Cycling proficiency with James May

Communal bike hire is great - but do we have to help advertise a bank? James May's not so sure.


This column, as I've tried to make perfectly clear in the past, is pro-bicycle and pro-cycling. I love a bicycle and I haven't been without at least one since I was three years old.

That's why I don't like being lectured about cycling by sanctimonious reformers who bought one last week and imagine the rest of us haven't discovered them yet.

The bicycle might just be the greatest of all inventions. It empowers the human machine, and with no input beyond perhaps a trendy isotonic health drink in a brightly coloured bottle at an inflated price.

Bicycles mobilise nations - look at China, India and Germany during its retreat - and lead naturally enough to motorcycles and cars.

They are the lever pulled right back on the great derailleur of transport life, and a means of getting around that will survive Armageddon.

That's why I'm dead against all attempts to regulate cycling. Bicycles should not be insured or registered and cycling proficiency should not be subject to a test.

That's just weak-kneed nonsense from people who believe the world can be cured with paperwork.

Bicycles represent hope for the disadvantaged and Norman Tebbit's dad; they are our post-industrial legs and therefore as much a God-given right as walking.

Some cyclists are complete prats, obviously, but so are some drivers. So are some fishmongers and accountants, for that matter. Being a prat is a state of mind and not transport-specific. It's not the bicycle's fault.

I'm interested, then, in Boris Johnson's London cycling initiative, something similar to which may be coming to a large town or city near you. There are bicycle superhighways, campaigns to make cycling safer and general bicycle-instigated orgasm.

Cycling is, after all, good for you - unless you fall off - and bicycles are a great way to beat congestion - unless you need to pick up a new fridge or a vase.

I'm especially interested in the pay-to-use community/communist bicycle hire scheme. I haven't used it - it requires some logging on somewhere - but I have been observing it.

The People's Bicycles live in electronically locked racks around the city. You sign up to the scheme, insert a fob thing if you haven't already lost it, take a bike, use it and return it to any other bike rack.

Is it expensive? I'm not sure. The fob thing costs £3. Then there are access fees and usage fees. For example, 24 hours access costs £1, but a whole year is only £45.

The first 30 minutes of bicycle use are free, so if you spent the day cycling between bike racks less than 30 minutes apart - bear in mind that the time will increase as the day progresses - you could have all this for a quid.

Then again, if you keep the bike for more than 24 hours there's a £150 penalty, so it's not much cop if you want to go on a cycling holiday in the Black Forest. On the whole, though, it's almost a brilliant idea. But there are two obvious problems.

The first is that, by being yoked to the rack system, the bicycle, this ultimate symbol of mobility and freedom for the masses, effectively becomes public transport: it doesn't leave from precisely where you are and doesn't arrive at exactly where you want to be. Unless you work as a bicycle rack attendant, the very point of the bicycle is somewhat defeated.

More worrying, though, is this. The whole scheme is sponsored by Barclays Bank and it wants you to know about it. That's why the company name and logo are emblazoned all over your otherwise stylish mount, astride which, no matter how thunderously thighed, you might look a bit of a berk.

When a man passes me on a community bicycle, I don't see a radical visionary being the change he wants to see in the world, I see an advert for some usurers.

Look, it's a commercial world, I know, and without a "partner" the bicycle scheme might never have come to anything.

I advertise beer, after all. I love beer, and I believe in it. I'm genuinely happy to defend the cause of beer, and always have been. But, in the final analysis, I have to acknowledge that they pay me for doing it.

Similarly, if I stood around in town wearing a witless expression and one of those stupid sandwich boards advertising a "Massive Golf Sale" I'd expect a few bob for my troubles. Therefore, I'm not prepared to pay for the privilege of being part of Barclays Bicycles' marketing campaign.

Do you know what? I've just had an idea. Maybe the answer to this bicycle business is... a bicycle.

From the Telegraph