I used one of the new London cycle hire bikes on Monday, as an alternative to the tube (which was on a limited service due to strike action).
It was a lot more fun that I expected. Even though the heavy traffic diminished some of the joy.
The bikes themselves are so solid and heavy that riding them felt different - I could plough straight over potholes and barely feel it (cushioned by the generously proportioned seat).
The best thing about it though was that you could get rid of the bike as easily as picking it up. No hassle, no fuss. Locking up your bike, and worrying about whether it'll get stolen, is the worst thing about using a bike in the city. The hire bike scheme removes this anxiety. It's a similar revolution to the Netflix/LoveFilm DVD-by-post rental model, which removed the biggest problem with Blockbuster rentals - remembering to return them to avoid late fees.
The other interesting thing about the bike scheme is just how visible the docking stations. Whereas bus stop shelters have a minimal presence on the street, the bike stations take up masses of room, are bright blue, and clearly advertise the service (the bikes) on offer. If they were locked up in some hut and you had to go and ask a man for one, it wouldn't be the same.
Before using one, I thought that it'd only ever be London that needed or could support such a bike hire scheme. Now I'm thinking that it could work equally well in other cities - even in vastly smaller ones like Manchester or Sheffield.
Colour me impressed.