London’s electric bike rental schemes make cycling one of the easiest ways to get around town now - avoiding the covid risk of public transport and taking advantage of the many new cycle lanes and routes.
They all work in broadly similar ways - you use an app to find a bike, which will tell you how much range the battery has left (they have removable batteries and the fleet owners come along and swap out the batteries when flat). You then pay for how long you use it. There are usually rules on using designed spots where you can then leave the bike (which is usually easy and shown in the app).
And the different apps often have areas where you can only manually cycle or cannot park - London’s parks, for instance. The apps show this. In this screenshot you can see the location of available bikes. The "P" is other places where you can leave a bike. The red zone can't be cycled through and the yellow zone has a speed limit. These zones are similar across all services.
They are all quite vague about what happens if you manage to park elsewhere but we don’t recommend risking it (fines of "up to" several hundred pounds are suggested). It's worth taking a picture of your parked bike if the app asks you as evidence you parked it properly.
Here are the options:
Lime’s 700+ ebike fleet is the largest in London. You can access it either via the Lime or the Uber app. The cost is £1 to start and then 27p a minute.
The behaviour of the two apps is different though - the actual Lime app is much more insistent that you park in one of the many designated spots (it won’t let you end the journey elsewhere). The Uber integration lets you leave the bike anywhere. However, the Uber map is often pretty flaky with the bike locations coming and going. Both apps let you reserve a ride up to 10 minutes in advance.
Lime bikes are great for taller riders - your six-foot-plus writer doesn’t even use the highest saddle setting. Its cadence sensor kicks in very fast so you can pull away from traffic lights easily .
Lime has two issues. One is targeting by vandals, who snap off pedals making the bikes unrideable. The other is kids overriding the lock, riding them for free (making a distinctive clicking noise) and then dumping them in annoying places. This is leading to more councils insisting that bikes only be parked in agreed places. Some London boroughs like Hackney don't have enough spaces for this not to be annoying.
The newest entrant, it has a good pricing structure but you can’t reserve bikes (I got to the one near my house the other day one second behind someone else) and the saddles don’t go as high as Lime’s for instance. This can make cycling a bit uncomfortable if you’re very tall. The cadence sensor also takes longer to kick in than Lime's making it a bit harder to pull away from traffic lights - or less likely to surge out of control, depending on your viewpoint.
Human Forest offers 10 minutes free riding a day and is then 23p a minute after that. It costs £1.50 if you park outside a designated green bay - there are none in the west end. This does make parking outside a bay much more appealing - at least you know you'll pay £1.50 not get some vague fine like the other apps here.
It has quite a different map to other apps in terms of where it operates. However, the free 10 minutes make this a great service for regular short rides.
Dott and Tier
The distinctive blue Dott bikes and pale green Tier bikes both cost £1 to unlock and 23p a minute. You can’t reserve them in advance. They have to be parked in the reserved bays. Dott's days are numbered - it is pulling out of the London bike rental market. Tier launched its E-bike 3 in spring of this year - as well as longer range its battery is compatible with Tier's scooters, making it easier for the operations team to keep bikes charged up.
The oldest bike rental scheme in London has a fleet of 12,000 bikes in London, with 500 electric bikes now. You find them at the fixed docking stations and need to register in advance.
The ebike costs are £3.30 for single rides up to 30 minutes (double the price of standard bikes) and then £3.30 for each additional period up to 30 minutes. £20/month (£120 a year) membership schemes reduce this cost to £1 for rides up to 60 minutes and then £3.30 for each extra period of up to 60 minutes. You have to leave the bike at a docking station - the fine is up to £300 if you don’t.
Prices all checked in app on 9 October 2023.