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New Belfast Bikes made me think I was Audrey Hepburn

By Sara Neil

Published 23/04/2015

Two wheels good, four wheels bad - that's the ethos behind Belfast Bikes.

Three hundred cycles are being placed across the city in an attempt to provide cheap and convenient transport for tourists and locals - and cut down on traffic.

From Monday, the bikes will be available for those making short journeys around Belfast.

Perhaps you've got the train into town but still have a walk to the office? Now there's a bike for that.

My childhood is bookmarked by cycling with friends in the streets around my parents' house, and no-hands freewheeling down steep hills. I even had a cycling proficiency badge from the Girl Guides.

As an adult, I had visions of whizzing through the bustling Belfast streets in my sunglasses, looking chic and European, but it had been more than a decade since I last got around on two wheels.

My journey was pre-empted by 15 minutes of terror as I got to grips with steering, navigated a gentle slope and tried to ignore the schoolchildren laughing at my attempts to avoid wheeling into stationary objects.

These bikes are functional, grey, and carry a big sign over the back wheel promoting their sponsor.

They are no Ferrari, with a heavy frame, equally heavy steering, and brakes that roll to a stop. Cyclists must supply their own helmets.

Once I got to grips with pedalling, the fear ebbed and I realised this was much more entertaining than boring old walking through Belfast. With a breeze in my ponytail and the sun out, the city seemed exciting again, and I went back to thinking I was Audrey Hepburn.

The first 30 minutes of any journey on the new bikes are free once you have taken out a £20 annual membership.

That is enough time to cycle from city hall to the Cathedral Quarter, dock the bike and enjoy a cup of coffee, then cycle back on a different bike.

With the current docking stations all quite close to the city centre, anyone who wants to cycle to and from work may be disappointed by this scheme. But watch this space, as the plan is to increase the number of bike docks and locate them further out.

The challenge with Belfast Bikes is working out where is safe, as weaving through rush-hour traffic is daunting for the most experienced cyclist.

As I dreamed up scenarios to hire a bike, I also have to find safe routes and this scheme has made me look at Belfast in a different way. Not 'where do I leave the car', but 'where does the cycle lane take me?'

Factfile

The Belfast Bikes scheme launches at 6am on Monday, and users must register beforehand, either online, over the phone or at one of the 30 terminals in the city. A year's membership costs £20, which is less than a penny a day. If you are a visitor, three days will cost £5. After the initial free 30 minutes, a full hour is 50p, and the charge for each half hour is £2.

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