Can this machine make you a better person?

Some people come to look like their pets. But can your character be altered by the machines you use?

I’m talking about the “Boris bikes” in London – though perhaps they should be called the Red Ken bikes as the bicycle sharing scheme was developed while mayor Boris Johnson’s predecessor Ken Livingstone was in office. Regardless of who deserves the credit, Boris has been a great ambassador for the new scheme. He’s well known for getting his leg over. This time the lucky bike is literally a bike.

The Boris bikes have been going just over two months. The scheme began with 5,000 bikes available at 3,000 docking stations. Journeys under 30 minutes are free. You can see details of how it works at the official site or watch this video.

Hardly any of the bicycles have been stolen so far – unlike with the similar Vélib’ scheme in Paris where hundreds have gone astray (perhaps because the French bikes come with locks and decent baskets). The London version is modeled on Montreal’s urban Bixi-bike scheme.

I haven’t had the pleasure yet myself, but London-based friends have quickly taken to the cycles and give their seal of approval. Rumours swirl around about accidents, and there is criticism that the scheme makes it easy to cycle without wearing a helmet. But so far the scheme is a success.

There’s London mayor Boris Johnson on the left. Doesn’t he look happy? It could be because he’s cycling between assignations. But I think it’s the bike that’s putting a smile on his face.

According to columnist Sarah Sands writing in the London Evening Standard newspaper, the Boris bikes could be transforming not just urban travel and carbon emissions, but also altering the character of those in the saddle.

Friendly faces on two wheels

The Boris bikes have had an unexpected social effect on London. The cyclists have taken the place of friendly policemen. For some reason Londoners and tourists seem to trust anyone on a Boris bike.

When I’m on foot I’m a sour-faced matron but as soon as I’m bike-bound, people ask me to take photographs of them, help them with directions, or hold their babies. I’ve heard of people who come to resemble their pets but it is new for humans to take on the character of a bicycle.

Sour faced Sarah? No longer.

She could be on to something.

The bikes look chunkily cute, unlike the lean sharks cycle couriers use to cut through shoals of hesitating pedestrians. They could almost be made out of LEGO blocks. They’re friendly.

The influence of machines on the human psyche is usually thought of as malign – dark satanic mills turning individuals into cogs on the production line. Could this be a world first where a machine makes us better people?

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Can this machine make you a better person?

  1. We could, of course, be going a bit Flann O’Brien, with Londoners gradually fusing to their bikes, so you can’t see where one ends and the other begins…

  2. Apparently they’re a roaring success in Dublin too – so I’ve heard. Although there can be docking station issues as (again, as far as I’ve heard) there is not the same ration difference to guarantee an available docking station when you get home and some people have had to cycle almost all the way and then walk home for want of finding one!

    I think Boris is smiling because he knows there’s a car and driver waiting to take him to a pub luncheon.

  3. Enjoyed this post, put a wolfish smile on my lupine face…we won’t go into exactly how much I may or may not resemble a wolf….lol 😉 HoooOOOOOWWWWWWWWLLLLLLL!! So…Boris bikes cause all manner of happy occurrences then! Hmm…doesn’t happen that way when I take the mountain bike out for it’s yearly run…lol obviously not as friendly as ye olde Boris bikes…all in all a pretty cool idea 😉

  4. They get stolen in Paris? Shame because they’re really well utilised there and awesomely cheap. It’s a great idea. They have them in Melbourne, then Melbournians are much friendlier in the first place. Sydneysiders are slightly stand offish at the best of times, perhaps we’d better get cracking and introduce the bikes.

  5. They are trying to do the same thing here on Miami Beach with the 30 minute bikes and I hope it works.

    I bet they have budgeted for a certain number of these bikes to be stolen. I guess I’ll just be happy with my Schwinn Classic 3. Mine is red but it looks like this:

    http://www.schwinnbike.com/usa/eng/Products/Cruisers/Classic-Cruisers/Details/1016-S8CRU3-Cruiser-3

    I also have a 100 dollar lock called the Fahgettaboudit. http://www.motorcycle-superstore.com/2/9/199/2772/ITEM/Kryptonite-New-York-Fahgettaboudit-Chain-with-Disc-Lock.aspx

    Thanks for the post and cheers!

    ~Mike

  6. “And did those feet in ancient time, bike upon England’s pastures green…”

    Great post. Loved it. Wish we could do it here but with our luck, someone would put a pipe bomb in the body of the bike and, well, you get the picture. Can’t have a free and happy thought these days. Nope, we’re back to the “dark satanic mills….” And the only chariot around here is hybrid – no fire.

    All this silliness compliments of SamHenry

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