Boris Bike Challenge

It’s the summer, and this means students across the country have to find ways to spend an eternity (well, up to sixteen weeks) of free time.  I was reading recently on a blog post about the “Boris Bike Challenge”, dubbed one of the most physically demanding public transport journeys in London. What better way to spend a Monday, then, than have a go at it? The objective is simple, get from Westfield to Westfield using only the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme.

It can be run in either direction, but for me this means getting from the Boris Bike dock at Bromley High Street, Bow (the closest one to Westfield Stratford City, and one of the easternmost Boris Bike stations) to the dock at Westfield White City (the westernmost Boris Bike dock). In a straight line it’s about 8 miles, which isn’t a particularly long way but you have to remember that the route will take you through the middle of Central London and the bike you have to use weighs 23kg (my own bike weighs 10kg as a comparison). There are a few extra rules to follow;
– The trip cannot take you longer than 60mins.
– You must follow all traffic rules.
– You can incur no usage charges.

What this means is that you need to stop at every traffic light on the way, you can’t ride on the pavement and you can’t go the wrong way down one-way streets to save time. Also, to follow rule 3 you can’t ride the bike for more than 30 minutes at a time, meaning a stop and 5-minute wait will be required roughly halfway along the route.  I’d had a look at the Boris bike map yesterday and I’d planned to stop either on Oxford Street or in Hyde Park, depending on how long it took me to get there.

This morning I arrived at Bromley High Street at about 11:10 and registered my card (and the £1 access fee for 24hours). I chose the bike I wanted to use and set off at 11:17. I managed it halfway down Bow Road when I encountered the sliding seat of doom, that is, the clasp holding the seat up being too loose resulting in it sliding away from under you as you cycle. Not content riding with my knees around my chin, I pulled over and quickly tightened the clasp and reset the seat, mindful that this was eating into my 30 minute window to travel as far as I could. I carried on and reached the city within 20minutes, where the trouble with the traffic lights began. Every single junction was adding an extra minute to my trip sat idle at traffic lights, even though I was trying my best to be at the front of the queue every time with some sneaky filtering. I’d worn my watch for once, specifically for timekeeping (I’d normally use my phone but tight jeans make it difficult to constantly check it) so I knew my time was running out.  I remembered was a docking station at Holborn, so I aimed for that and arrived 28minutes and 50seconds after I’d left Bow. A minute longer and I would have racked up another £1 charge on my card.

Using the 5 minute break to have some food and water, I then rented another bike and carried on. The journey continued with frantic pedaling and annoyingly frequent stops at traffic lights. By now it was becoming very tiring to keep going, as the very low gears on the bikes meant you had to keep up a very high RPM to get anything other than a stately pace out of the bikes. If anything the traffic lights let me catch my breath which was becoming more important with every passing light. The real issue, however, came when beginning the 1.2mile run down the length of Oxford St. Taxis and buses rule the narrow roadway here, and they’re constantly pulling in and out to pick up passengers and fares. It’s hard enough to dodge them, but when you’ve got mindless shoppers milling across the road from every gap in the traffic it becomes very difficult to make any progress. I found it effective to use the bell provided quite liberally, and once I had reached the end of Oxford Street it was time to navigate the massive Marble Arch roundabout. My initial plan was to go through Hyde Park on the quieter northern carriage road but this had been closed for use as an Olympic Car Park. I was forced to use Bayswater Road which is a rather large road filled with massive coaches and lorries on their way out of London. Scary enough, but my progress had also been slowed by the lengthy hill between Lancaster Gate and Notting Hill Gate, and lugging the 23kg Boris Bike up that was no easy feat.

What comes up must come down, though, and after the peak at Portobello Road Market an equally lengthy downhill run awaited, where I tried to get the most aerodynamic position and roll down picking up speed. It was quite successful, and some of the other cyclists on their flashy road bikes looked rather bemused being quickly overtaken by Boris’ flagship two-wheeler. A quick glance at my watch told me I had 7 minutes left when passing Holland Park Station. The only thing I knew about this road was that it ended up at the even bigger Holland Park roundabout which was where I could get into Westfield. I had no idea of the distances involved having never been there before and, in a despairing few seconds caught behind a sightseeing bus I thought I would overrun my 30minutes. Thankfully, once the bus began moving there was immediately a sign detailing the roundabout just 20m away. I took a bit of an amber gamble through the traffic light, but I’m pretty sure it never turned to red.

Success was just yards away, and all that stood between me was the red light that let buses go into the bus station. When arriving at the stop line I instantly noticed the black sensor above the light which meant I would need a bus to come behind me if it was ever to turn green. My watch said I had 3 minutes remaining, and there began an agonising 90 second wait for a bus to arrive, followed by another minute for the lights to change. I could see the Boris bike station, but the red light (and the rules) were keeping me, perhaps from completing the challenge. I pushed all of my remaining energy into the pedals and docked the bike as quickly as I could manage. On seeing the green dock light I went over to the terminal to print the journey record and see my final score. The results were in; 28 minutes and 28 seconds, meaning it had taken me in total 57minutes and 18seconds.

Success! It was very, very tiring, and I had found my way to the other side of London for no good reason but I had completed the challenge, averaging a not very respectable 8mph average on the trip. It is definitely one of the most physically demanding journeys you can make on public transport. That is, after all, what a Boris Bike is; a self propelled method of public transport. It was loads of fun though, and probably quite good for me too.

Sure, it’s no London Marathon or Triathlon, but you don’t need sponsorship or flashy sports gear to try this challenge, just £1 for the daily access fee and a way to get home from the other side of London, which can even include making it a 2hr round trip!

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