Park that thought

Clerkenwell start-up Joe’s BikeSpace is providing safe spaces for new cyclists

One of the more benign effects of Covid-19 has been a rise in the numbers of cyclists. Many who have never taken to a bike before have tried it out and as Jonathan Stirling, founder of Joe’s BikeSpace says, “Cycling is up 68 per cent in the last year with 14 and a half million bikes bought in Britain since the start of the pandemic and 63 miles of new cycle lanes in London.” 

But the flip side of that rise is a spike in bike theft. There’s a bike reported stolen every three minutes – hence the need for secure bike parking. At Finsbury Business Centre at Northampton Road, the first Joe’s BikeSpace was established this summer. It’s a parking space for bicycles, based around an app that allows access to a storage hub and following Clerkenwell, Stirling is rolling it out across London. 

It works by signing on with a digital ID verification – normally a passport or driving licence – then is booked online at £2.75 a day, which Stirling says is “designed to be affordable and less than the cheapest bus fare. We didn’t want a subscription because people don’t cycle every day – even dedicated cyclists.” Seasoned cyclists might be happy locking their bike to a lampposts. “Many people who cycle only learned how to ride a bike last year,” says Stirling. 

“So people who have commuted by bike for 20 years have made it work for them. It’s more for the new cyclists.” 

“This is the first one we’ve done and we’re expanding with other sites across London including Baker Street, the City of London and Islington,” says Stirling. “At the moment there’s so much empty space and so many unlet shops that a BikeSpace can be operational in eight weeks.” 

While LTN’s have been divisive, there’s no doubt in Stirling’s mind that commuting by bike is the future – particularly now that the Congestion Charge and ULEZ charge have been extended. “There’s been a huge uptick in cycling, and all the research shows that if people have the right facilities, three-quarters of the population would cycle rather than take public transport. Let’s face it, after Covid-19, none of us want to go on a crowded tube if we can avoid it.” 

He adds that many have switched to cycling because they haven’t been on a crowded tube for two years and they’re conscious that is where disease spreads. Part of the ethos of Joe’s BikeSpace is to help different social groups to become cyclists. “Some people can afford very expensive solutions, or have offices big enough to bring their bicycles into their offices,” says Stirling. 

“But we want to make it affordable for person who works in a café or for workers at Bart’s hospital which is full of bikes and suffers lots of theft. The criteria has to be that it is affordable and accessible.” 

There’s no constraint on the kind of bike you can store, unlike some rail companies that only allow folding bikes, and if you wish, you can leave them overnight (with an extra charge) after a night on the tiles. 

The two things that stop new riders are, as Stirling puts it, “Scary traffic, which is helped by cycle lanes, and theft. If you’re on an electric bike that often costs £1500 or more and gets stolen as quick as a flash.” 

Plus, there isn’t enough provision already – just 170,000 free bike racks across London catering for 400,000 bicycle commuters even before the pandemic, and offices with storage for only six bikes. “Going forward we’re looking at the best part of 1,800,000 people cycling into London,” says Stirling, who used to work in Fitzrovia where if he “got in at 8.30am I’d get one of the eight bike racks. 

By 9am I’d be wandering around trying to find a tree or lamppost, as there just weren’t enough spots for the numbers of people who want to cycle – and then it becomes a sitting duck for thieves.” Stirling himself cycles from Hammersmith to Clerkenwell every day. “Cycling is my way to work – and part of my job description.”

Further information at [email protected] or visit their website www.joesbikespace.com

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