With no Boris bikes nearby and as someone who lives in a top floor flat, the ability to cycle home from work on a nice summer’s day and not have to worry about where my bike would be kept overnight has always felt like a dream.
So when the news came last month that Richmond Council and Ofo would be launching a dockless bike hire scheme in the borough I thought “Hurrah!” the day had come.
The initial trial is focusing around Twickenham and Richmond and with me being keen, the other Friday I left my work in Teddington, jumped on a 33 bus and went to Twickenham high street in search of a bright yellow bike.
That’s where my first hurdle occurred. Unlike the familiar Boris bikes in Central London, these dockless bikes have no – well – docking stations. It took a few minutes of wondering back and forth between Iceland and Barclays Bank before a yellow dot popped up on my phone saying a bike was nearby – down a back street.
I crossed the road, walked up the street and a few minutes later arrived at a bike outside someone’s house. A little sheepishly, I used the app on my phone and unlocked the bike, riding it off quickly as if I was stealing it from someone in their house.
The app was simple enough, and unlocking the bike and getting on my way was fine. There’s even a convenient basket at the front to dump my rucksack if I didn’t feel like having it on my back.
The ride was pleasant, even though I struggled to get the bike out of third gear for most of the journey, and I made it to Hampton Hill 20 minutes or so later. Having ridden the bike in third gear for most of the journey, I locked up the bike, checked the journey was complete in the app, and made my way into the Bloated Mallard for a well earned drink.
Since then I’ve used the scheme a few more times and sadly each time there’s been some niggling issues with each bike I’ve ridden. Squeaky wheels and dodgy gears seem to be my top experiences so far, and an oddity where if you try to park the bike too close to the boundary of Bushy Park (such as Hampton Hill High Street), sometimes the app thinks you’re actually in the park, which it doesn’t like, and threatens you that you’ll lose points* if you don’t move it to somewhere else. Thankfully the two occasions this has happened to me, Ofo’s customer service on Twitter have been very quick and pleasant to respond.
Overall, it’s a great service which I really hope is used by others so it becomes more popular. So far there’s only ever a handful of bikes in Hampton and Hampton Hill, but hopefully that will increase in time as the scheme expands. Currently I’m not sure how reliant someone could be using the service as a regular commute, as finding a bike can take a little while.
*Each rider starts with 100 points in their account. With each ride you earn 1 point, however if you damage a bike or park it outside of Ofo’s zone, you lose points. If you lose too many, you’re barred from using the service.