The streets of central London got a little more crowded yesterday as 5,000 gleaming bicycles swarmed across the capital as part of Boris Johnson's mission to steer the city towards a two-wheeled revolution.
By nine o'clock on a grey morning in the City, the Mayor of London revealed 1,000 "Boris bikes", as they are becoming known, had been released from the 315 docking stations that have sprouted on pavements and parks.
Early adopters showed varying levels of cycling proficiency as they wobbled their way around London's "Zone 1" travel area.
But for those who live and work beyond the range of the chunky blue and grey bikes, Mr Johnson's revolution (in fact instituted by his predecessor at City Hall, Ken Livingston) has fallen flat.
That may change, however, as towns and cities all over the country keep half an eye on the country's cycling hub. Small-scale schemes have already been trialled in Bristol, Blackpool, Cardiff and Reading and Roger Geffen – campaigns and policy director at CTC, the national cyclists' organisation – says Liverpool, Edinburgh, Newcastle, York and Birmingham have shown interest in proposing similar operations.
He added: "Britain had a very strong cycling culture through the start of the last century, but lost it from the Fifties, when cars filled our streets in greater numbers. That's starting to change and we can do it much faster if more people discover the convenience and joy of cycling through hire bikes. The London scheme could be a really important step in re-creating our lost cycling heritage."
Mr Johnson has staked his reputation on the smooth running of his bikes and Transport for London, the body responsible for the scheme, hailed day one as a success.
A similar scheme in Paris, where the "Vélib" network was launched to a frenzy of excitement in 2007, has been plagued by vandals, thieves and joyriders.
Mr Johnson and expectant bosses elsewhere in the country are hoping the new Canadian-designed bikes being deployed in London will prove more resistant to miscreants.
"I want everybody to realise that these bikes belong to everybody," the Mayor said. "This is a partially communist experiment."
Mr Johnson's utopia is for one in five journeys in the capital to be made by bike – levels that have not been reached since 1904.
Today, cycling accounts for only 2 per cent of journeys in the capital. For London and the rest of the country, there is a long journey ahead.Reuse content