"It's a bit front-heavy. Not much good for wheelies." That was the verdict of one passerby as he inspected one of Cardiff's fetching new yellow and green rentable bicycles that are now dotted around the city at 11 hire locations.
With just 70 bicycles and hire stations restricted to the city centre and Cardiff Bay, it is small by comparison with similar schemes in other European cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Nice. But the company running it, called OYBike, say this is just the start. "The system will hopefully continue to grow (locations and thus stations) as private companies want to sponsor more rental points outside their offices," said Deborah Pester, a spokesperson for OYBike.
I tried out the scheme on a blustery Saturday afternoon earlier this month and was impressed (you can listen to how I got on in tomorrow's Guardian bike podcast). Hiring is easy. Once you have registered online (at a cost of £18 per year or £5 for a week) you simply go to a hire station and call OYBike from your mobile phone. The system automatically recognises your phone number and releases a bike. And if you don't have a mobile there are other options.
Your first 30 minutes of riding is free, with costs rising gradually to £5 for between 4 and 24 hours – any more than that and they assume you've nicked the bike and charge you around £200 to replace it. Not that many people appear to want to steal them. The bikes are pretty distinctive, clunky, sit-up-and-beg numbers with a handy basket on the front. And they don't appear to be very attractive to thieves – only two have gone missing so far. "Actually our experience of vandalism elsewhere shows that at the beginning curiosity means one or two disappear but once thieves realise they are not worth much on the market, it tends to stop," said Pester.
A similar scheme with 900 bikes that launched earlier this year in Nice on France's Cote d'Azur clocked up 100,000 hires in the first 3 months. It remains to be seen whether the old-fashioned look to the Cardiff bikes will prove as appealing. By mid-November the scheme was close to clocking up 200 hires. "It's not bad for a very small system in the autumn months," said Pester.
I hope it does catch on. The bikes are sturdy, easy to use and the two I hired were both in good working order (apart from some slightly soft brakes). Most importantly, the scheme is convenient. You can first check online that there is a bike available where you want it. Then, as long as your destination has a drop-off point you can get there without the expense of buying and maintaining your own bike – and the risk of someone stealing it.
But if it is wheelies you want, then you will be disappointed by more than the bike's weight balance. Disappointingly, "racing, mountain bike riding, stunt or trick riding" are all expressly forbidden by OYBike's terms and conditions.
Other bike hire schemes