London is a great city for public transportation. Amsterdam might have them beat in terms of number of consecutive transit options available, but London’s is unbelievably easy to use. Tiff and I have a stash of Oyster cards that we refill when we return, and we can use them for the bus, the underground, the train, and so on. Though you can’t use your Oyster card for bicycles, they are available for rent as well, and the prices are very reasonable.
For two pounds, we got unlimited 30-minute rides for the next 24 hours. The process is totally automated: you type in your code next to the bike you want, it unlocks, and you go on your way. We took the bikes and rode from Buckingham Palace to Kensington Palace to tea, which took us through Kensington Gardens. It was a beautiful ride in great weather.
It gave me some time to make some observations about my two-pound bicycle. First of all, everything is backwards. The left and right brakes are swapped – not a huge deal since you won’t be flipping yourself over your handlebars with the brakes using a bike this heavy. But I still noticed and to me it was still weird.
The gear shift is also backwards. Though with only three gears, shifting being backwards is a huge inconvenience. There were plenty of times that I shifted going downhill and had to pedal wildly to keep up, or started the bottom of a hill in top gear and crawled to a stop. Maybe they keep everything opposite of normal to remind all the tourists that you’re in opposite-land.
The biggest adjustment for me, however, was the fact that there’s no top tube. I’ve only ever ridden “men’s frame” bikes – the ones with the tube straight across the top. With as many hours as I’ve spent on bikes, it’s second nature for me to fiddle with whatever while I hold my bike upright with my knees against the top tube. That is not possible with these bikes. The number of times I dropped my bike along our ride was embarrassing.
We managed our first ride just fine, but then later that evening we wanted to rent bikes and ride past the sights to see them at night. Here, we found another wrinkle in our plans: if someone rides a bike away, someone else has to ride one back.
Clearly no one had ridden back yet.
With only two bikes available, we pulled out the map and looked for the next nearest rental, once we’d figured out how to get there, a man rode up on a third bike.
Rescued by chance, we typed in our rental codes and two of us were on our way. The third bike (one of the original two) was broken – of course – so we rented the two bikes that were available and walked them to the other bike rental nearby…
…which was totally empty.
The next next nearest cycle hire was a quarter mile away. The next nearest pub was much closer. The decision before us was a very easy one.
We returned the bikes and walked to the pub.