Bike&Go - A Dutch inspired public bike idea... Over the past few months, I have been to the model cycling city of Eindhoven in Holland, cycled on the new London Cycle Superhighway and tried various public hire bike schemes across the UK and abroad. However, I realised recently that there is an innovative cycling scheme on my doorstep at my local train station at Manchester Oxford Road.
After signing up online to Bike&Go and receiving my chip card in the post, I now have access to a national bike hire scheme for only £3.80 per 24 hours. Bike&Go is a bike hire scheme from Dutch transport company Abellio that operates in conjunction with the local rail network throughout the UK. There are 60 Bike&Go points around the country from Scotland to Essex with many located in the north of England.
The concept is based around Dutch and Belgian bike hire schemes that encourage rail users to complete their journey by bike. The bikes are Dutch in style with an upright position, 7-speed gearing and have racks for the easy transport of bags for work or leisure. They are not the lightest bikes, but are well made and built for use in various terrains. I could have quite easily tested this scheme out doing a simple ride out from Manchester Oxford Road to MediaCityUK for example, however, this is not my style! I wanted to test the bike in a variety of different conditions, surfaces and scenarios. For that, I headed to Leeds and rode to Standedge Tunnel on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border with my friend Simon!
Leeds to Bradford Cycle Superhighway... As Bike&Go is a Dutch-inspired bike scheme, I needed some Dutch cycling infrastructure for my first 'test' - Commuting on a Bike&Go. Rather conveniently, the new Leeds to Bradford Cycle Superhighway (CS1) opened the same week and at a cost of £29 million is an expensive and controversial infrastructure project.
The CS1 route links the city centre of Leeds to Bradford 23km away with it's primary use as an alternative to public transport or car commuting. The Cycle Superhighway is unique as it is segregated for much of the way with some shared-use sections. Whilst people have criticised the project locally for its cost and potential conflict with other road users, I found the route to be very good and anything that takes cyclists away from car traffic in busy urban areas is fine by me. We unceremoniously came off the Cycle Superhighway in Bradford after a long descent into the city centre and headed down towards Cleckheaton to pick-up the excellent Spen Valley Greenway fo the 'leisure' test.
Cycling along the Spen Valley Greenway...
This 8-mile route follows a converted railway line and is the ideal route for the Bike&Go leisure cycling user. The cycle path is entirely traffic-free with a slight decline and links two of West Yorkshire's major towns (Bradford and Dewsbury). This is one of the most popular cycle routes in the country for leisure cycling and is a personal favourite.
After leaving the Spen Valley Greenway at Dewsbury, we headed towards Mirfield for a lunch stop and used the large Bike&Go rack as a makeshift picnic bench for a Tesco sandwich stop!
The next route to follow was another converted rail-trail called the Calder Valley Greenway that links Dewsbury and Huddersfield. Many of the closed railway lines have reopened as cycling or walking paths and created green corridors in densely populated parts of West Yorkshire.
Climbing on a Bike&Go... The next and final 'test' was testing the Bike&Go's climbing capabilities. Even the flattest county in the UK has some hills and as Bike&Go is a national scheme, so a good climb was needed.
Weighing in at nearly 20kg, the bike is not going to win any hill climb time trials, however, with it's Shimano Nexus 7 speed hub gears, you can easily pick up momentum and spin uphill quite comfortably once you have got going initially.
After some early attempts to ride along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath, we left the rutted surface behind and followed the A62 on the gradual 8-mile ascent through the Pennines to Marsden and the Saddleworth Moors.
Through the Huddersfield Narrow Canal... Villages such as Marsden and Slaithwaite are situated on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal that connects West Yorkshire with the Lancashire mill towns of Uppermill, Stalybridge and Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester. In former times, these were home to large scale cotton, linen and cloth factories, however today they are the calling points for a popular, but often rowdy ale rail trail from Huddersfield to Stalybridge and requires a pint or two at each station stop. We ended our Bike&Go ride at Standedge Tunnel that is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain and connects the two important industrial cities of Manchester and Leeds.
After a short ride along the resurfaced canal towpath, I found that the Bike&Go performed well with its chunky Schwalbe Marathon tyres and sturdy build. We returned to Marsden train station to catch the train back to Manchester and I easily took the bike on the train. After a short cycle from Salford Central station, I returned the Bike&Go to the secure bike storage facility outside nearby Oxford Road by simply handing in the keys at the ticket office and locking the bike to the rack.
10p per mile for a cycling day trip... In total, I rode the Bike&Go for 38 miles and at around 10p per mile, it was a cheap and cost-effective cycling day out. Even though the bike is designed for short journeys across urban areas or short leisure rides, I think it is an innovative scheme and opens up bike hire options in places which wouldn't normally have a bike rental facility.
I will definitely use the Bike&Go scheme again and I might even bring a friend along again as two bikes can be rented with one membership card!