London’s bike share bikes reviewed and rated

London’s bike share bikes reviewed and rated

The ultimate guide to London’s bike hire schemes – which are the best bike shares and how much do they cost?

Rental bikes have become an incredibly useful way to get around a city, especially one with as much traffic as London.

Many bike hire companies have come and gone over the years, but the current hire schemes have seen a huge growth in popularity and become as familiar a sight in the capital as a black cab or a red London bus.

These bikes have come a long way from the original offering, and many now include training modes, late night reaction testing and a call option if you can’t find them.

Most bikes include a basket, light, adjustable seat post, a bell and a phone holder.

However, not all rental bikes were created equal, with differences in price, features, zones and ride comfort.

This guide breaks down each of the rental bikes on offer, including cost, ease of use and availability.

To use a rental bike, you need to download the company’s app, register and then scan the QR code on the bike to activate it through the app. These apps can be quite buggy and use up quite a bit of phone battery, but companies are constantly improving them.

Word of warning

It is worth bearing in mind that since these are mass-use bikes, there may be problems with them such as missing saddles, broken pedals, bad brakes or the electric assist not working. A user should report this and often a company will offer some kind of discount depending on the severity of the problem.

Also, most rental bikes have zones where they must be parked, such as specific bays or docks, which the company’s app will show. Users who do not park in these zones, or do not park correctly, will incur charges.

Another consideration is that the rental schemes use a GPS signal to locate the bikes, but sometimes – despite the app’s assurances – a bike may not be where you think it is, or even there at all.

Now that that’s over, get ready to download some apps.

Bicycle rental arrangements in this guide

  • Lime
  • HumanForest
  • Santander cycles
  • Dott
  • The level

Lime

Cost: £1 to unlock, 23p per minute

Areas covered: London, Manchester, Milton Keynes

Since Lime bought Uber’s Jump bikes in May 2020, the company has painted them green and helped them become arguably the most popular rental bikes in London, despite being the most expensive.

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This is because the Lime bike is fast. The electric assistance is obvious from the start, and the bike offers the best acceleration out of today’s range of rental e-bikes.

The saddle is comfortable and the seatpost can be raised nice and high for taller riders, making this bike the most user-friendly.

A useful feature of Lime is that it allows you to reserve a bike for 10 minutes. This means that if you know you’re going to need a bike soon, you can save yourself the hassle of searching for one by ordering one nearby and knowing (hopefully) it’s waiting for you.

For people who aren’t as confident riding a Lime bike, the company also allows users to put the bike into training mode via the app, limiting its top speed to 8 mph.

When renting a bike late at night, the app will also ask you to test your reactions to make sure you are safe to use the bike. This is a good security feature, but not foolproof.

Lime bikes can be parked anywhere, but must be parked safely, out of the way of pedestrians and without obstructing anything.

After the trip, you can rate your experience, and if it’s not good, Lime will often offer a discount on the next trip. Lime sometimes offers 25% off rides if you can prove you’ve worn a helmet.

Apart from the pay-as-you-go option, users can buy a monthly LimePrime subscription for £8.99 per month which removes unlocking fees, or a driving pass which offers discounts for buying driving time in advance.

HumanForest

Cost: 10 minutes free daily, then 19p per minute + 50p parking charge

Area covered: London (Central and South West)

The HumanForest bikes are the cheapest of the rental bikes, taking you from A to B for less with no unlocking fee and offering 10 minutes of free riding.

The bikes are less solid than the competition, and the electric assist is a little slower to kick in than the Lime bikes, but there’s a display that shows your speed, which is a nice touch.

HumanForest bikes can only be used within the ‘forest’ zone which is clearly marked on the app. When you leave this zone, the bike’s speed is limited.

The length of the seat post is limiting as the height does not increase sufficiently to make it a comfortable ride for a six foot rider. HumanForest has not yet responded to whether they will change this at some point.

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As for parking, cyclists must end their ride in a green car park to avoid parking fees (£2), but HumanForest also charge a parking fee anyway. When parking in green bay, the rider will be charged 50p.

HumanForest offers minute deals (such as the 60-minute daily plan for £4, which works out at just under 7p a minute) and regular promotions as well as a TreeCoin loyalty scheme – every five miles earns one TreeCoin, which can be exchanged for free minutes or goods.



Santander cycles

Cost: £1.65 for 30 minutes, £3.30 for e-bike; £2 for 24 hour access, first 30 minutes free

Area covered: London

AND in rental bikes, Santander Cycles has been around for a long time, having previously been known as ‘Boris Bikes’. The bike’s trademark laser headlight in the shape of a bicycle is a common sight, as are the military docking stations.

The fleet was upgraded in September 2022 to include e-bikes (along with a price increase). The update has meant improved bikes, with better saddles, easier to adjust seatposts, wider tires and a smoother ride overall.

The Santander bike has three gears that make it great for exploring the city at a pace that suits you. The docking station system also helps to minimize the littering of rental bikes across the city. However, it is worth noting that these stations are mostly within central London.

As mentioned, the company has introduced e-bikes. E-bikes cost £3.30 for rides of up to 30 minutes, but riders must become a member of Santander Cycle to use an e-bike.

Monthly subscription costs £20, while annual membership costs £120. There are also additional charges of £1 for using an e-bike for more than 30 minutes.

Discounts are available for students, commuters and NHS workers.

Despite the price increase, Santander bikes still offer a reliable and easy way to get around town, especially if you prefer to push yourself.

Dott

Cost: £1 to unlock, 19p per minute

Areas covered: West and South London

In the same style as the HumanForest bike, Dott offers a fleet of e-bikes in South and West London. These are more wobbly than Lime bikes and offer less acceleration, but at a cheaper price. The bikes do not have a bell.

Dott bikes have a useful option to allow riders to pause their ride, which locks the bike so no one else can use it.

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The same rules apply when parking the bicycle, so it must be in the correct zone in order not to incur a fee and users will still be charged for the time during that break.

Another notable feature about Dott is that if you can’t find the bike, the app has a “Call” option that will ring the bike bell (only between 6am and 10pm).

Dott bikes are not as widespread around London as other bike rentals in this guide, as the permitted zones are more restricted, making them harder to find and limiting their usefulness depending on where you’re going. They are mainly in west London and south of the river.

The level

Cost: £1 to unlock, 19p per minute

Areas covered: London, Basildon, Chelmsford, Colchester, York

Tier is mainly known for its scooters, but also offers e-bikes. The company started with 500 bikes in Islington in November 2021 and went on to launch in boroughs such as Hammersmith and Fulham in 2022 and is now available across London.

Although Tier e-bikes are harder to come by than the scooters, they are very similar to the others in this guide – sturdy and fast enough to make your journey usually faster than using other modes of transport.

Like Lime, Tier allows you to reserve a bike for up to 10 minutes, which is a very useful feature.

A small difference is that older Tier models have cable locks that riders have to pull out to be able to ride and or put back in to end the ride.

As with most rental bikes, Tier bikes must be parked in a parking zone as shown on the app or fees will apply.

Riders can choose to pay as they go, and Tier also offers daily and monthly passes available as unlimited unlocks for 30 days for £4.99 per month and 150 minutes for £19.99 per month.

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