Brompton Dock bike hire scheme put to the test

Our impressions of 'revolutionary' new folding bike rental initiative

A new folding bike hire scheme called Brompton Dock has been rolled out at Manchester Piccadilly station in north-west England. We sent Richard Peace along to try it out for BikeRadar.

What is it?

Hire bikes are usually heftily built, and as a result pretty slow and steady to ride. They're built like this partly to cope with heavy-handed use but also because they're usually stored in the open and need to withstand the elements. It's also important that they're not too attractive to vandals and thieves. 

The Manchester bikes, however, are standard Brompton M3Ls. Measuring just 60 x 59.5 x 28cm when folded and weighing a claimed 11.5kg/25lb, they can be combined with just about any form of public or private transport, even at peak times, enabling all sorts of journeys not possible using a standard hire bike.

However, with an £850 retail pricetag, they need extra protection from the weather and criminals. Enter the Dock – a fully automated locker system that stores up to 40 bikes.

Brompton Dock, the sister company of Brompton Bicycle, launched their first hire scheme in July 2011 at Surrey's Guildford railway station, following a successful trial at Waterloo in London. Manchester was their second launch, and they say they're aiming to have 17 locations by the end of the year. Each dock is 100 percent manufactured in the UK, by CHH CoNeX.

How to hire / terms

Hiring a bike is pretty simple. You first have to register using a credit card at www.bromptondock.co.uk for one of three tariffs with self-explanatory names: 

  • Frequent Rider – £4 daily / £15 weekly / £50 monthly, with a flat yearly charge of £50
  • Occasional Rider – £8 daily / £25 weekly, with a flat yearly charge of £10
  • Trial Rider – £10 for one week

A text message containing a PIN is then sent to your mobile phone. This can be used to reserve a bike up to an hour in advance, or for next day use if it's after . Brompton Dock say their aim is to encourage medium- to long-term hire of the bikes, so the longer you want one for, the more economical it becomes. This is the opposite of conventional bike hire schemes, where costs ramp up after a cheap or free short-term hire period expires.

Our impressions

The Dock at Piccadilly was half full when we arrived on a Friday afternoon soon after the official launch. Texting the Brompton Dock number elicited a return text in less than a minute with a code to tap into the keypad that unlocked one of the lockers.

The bike had a sensible spec, including puncture resistant Schwalbe Marathon tyres, three Sturmey Archer hub gears, a front hub dynamo powering Busch & Muller lights, a pump and a telescopic seatpost for taller riders. There was also a front mounting block which can be used with a wide range of Brompton luggage.

After an afternoon whizzing around the highpoints of Manchester city centre, during which the light, nippy bike worked perfectly, we repeated the two-minute text exchange and slotted the folded bike back into its locker. For hillier areas, lower gearing might be a good idea, but that's our only caveat. The system functioned perfectly. 

Manchester seems like an ideal launch site, too – cycling is great for short hops across the often car-clogged city centre and for the price of a Brompton cover, you can take your hire bike on the extensive local tram, bus, shuttlebus and train network to reach many farflung areas of Greater Manchester. Local traffic-free trails include the Fallowfield Loop line, Trans-PennineTrail and Irwell Valley Trail.

The Future

Future locations planned to be in place for the end of 2012 are Ashford International, Bristol, Canterbury, Exeter, Leicester, London Borough of Ealing, London Borough of Hounslow, London Borough of Southwark, Maidstone, Oxford, Reading, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Tonbridge and the University of Greenwich.

The system seems well set up for rapid expansion, with each 40-locker dock easily delivered or moved around the country and, at less than 1.6m tall, not requiring planning permission (there are also 10- and 20-dock lockers for locations with less space or less demand) .

The Dock’s solar panels apparently provide all the power needed, so no potentially problematic mains hook-up is necessary either. The Brompton Dock really does the have the revolutionary potential to make cycling integrated with many other forms of transport a realistic option for millions.

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