Two-thirds of London's "Boris bikes" have had to undergo repairs in their first six months of operation, new figures on the state of the capital's fleet of cycles for hire have revealed.
Transport for London (TfL) has disclosed that their repair teams are being called out to fix the rental bikes at the rate of more than 30 every day of the week, as the strain of millions of journeys takes its toll.
The majority of the repairs were described as due to "wear and tear", but more than 100 bikes have needed repairs after being vandalised since the fleet went live last summer. On average, nearly 200 of the 5,400 bikes at any one time are so badly damaged that they are taken out of service.
Critics claimed that the high rate of repairs was a result of TfL opting for "unwieldy machines" over more sophisticated bikes. "These cycles are hardly user-friendly when you're riding them, but it seems that they are liable to loosen up or seize up at an alarming rate," said Peter Hunter, a cyclist who has complained that the hire bikes were a "bargain-basement" purchase. "It looks like these are the sort of problems that can't be sorted on the go."
But TfL has attempted to play down the significance of the figures, with one official insisting that the casualty rate was "better than we'd feared". The authority, which pays the company Serco to maintain the fleet, points out that it has not yet had to pay any extra charges above its regular monthly fee. A TfL spokesman said: "Many of the repairs that take place are minor, such as tightening of brake or gear cables, and do not therefore require bicycles to be out of use for long."
The £140m hire scheme, launched with the support of Barclays, has attracted more than 100,000 registered users since last July, and officials estimate that they have travelled more than seven million miles already.
The bikes, which travel at an average of about 10 miles an hour, have been described as "almost indestructible", although road-safety campaigners have called for them to carry helmets.
But figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday under Freedom of Information legislation show that the bikes – and their docking stations – have come in for a battering. Some 3,566 bikes have had to be mended. TfL has confirmed that he figures show that an average of 181 bikes are out of service at any one time – and three have been damaged beyond repair. Six docking stations were damaged by road accidents, and six more were vandalised. But the unappealing appearance of the bikes might have contributed to the low number of thefts – only 10 in six months.
"The total number of stolen bikes is still significantly lower than has been the case with similar international cycle hire schemes," the TfL spokesman said. "As some of the bikes seem to have been stolen because they weren't docked correctly, we are reminding customers to wait for the green light indicating the bike has been safely docked."