Today we tested Sheffield’s new ‘Boris Bike’ style cycle hire scheme ‘Sheffield ByCycle‘ which has been set up by the University of Sheffield but is usable by all.
My mum was staying with us and had not brought a bike with her so the idea of a bike she could easily borrow really appealed. Initially we found the website a bit confusing but registered (we set up 2 accounts as we wanted 2 bikes, not sure if you can borrow more than 1 bike on an account) and topped up some money and then headed into town.
We picked up 2 bikes at the city centre docking station on Portobello Road, entering in a username and pin code sent by email which released each bike from it’s locking point.
The bikes themselves are heavy and bomb-proof and it took a few minutes to get used to the steering when you’re used to riding a ‘normal’ hybrid or road bike like I am. (It felt a bit like riding a chopper or motorbike because of how big and sturdy the bikes are!)
There is a luggage rack and elasticated bungee cord on the front which is great for carrying a bag, but it does affect the steering if your bag is heavy. The low ‘step through’ crossbar was great and made getting on and off easy. The bikes come complete with everything you need so are ready to go, they have dynamo lights and a quick-release adjustable saddle but if you want to wear a helmet you’ll have to bring your own.
After a bit of practice on the bikes we headed towards the Five Weirs walk for some relaxed riding. Generally the bikes were tough, fairly simple to get used to and easy to understand. They only have 3 gears which I didn’t feel was really enough when you come to any kind of hill (even on the Five Weirs the slopes up and down to the road felt like hard work for someone like Mum who doesn’t use a bike regularly). However she liked the fact that the bikes were hub geared with no chain in which to catch your trousers and she liked having all the gears on one side and the simple ‘twist to change gear’ motion.
The ride to Meadowhall along the Five Weirs route was easy and enjoyable, though with the usual annoyance of manoeuvring bikes through some of the needless gates and pinch-points exacerbated by the size and weight of the bikes. The ride back felt like slightly tougher going as we were tired and it was very hot. The bikes felt a lot heavier on the uphills, though I think this was worse for Mum as we hadn’t adjusted her saddle so it was high enough.
Need to know
- There are 5 docking stations at University sites around the city. You can collect and drop off at any of them (provided there is a bike available/free space to drop off.
- You need to register online first and top up your account with credit (minimum £1).
- You can’t reserve a bike online but you can check how many are available at each docking station.
- It’s great to finally have a casual bike hire scheme in such a central location.
- Ease of use, once you’ve worked out the website.
- Sturdy bikes, easy to understand.
- Good value/low commitment (we paid £4 per bike for 4 hours ‘Casual’ use. If you want to use the bikes regularly e.g for commuting then you can buy Annual Membership for £10 which means rentals under 30 minutes are free and longer rentals are cheaper.)
- Great if you have visitors or are visiting Sheffield for the day. Just be careful on unfamiliar roads as cycle provision is inconsistent!
- Could do with a few more gears for hills!
- Website is not as clear as it could be, but persevere with it.
- When you collect your bike, remember to make a note of the code for the attached cable lock straight away! I forgot what mine was.
- Heavy and more tiring than a ‘normal’ bike.
- We found the kickstands a bit difficult to use as you had to ‘give it some welly’ to get them up and down. They also weren’t totally stable once you had luggage on the front.
All in all I’d score Sheffield ByCycle 8/10 and look forward to using them again when we next have guests.
Review by Emma Metcalfe 02/08/15