Getting Around

How to Use Santander Cycles in London: A First-Timer’s Guide

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London has many great qualities: iconic landmarks, incredible culture, fascinating pubs, and so much more. But there are also the logistics of traveling to the city, which are quite different than any other city you might visit. Sure, most major cities have public transit, but there are few that offer so many – and so many reliable – options for getting around without a car as London does.

Use Santander Cycles Hero

I’ve already shared guides on navigating London by Underground (Tube), by bus, and by black cab; there’s just one more important option to consider: the trusty Santander Cycle! Formerly called Boris Bikes for the Prime Minister (now once again in a seat of power) who pushed through the initiative to create a cycle-share program, Santander Bank is the current principal sponsor and the bikes are now a vivid red color rather than the blue they were for many years.

If you’re up for an adventurous way to explore London, add Santander Cycles to your list of transportation options. In this post, I’ll cover all the basics you need to understand London’s cycle-sharing program and how to use Santander Cycles properly and safely.

What are Santander Cycles?

I’ll start this quick guide by explaining what Santander Cycles are, in case you don’t know. In a few words, Santander Cycles is the London bicycle-share program, which established 800 docking stations and distributed 12,000 identical bikes around London that anyone can hire for a small sum of money. 

The government launched this public bike-sharing scheme in 2010 to provide tourists and locals with an affordable and sustainable way to ride around the city; Barclay’s Bank was the original sponsor and the bikes were a distinctive bright blue. Most Londoners called them “Boris Bikes” since Boris Johnson was Mayor of London when the scheme began operating – and some still call them that today despite their current bright red color and Santander Bank branding.

Given the costs and riding conditions, Santander Cycles is suitable for rides in inner London – or, as the Transport of London says, the London cycle hire scheme is “best for short journeys”. 

How Much Santander Cycles Cost

Use Santander Cycles

While it’s a public service, users have to pay a fee to use Santander Cycles. Below I’ve broken down how Santander Cycles charges users for a ride. 

Bike-Access Fees

The first thing users have to do is pay a bike-access fee. This bike-access fee costs £2 and gives you access to the bikes for 24 hours. Users get unlimited rides that day, and the first 30 minutes of any journey are free within those 24 hours.

Extra Ride Charges

The first 30 minutes of each journey are free, as I said before. However, users have to pay extra ride charges after those first thirty minutes. The system charges £2 for each additional 30 minutes of any journey longer than the initial 30 minutes.

Other Santander Cycles charges

Transport of London charges up to £300 to users who don’t return their bikes within the 24 hours or don’t return them at all. Also, they can charge users who bring damaged bikes back to the station.

How to Pay for Santander Cycles

You have two options to pay for your Santander Cycle; at the docking machine or via the Santander Cycles App. The machine at docking stations doesn’t accept cash, so you will need a credit or debit card to pay for the bike-access fee. 

How to Use Santander Cycles 

The Santander Cycles hiring system is pretty simple; find the nearest docking station, hire one, and start cycling. Below you’ll find a detailed step-by-step guide to help you hire and use Santander Cycles on your next trip. 

1. Hiring a Bicycle

How to Use Santander Cycles in London - Santander bikes 2

You can hire a bicycle by using the Official Santander Cycles App or by heading to a docking station terminal.

The Official Santander Cycles App

The Santander Cycles app is the most efficient way to hire a bike. All you have to do is register with your bank card and use the app to ‘Hire now’ from a nearby docking station. It immediately sends a release code to your phone that you will input into the docking point to unlock your bike. That’s it; you’re good to go!

Docking Station Terminals 

If you prefer to do the process manually, simply head to any docking station, touch the screen, and select the “Hire a Bike” option. Then, insert your credit or debit card and take out your receipt, which will contain a five-digit code you must insert to get your bike. 

2. Riding a Bicycle

Cycling in London is safe and easy, provided you stick to the rules. The government has developed a fantastic cycle network that connects different areas all over the city. 

The TfL has also devised three sightseeing routes that cover numerous attractions. Users will also find many docking stations to drop their bikes and explore the surroundings on foot. 

3. Returning a Bicycle 

Once you’ve explored all you want of London, simply find the nearest docking station to drop off your bike. Push your bike into an empty docking point and wait for the green light – this shows that the bicycle is securely docked and won’t keep charging you for your journey. 

If the nearest docking station is full, choose “No docking point free” at the terminal and follow the on-screen directions to get an extra 15 minutes included.

Tips for Cycling in London

How to Use Santander Cycles in London - bicycle lane london

Finally, I’ve compiled a list of useful tips to help you use Santander Cycles in a safe and fun way on your next London trip. 

  • Plan your route. Take time to look at a map and choose streets that have cycleways. Also, try to select the calmest streets. 
  • You may want to wear a helmet and reflective or bright clothing at night. 
  • Never pass a vehicle on the left-hand side. Remember the British drive on the left, so if you want to pass a car or truck, do it on the right.
  • Don’t run traffic lights. 
  • Stop for pedestrians to allow them to cross safely at marked crosswalks.
  • Make eye contact with drivers to ensure they’ve seen you and will stop to let you cross. 
  • Don’t use earphones. Music can distract you, and you need all your senses on the road to ride a bike safely. 
  • Avoid narrow roads. If that is not possible, try to stay central and away from the curb. 
  • Don’t cycle on the sidewalk to avoid accidents with pedestrians. 
  • Leave plenty of room when passing parked cars. You never know when someone might be inside and open their door!

Good luck taking advantage of this fun way to get around London. Have any other questions about how to use Santander Cycles during your London trip? Let me know in the comments!

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Valerie fell in love with London on her first trip to the city way back in 2011. Since then, she spent a year living in London and visits as often as she can (you can find her recent trip recaps here!). She launched LOMM in 2021 to help other travelers fall in love with her favorite city on earth.


  • Chris

    Can I rent a bike, ride it all day without recharging and then return at end of day? I’m looking to do a 20 mile roundtrip ride.

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      Chris, hi, thanks for reading. A Santander e-bike will not last you all day; each bike has a maximum charge of four hours, so you’ll need to swap out bikes as part of your day, assuming you’re doing all 20 miles within areas where you can return and rent a new bike.

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