How to hire a city bike for your commute

Thinking of commuting to work by bike? Hiring a city bike is ideal to take you from A to B. Here's the best advice on doing just that

Hiring a bike in a city
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Die-hard commuters aren't born, rather they are made. For most, cycling to work on a daily basis doesn't just happen overnight.

Confidence and enjoyment grows with every successful journey to and from the workplace. Even the tough days - a broken chain, a leaking rain jacket, double punctures and gloves left on your desk - help build resolve and encourage you to refine your act. In short, every bike commuter has to start somewhere.

That somewhere might just be at a rental bike dock. A growing number of cities are now home to comprehensive city-wide bike hire schemes offering more and more people the opportunity to ditch four wheels for two wheels.

These schemes work in a similar way and are ideal for anyone wanting to sample cycling to work. They're affordable, and there's no commitment: you can hire a bike for a single trip if that's all you want. Should you find yourself wanting more after a couple of commutes to the office, they also provide options to accommodate regular use.

Why commute?

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Driving in heavy traffic isn't the best way to begin your work day. Equally, commuting by bus or train can feel oppressive. Hopping on a bike feels the opposite of this. It spells freedom, and by cycling to work you'll benefit both mentally and physically. You'll also get to experience your city anew.

On the subway you travel under neighbourhoods. On a bike you ride through them. It's a chance to explore, to find new roads and routes and to gain a fresh experience of the place you call home. Commuting by bike puts you in charge and reduces the chance of being late for work.

bike commute

Commuting by bike. Image: Richard Baybutt
(Image credit: Richard Baybutt)

What you'll need for your ride

When you hire a city bike to commute to work you'll want to remember a few essential items. If you want to wear a helmet you'll need to bring your own. For most commuters, a helmet brings peace of mind, allowing you to better enjoy the ride.

If your journey to work is just a few miles you'll be probably be fine wearing your work clothes - being comfortable is key here. In the summer, wear sunglasses, sunscreen and a cap.

A warm jacket, a pair of gloves and a hat under your helmet are highly recommended during the winter months. You'll also want to wear flat shoes - or at least shoes with a minimal heel. Flip-flops or slides might not be the best idea. The best commuter cycling shoes for urban use will be comfortable to pedal in but also let you walk around in comfort when off the bike.

Get hooked, and you can start to invest in a few cycling-specific pieces, such as a rain jacket with a longer tail.

Most city bikes do offer some storage - usually in the shape of a metal rack in front of the handlebars. It will hold a small bag or purse but bring a bungee cord to secure your belongings in place. Finally, don't forget a bottle of water to keep you hydrated.

hire bike cycling

Planning your route

When it comes to choosing your journey, a little preparation goes a long way. By mapping your ride before you set off you can plot a route that utilizes protected bikes lanes and avoids, where possible, busier stretches of road. Google Maps uses colour coded routes to indicate whether they are shared-access or for bicycle only. If you have a GPS system you can also download your route to work ahead of time.

>>> Best apps for cycling

How to hire, dock and undock a bike

Before you set off on your maiden voyage, download the relevant city bike app to your smartphone. The app enables you to see where the nearest docking stations are and tells you how many bikes are currently available at each station. If you live in a busy area it's essential to check ahead to see if there will be a bike ready for you to use.

The apps also allows you to pay for your ride, sending you a release code to enter into the dock. If you don't have a smartphone, there are touchscreen payment centres where you can pay by credit or debit card.

>>> Top tips for commuting to work by bike

To undock you bike, simply lift the saddle a little and pull the bike away from the dock. It should come free with little to no trouble. Before you ride away, make sure the tires are inflated and the bell is working. Finally, adjust the seat to a comfortable height and away you go.

When you reach work you'll need to dock your bike. To do so, simply line up the front of the bike with an empty dock and push it firmly into place. A green light shows the bike is docked correctly.

London's Santander Bikes

London's public bike hire scheme has been in operation since 2010. Currently branded as Santander Cycles, the scheme provides11,500 bikes and over 750 docking stations positioned throughout the city.

Rental is £2 for unlimited journeys up to 30 mins within a 24-hour period. For longer journeys you pay an additional £2 for 30 minutes. An annual membership is available, too, costing £90 and with the option of a a key fob to unlock a bike.

The newer Santander bikes are an upgrade from the previous London city bikes. Hoping to improve handling, the bike's designer Pashley have switched to a smaller frame and a 24-inch wheel. Other upgrades include improved brakes, sturdier tires and brighter lights, particualy at slower speeds.

city bike hire

NYC's Citi Bikes

New York is well-suited to commuting, despite the dense traffic. It's relatively flat and at the time of writing boasts over 1300 miles of dedicated bike lanes - including the 11-mile long Hudson River Greenway that runs along the west side of Manhattan.

It's home to 14,500 Citi Bikes and some 950 docking stations, located throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, as well as neighboring Jersey City. You can hire a Citi Bike for a single 30-minute journey for just $3 (with each additional 15 minutes costing $4).

Alternatively you can buy a 24-hour pass for $12, permitting unlimited 30-minute trips. Other options include a 3-day pass for $24 and an annual pass for $179, which includes unlimited 45-minute trips and enables you to unlock the bikes with a key fob.

>>> The best cheap road bikes: beginner bikes and commuting bikes reviewed

As well as the standard 3-speed Citi Bikes, New York also offers an electric version - a single-speed, pedal-assisted bike that tops out at 18 mph. To hire an electric Citi Bike, just look for the 'lightening' symbol on the app. Non-members will pay extra 15 cents a minute, while for members it costs 10 cents.

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