m on a bike, on Oxford Street, in rush hour, at night!

Son and daughter of Boris

Once the bike is released, I take a few moments to steel myself to take on the London traffic. By the time I hop on we have used up twenty nine minutes of our free half hour of riding.

But once I’m on, I am king of the road and I quickly pick up speed. I’m used to riding a touring bike with drop handle bars that position me lower than the traffic, or tandems and triplets where I worry so much about the small person behind me that I don’t really register the experience. But these are different. Literally any idiot could ride one of these; they are sit up and beg style and with only three gears are a doddle to master.

It’s surprisingly robust and smooth and I start to weave in and out of the traffic like I’ve been riding a Boris bike all my life.  Perhaps I am actually the Mayor of London’s secret love child. I’d phone and ask my mother but I need both my hands to steer around the gritting machine.

Kirstie Boris Bike London Hyde Park Corner

Kirstie Boris Bike London Hyde Park Corner

I really need to focus on staying alive

Navigating is easy because I’ve lived and worked here in a former life. Once we pootle onto Oxford Street – one of the busiest roads in London – I realise the only thing I have to worry about is other people. And traffic. And dying.

I haven’t biked in London for fifteen years, and never before on Oxford Street. I have no helmet on. There are snow warnings in place throughout Central London and it’s zero degrees and falling. Oh, and it is rush hour. My ears are filled with the sound of double decker buses cutting through the air right next to me. One moment I’m overtaken by a tuk tuk, the next a Maserati. Pedestrians step out in front of me every few minutes and even the cycle couriers cut me up. What am I doing?

This is one of London’s best ideas

Well, I’m moving. As the traffic builds, and starts to stall, we weave in and out of the bus lanes, and negotiate the lights, gaining confidence all the time. We cut down smaller roads, wind through Hyde Park Corner (check out the video above), Lancaster Gate, Latimer Road and White City. I half expect to see the cast of Made in Chelsea heading off to a posh supper, but then remember they use Porsches not Boris Bikes.

I am soon convinced this is possibly the best idea London ever had; a network of rental bikes you can pick up and drop off at different locations without worrying about them getting nicked. It’s almost as good as The Olympics, The Queen and red phone boxes. And way better than the Tube. In an overpopulated city with a Victorian Transport system, clogged roads and over opinionated taxi drivers, it’s freeing to have another option. And while the traffic is vaguely deadly, you do get used to it. And the cars and buses do give us some space. Perhaps more space than we get on single carriage country roads around Cumbria.

Lights of Traffic at Night

It’s very atmospheric cycling in the city at night

I wonder if the white coat helps. Perhaps some people imagine I’m a biking emergency service; like the cycling cops in San Fransisco. Or maybe they just think I’ve escaped from a care in the community project. I am certainly visible in the dusk; perhaps I could start a new fashion where people swap luminous yellow tabards for white cashmere ponchos. Thing is, we’ll all be scuppered when the snow comes.

The end of the line – and time to drop Boris

We pull up at Westfield. Exhilarated by our ride. We slot our bikes back in with ease; no need to phone Boris again. Although I’d like to thank him for his invention. My meetings in London will never be the same again.

London and London Eye at Night

Riding in London at night turns out to be a real treat

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • Did I mention I did the same on Paris’ Vélibs the other year? I blogged about it, albeit in German (

    The experience was quite similar, from quirky startup (requiring mobile internet access) to interesting bikes (a Vélib is as heavy as a tank yet easily controlled) to smooth riding in traffic (the French are amiable co-drivers, they weave around you without harrassing you).

    And did you notice we have Nextbikes here in Düsseldorf, too? So the next time you come by…

    • I remember you talking about that Thomas so perhaps you inspired this madness in us. It made no sense in the dark, in the ice, in rush hour. But then it also made it more fun. I guess it’s harder for visitors who have to figure out the system for a one-off use but you have to treat that as part of the experience. Do you know if Berlin has any system? I didn’t know about Dusseldorf.

      • Most bigger German cities have a system like this, some even more than one (German railway DB has a system of its own at big railway stations, “call-a-bike”). I’d be amazed if Berlin didn’t.

  • Very wonderful adventure. I’d say, it is still more fun to be strolling around a place over a bike, especially in Paris. Just wear the proper outfit, though.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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