Cycling is an enjoyable way to get around a city. Timings are reliable, fitness and ecological benefits are considerable and in the summer it’s a great way to avoid the clammy heat of the train or bus commute.
But it’s not for everyone. Buying a bike isn’t cheap and even with the best lock they’re not immune to being stolen. So bike hire schemes are a clever alternative: no purchase price, no maintenance costs and in the case of systems with strong docking stations like London’s newly re-sponsored Santander Cycles, no risk of the bike being nicked.
But those Boris Bikes, for all their strengths are hefty, heavy machines. Sure, motorists give them a wide berth because they assume there are amateur cyclists on the saddle, but you wouldn’t want to cycle one all day. Anyway, the pricing is structured so you return it every half hour – keeping one out of a dock for an entire day is very expensive.
Brompton, British manufacturer of the best folding bikes around, has an answer. Bromptons, by the way, are outstanding because the wheel size, smaller than on most other folders, and the cunning design of the bike itself make for a tinier, exceptionally portable object to carry when you’re not actually riding. The riding position is extremely comfortable and the ride is nippy, responsive and pleasant.
And the benefit of folding bikes is that you can take the folded machine indoors with you, parking it under your desk, say, to avoid the possibility of theft. They’re also more welcome on public transport or even in a taxi than full-size bikes.
So Brompton Bike Hire may be the way to go. Earlier in the week, the company announced seven more docks around the country, joining the existing ones in Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bristol and London to create a network of 40 docks.
The 10 best bike bags
The 10 best bike bags
1/10 Deuter Race EXP Air Cycle Bag
Don’t be put off by the hardcore-sounding name, this works just as well for carrying clothes on the commute as it does for racing or running. The rigid mesh stops your back getting sweaty and there’s a rain cover and wet laundry compartments for when the heavens open. Extends to 15 litres. £52.32, halfords.com
2/10 Jack Wolfskin Moab Jam 30 Rucksack
If you want to invest in a rucksack for hiking and other adventures that will also work for the daily grind, this 30-litre one has loads of storage space, plus attachments for a helmet, LED lights and a pump. Comes in six colours. £80, cotswoldoutdoor.com
3/10 Michaux Lightening Rucksack
Inspired by the all-female Michaux cycling club formed in New York in the 19th century, these British-made bags are built for style and comfort. Made from waterproof canvas and leather with reflective piping, there’s room for your work clothes and valuables in the zip pockets. £249, michauxclub.com
4/10 Evoc Commuter Bag
If you’re looking for a bag that’ll work just as well in a meeting as it will on your way to the office, this one has stowable shoulder straps and a carry handle. There’s space for a laptop and tablet too. It might sound expensive, but it’s really two bags in one. £119.95, amazon.co.uk
5/10 Ortlieb Messenger Bag
This waterproof bag will hold 30 litres but the roll closure with velcro lets you vary the pack height. The foam on the back makes it comfy to carry and reflectors on the side help keep you safe. Comes in six colours. £80.99, wiggle.co.uk
6/10 Henty Wingman Suitbag
Got an important meeting but still want to cycle? This clever system comes with a 14-litre cylindrical carrier for your essentials and a separate bag for your suit (or dress) which rolls up around the other bag. You wear it across one shoulder so that might take a bit of getting used to, but testers arrived at the office with their jackets and shirts crease free. £119.99, evanscycles.com
7/10 Altura Morph Versa Tarpaulin Backpack
Dedicated pannier users looking for a more office-friendly carrier should try this, which can be worn on your bag or quickly converted to attach to your bike. It’ll hold 20 litres, and the hard-wearing, water-resistant fabric will keep your gear safe. £48.74, wiggle.co.uk
8/10 Proviz Night rider Rucksack
Make sure you are as visible as possible on darker nights with this bag from the reflective gear specialists. At 30 litres, it’s roomy enough for clothes and shoes and there’s a padded compartment for a laptop too. If you want to be extra visible, it’s also compatible with Proviz’s Triviz light pack. £44.99, provizsports.com
9/10 Osprey Flap Jack Courier Bag
For a bag that looks just as good on or off the bike, this is a fail-safe choice. You wear it messenger style, the strap is padded so it’s comfortable to ride with. At 20 litres, you can fit in all your essentials and there’s a compartment for your laptop. £44.99, evanscycles.com
10/10 Dare 2b Silicone Rucksack
Here’s one that works if you’re cycling to work but going elsewhere at the end of the day. This bag packs down into a small stuff sack that you can pop into another carrybag to take home. There’s a reflective design to keep you safe, and it will hold 13 litres of kit. £18, halfords.com
Since the cheapest Brompton is over £700, hiring one is an easier option, not to mention a good way to try a Brompton to see if you like it. The rental system is straightforward: first decide if you want the Frequent or the Leisure tariff. Frequent costs a £20 upfront annual fee, Leisure just £1 for the year. Hiring charges cost £2.50 per 24-hour period on the Frequent tariff, £5 a day on Leisure. You can rent a bike for more than one day, which is handy if you plan a cycling weekend, say.
Once you’ve registered, you can book a bike at your chosen dock online or by text. You’ll be sent an access code by text which opens the locker. Unfold the bike and you’re away. Returning the bike is similarly simple.
Incidentally, it’s not just Ian Fletcher from W1A that has initial trouble folding the bike, it does take a go or two before it’s second nature – there’s a handy video on the Brompton Bike Hire website.
The site also has full details of the nearest docks, some of which are on commuter rail stations like Ashford and Guildford, which is handy. Most are public, though a few are just for the use of the staff of enlightened companies, like Sky, for instance.
Brompton’s set-up is worth investigating: good bikes, a simple system and affordable rates. The main downside could be that there’s not one near you.