Salvation is at hand for bike tourists

Monday 17th May 2010 By James Styring in Oxford Mail

Oxford is absurdly well-served by bike shops. Old and new, made-to-break jalopies, and top-end to-die-fors – you can get any bike under the sun.

Yet Cyclox has always been stumped by requests from Americans and Germans who want to hire bikes for work or leisure.

I give them the numbers of a few local shops that seem to hire bikes more by accident than design. You’ll see them, the cheaper ranges, chained in lines outside ready to be sold or (less commonly) hired to passersby. But to hire them online? You must be joking.

The Americans and Germans then want to discuss their plans for a bike tour of the Cotswolds on a tandem. Or a week’s jaunt along the Thames towpath to Windsor and back. And my heart sinks as I picture these poor souls labouring up steep Cotswold inclines with half a ton of Chinese steel between their legs.

Few of Oxford’s bike shops even have a web presence never mind offer bikes for hire online. And if you do hire a bike it costs so much in the medium term that you might as well have bought it in the first place.

The lack of bike hire is an absurd gap in a wide-open market. Or was, until Bainton Bikes appeared. Kevin Moreland and Honour Tomkinson have cycled all their lives in Oxford. Like me, they have a bike for every occasion and would end up lending them out to friends and family all the time. So much in fact that they realised Oxford was crying out for a proper bike hire service.

Today, you can hire any of 70 Bainton Bikes at great rates that plummet over time, making them as reasonable a proposition for 10 hen-party girls who want bikes for one day next weekend in the Chilterns, to visiting academics who want a hassle-free six-month hire. The service is web-savvy; they drop off and pick up, provide lights, locks and maps. They even repair and service your bike as required – and that includes puncture repair.

Hired a bike and got a flat in Wheatley? No problem. Kevin will be there as fast as his legs will carry him. And that’s quite fast – he rides a lovely Kona. Or if you get lucky it’ll be Honour.

The business is already doing so well that she has jacked in her day job as a teacher and is now Bainton Bike’s first full-time employee. And their top mechanic. Kevin admitted ruefully that Honour (who he trained) is now better at indexing gears than his is.

Bainton’s bikes are all recycled from the municipal pound. They look great in their black livery with one of Honour’s bespoke red saddle covers, and there are many flavours: city bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes, BMXs, even a tandem.

Oxford is full of tours on foot and by bus. But my American and German chums weren’t interested.

Could I tell them where to find a bike tour? By the time I’d explained how to get from Folly Bridge to the Isis pub they had, quite understandably, put the phone down. No longer. Bainton Bikes have offered bespoke bike tours for a while now and are about to launch a full range of regular tours.

The hire and tour business is booming so much there is little time for bike repairs, which is a pity.

They seem, however, to be transforming cycling in Oxfordshire.

Long live Bainton and all who ride her bikes.