18 November 2009

Bike hire cities 3: Cardiff

Cardiff is the capital of Wales (a small country in the north-west of the EU, about the size of Wales). At the end of September this year it beat London to the status of bike-scheme-capital when hire company Oybike started running their custard-coloured bikes (right) round the city.

Well, kind of beat. Oybike had been running a similar scheme in Hammersmith for a few years; but that stopped in late October, made redundant by the forthcoming London scheme in May 2010. They're still running similar ventures in Reading and Farnborough, though.

It works in the standard way: you register online, paying a fee of say £18 a year, and then you can take out a bike from one of their stations for up to half an hour for free; there are increasing charges for longer periods.

In Cardiff this looks promising, because there's one obvious journey to do by bike. The centre is small enough to walk around all the important cultural things - for instance, it's only five minutes' stroll from the art gallery (which has arguably the world's greatest collection of Welsh paintings) to Cardiff Castle and then to the Millennium Stadium, which is right opposite Wetherspoon's.

But the hike down from the centre to the bistro-run at the Bay is just a bit too far and too boring to walk comfortably, a mile or two maybe. The road is no oil painting, not even by those Welsh impressionists. A bike is ideal, though, and there's a separated bike path all along the straight main road between the two.

Once at the Bay you can cycle around in front of the majestic Millennium Hall (right), and continue (right) down all the way to the barrage and across to the other side, before returning to enjoy a pleasant dinner in a chain restaurant overlooking the water whose price may come as a shock if you had lunch in Pontypridd.

And there are bike hire stations handily sited round Bay itself, and round the main rail station. The bikes (and the self-service hire machines) are, of course, bilingual, with English on one side and Welsh on the other ('Free to ride' / 'Seiclo am ddim', which means 'bike for nowt', below right).

So what's the lesson for London? Too early to say yet, but there's one point of interest to watch. The Oybikes are shaft-drive, meaning they're a bit more effort to ride but won't stain your trousers and don't suffer from chain problems. London's bikes will be standard chain-drives, so it'll be interesting to compare the two when both are in full swing. Though your views on the seriousness of stained trousers may depend on whether you buy them from Regent St and Bond St, or Matalan and TJ Hughes.

I'm tempted to finish with some jokes about Splott, but d'you know, I rather like Cardiff.


  1. I've ridden shaft drive bikes and found them a bit peculiar. There's obviously a bit of inefficiency and there's a bit of slack too. However, it's not a completely bad idea for this sort of thing. I've been really surprised at the use of bikes with exposed chains (i.e. no chain case) for these schemes as chains left out in all weather just don't last all that long.

  2. Last time I saw an OyBike in London it was in a bicycle shop being serviced. Problem was it was sprayed black and the man behind the counter said "Do you know this is a stolen bike?" to which the lady who'd brought it in replied "I had no idea. I brought it for a fiver on eBay and presumed it was legit." Hope this is not a taste of things to come for London's big hire scheme (and let's face it, OyBike in London wasn't a proper hire scheme - you had to register online, go and find a bike stand, then call some bloke who turned up in a Smart car 55 minutes later to unlock it. Bit rubbish really.)