After hearing Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s transport advisor, declare on BBC Radio last week, there had been “no major accidents” so far, “just a few bumps and bruises” on London’s ‘Boris Bikes’, I was impressed.
Not bad going, when you think that 20,000 people are now making journeys on this new, two-wheeled transport every day on average. That’s more than a million trips across our capital since it launched.
However on further investigation, just the previous week the Metro reported two people suffering head injuries and needing skull scans after taking a tumble on the Boris Bikes during two separate incidents. I also found that a Transport for London spokesperson had already admitted five people had been injured.
We all know cycling through London is a risky business. I’ve had several car doors open on me, near-misses with bendy buses and have even been flung over the handle bars in a bid to avoid severe carnage (often failing, I might add) in my six years of cycling through the city’s streets. It is, however, by far the quickest and easiest way to get around town.
There are some slight drawbacks at this time of year as the weather takes a turn for the worse, but not for keen cyclist Boris himself, who called upon Londoners to “sign up and become pioneer members” of the scheme, despite launching on the eve of winter.
Predictably, his cavalier attitude and rallying cycle cries took a bit of a bashing in the local London press in the wake of the accidents. Helmets topped the condemnation list, as the item missing from the £140 million service. So, I took matters into my own hands to test out their bike lights, convinced that in a game of Family Fortunes, “our survey” would definitely have them listed in the top three things Londoners would worry about.
A statement I requested from TFL told me: “the bicycles include dynamo-powered lights which are permanently illuminated when the bicycle is being ridden and remain on for a minimum of two minutes after the bicycle has stopped, for example at red traffic signals.”
The number of lights also sounded impressive on the bike spec I was sent: “two back lights, two back reflectors, five small lights at the front, one large front reflector, and wheel reflectors”.
Again, all sounded very robust and visible, but I have always been a quality over quantity girl. So it was a cold wet, windy Wednesday when I ventured out onto the roads to test the former against a pair of new Cateye lights.
I picked the dark and gloomy patch of road by Buckingham Palace to try out the two sets of lights and as I cycled the loaned Barclays bike towards the cameraman (Tom) I found myself unable to see a great deal. This was partly due to the hammering rain, but mostly to do with a genuine lack of any kind of enhanced visibility provided by the five strong “dynamo” batch of Boris lights.
In contrast, as I hopped on my own bike with the front HL-EL220 light, I got as part of a new set of Cateyes, I actually expected to look up and see aliens landing. The light was so much stronger and having looked back at the footage (as you can see) with the side-by-side comparison, there really is no contest.
Before I even set out towards the camera with the Cateye lights, I am 100% visible, but with the dynamo set, it is still possible to see me, only much less quickly.
In the back lights footage where only two dynamos are on the Boris Bikes – rather than the five on the front – the ability to see me becomes difficult, pretty much as soon as I cycle away from the camera. In theory the wet road should boost the reflection of the lights, making them more visible, but they are still less than a pin-prick of rapidly fading light which seems to die a very sudden death.
To me, this comes as a shock. When you can’t see traffic coming toward you, you rely on the fact that whatever is approaching from the rear spots you in time, but I felt vulnerable on the way back to the docking station, having witnessed the dismal display on the camera.
I strongly doubt any commuters test out how bright lights are behind them, before jumping on to get home from work at night. Rushing around town is part of London life, and I am all for the new Boris Biking regime.
However, I also know how erratic drivers are on London roads, and I’d think twice before choosing any badly lit routes – or I’d carry my own extra clip-on back light.