The usual daily charge to hire a bike from TfL’s cycle hire scheme normally costs £2 per day, but it can be as low as 25p if you don’t mind paying upfront.

This is the annual pass, which costs £120 upfront, but even if a person only uses a hire bike, for example, three days a week, it takes just three months for the annual pass to start saving you money.

Without the annual pass, that same person cycling three days per week would pay over £300 – so that example cyclist would save about £180 on the cost of hiring a bike.

There’s another benefit, in that the annual pass comes with a small red key that lets you unlock a bike without needing to request an unlock code from the display terminal next to the bikes – saving about 2 minutes each time you grab a bike.

I’ve been using the key for years, mainly for the money saving but partially for the convenience, and was only prompted to write this article after chatting to a fellow hire bike user who saw me using the key the other day and asked about it, not knowing it would save so much money as well.

There’s also the opportunistic use that not worrying about paying £2 to grab a bike for a short hop that you were expecting to walk or use public transport. As I don’t really think about the daily hire cost, I am far more likely to just grab a bike as and when I see one without pondering if I really want to pay £2 just to cycle a few streets.

Now I just pop the red key in and grab the bike. And that then saves me money on a bus ticket as well.

Apart from the annual charge, so long as each cycling trip is under 30 minutes, then you won’t pay anything extra to use the cycle hire bikes.

Register for the annual key here.

Other discounts

NHS staff get free daily rentals of cycle hire bikes, and students aged 18+ can get 25% off the annual charge.

If you’re using a Santander Cycle to get to work, the City Bike Hire scheme can save you up to £37.80 through tax-free yearly membership with your employer.


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  1. MilesT says:

    The annual pass and key is indeed convenient. Only issue I had is that my key broke after 18 months (literally fell apart, temporarily repaired with tape), and the replacement process needs a support ticket with the help desk (and a wait of about 3 weeks to get the problem acknowledged and a new key delivered).

    I wonder if TfL will be offering a 25% discount code for annual pass again this year, as they have for last 2 years (as a time limited sale, on various dates)

    Related to this: apparently, if you already have the annual pass, and a sale event happens for annual passes, you can buy an additional annual pass for your key, which should automatically activate when your current pass expires (although the “my account” section of the website doesn’t show there is additional annual pass “queued up” I have had this behaviour confirmed by support desk).

    Just remember to turn off “autopay” for the key to make sure the queued up pass will activate (or not activate and then get help desk to sort it out)

    • LJA says:

      Hi Miles. Regarding your tip about buying a new membership whilst still a member, I tried this last year (think it was Black Friday) and it didn’t work. When I called the helpline, the eventual answer was that it wasn’t possible to do. If you’ve managed to do it, I’d be interested to know how. Thanks!

  2. MilesT says:

    Hi LJA

    It just worked for me. Didn’t do anything special, it just allowed me to purchase with the discount code, I can see the charge in my statement but it doesn’t show it as active (yet).

    Maybe they spotted the loophole and later closed it. I may still have to chase for a activation or refund when the current pass expires, though (I have screenshots for all the evidence just in case)

    My situation:

    Single key on account (set up all new when I bought first discounted pass)
    Had a discounted pass active with auto pay enabled, but this expired and was auto renewed a few weeks before the next discount code was made available. So I had a non-discounted annual pass active.
    Logged in to my account, made the annual pass purchase with the discount code. Took the money and shows on my statement as a discounted pass purchase. clearly this one is not active yet as the previous year non-discounted pass has not ended yet

    Confirmed with helpdesk at the time what would happen in this case, got a phone call back to say “it’s queued up and should activate when due”.

    (I have recently had to have my key replaced, as the original one broke–not lost/stolen, broke so I could not use it, that was a faff as there isn’t an only way to do this and have the key associated to an already running season pass).

  3. Stephen Hartley says:

    A really good article, and really helpful comments from other readers about renewal options.

    Personally, I was quite disappointed at the missed opportunity the recent RideLondon marketing campaign turned out to be for Santander Cycles, and it seems that none of TfL, the Mayor of London nor his Walking & Cycling Commissioner are keen to engage to try to maximise the impact of efforts like this.

    Personally, I think that everyone in London should have access to bikes by default, much like we have access to libraries today, in order to avoid the climate and health crisis which is threatening our City.

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