3 Bike Hire Services In London For Part-Time Pedallers

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Bike Hire London

Want to hire a bike in London? These cycle hire schemes let you pick up and drop off your own bicycle automagically.

With the capital enjoying a fine summer, there’s been no better time to explore the city on two wheels. You can pick up a hire bike using just a mobile app or debit card – maybe try one of these beautiful London cycle routes?

1) Santander Cycles (sometimes called ‘Boris Bikes’)

Bike Hire London Santander Cycles
Photo: @vickyinlondon_, Instagram

This is the original, official London bike hire scheme, operated by Transport for London. Over 11,000 bikes are available to pick up from 750 docking stations across central London, and the cycle hire zone stretches from Brixton in the south, the Olympic Park in the east, Chalk Farm in the north and Hammersmith in the west.

Santander Cycle Hire Map
A map of Santander Cycle Hire docking stations.

You hire Santander Bikes by inserting your credit or debit card into the terminal at a docking station. The system charges you £2 for unlimited bike rides that day, as long as each journey is under 30 minutes. For longer journeys, you’ll be charged an extra £2 each time you go over a 30-minute threshold (for instance, a 70-minute ride will cost £4 – £2 for minutes 30-60, and then £2 for minutes 60-70.)

Santander Cycle lights
Santander Cycles are equipped with natty laser-powered lights to warn vehicles of your approach.

You finish your journey by depositing your bike at another docking station, making sure it locks to its base station properly! If there aren’t any spaces at the docking station, too bad – you’ll have to find another one.

Several transport apps let you check bike and docking station availability from your phone, including CityMapper and the official app. This should save you from schlepping to an empty docking station, which sometimes happens (e.g: outside major railway stations shortly after rush hour.)

2) Ofo Bike Hire

Bike Hire London Ofo Rental

The bright yellow hire bikes – around 1,800 of them – can be found across the city, often just leaning up against a wall. That’s because, unlike Santander Cycles, Ofo bikes can be left anywhere within the operational zone, and are simply locked and unlocked using a mobile app. Hiring one costs 70p for each half-hour used, with a maximum daily cap of £5. Great value!

One drawback is that you can’t leave (or therefore find) Ofo bikes in some key London boroughs, with Westminster, Kensington, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets all among those currently declining to participate. The Ofo bike hire map therefore looks like this:

Ofo Bike Hire Map London
The Ofo hire area. See interactive version at OObrien.

Confusing! You can, of course, cycle through these boroughs, but they aren’t valid areas to leave your bike in, and you’ll attract extra charges if you do so. On the other hand, Ofo’s cycle hire area does reach way out into suburban areas including Richmond, Tooting, Sydenham, Walthamstow and Chingford, reaching the parts Santander Cycles simply doesn’t. (It also enables cycle rides around places like Richmond Park and Walthamstow Wetlands!)

Download the Ofo app to use the service, live locations are also available in CityMapper.

3) Mobike

Bike Hire Mobike London
Warning: not how Mobikes should generally be ridden. Photo: @tanyadior90

Mobike, mo’ problems? Not exactly! Mobike is the smaller of the three London bike hire services, with 900 bicycles available, and works in a similar way to Ofo, with bikes unlocked using your phone. The Mobike zone is comprised of Southwark, Islington, Camden and the City of London, with Ealing and Hounslow forming an additional western section.

Mobike Map London - Bike Hire
Orange areas indiciate Mobike hire zones. See the interactive version at OObrien.

For one-off journeys this is the most expensive service, costing £1 for each block of 20 minutes you eat into. And unlike the other services, you have to pay a deposit – some £15 just to get started. However, Mobike’s passes provide unlimited usage for an extremely competitive flat fee: £9.90 gives you unlimited use for a month, for example. This makes it a better service for people who think they’ll want to hire bikes frequently. Download the Mobike app here.

Ready to roll? Check out this map of London’s safe cycle routes.

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Guy Parsons

Guy Parsons

Guy is the editor-in-chief of Secret London. He likes running, cover versions and scotch.