I registered for an annual pass and my obscenely branded key dutifully arrived on this very day.
With this good fortune I went to investigate. I rode my brand new birthday bike courtesy of my insurance, having had my previous one stolen. See photo later.
The first docking station I found didn't release the bike and the attendant was a bit surprised when I said I could just ride to the next one. I chose one outside the new monorail style Shoreditch High St station because it's relatively spacious and clean ... for London.
After inserting my key and finally getting the green light this time, the first bike I tried didn't disengage. It requires a bit of force. Once on the road they are pretty relaxed to ride, I suppose the hire scheme didn't want to exclude certain demographics by only catering for seasoned pedallers and this is evident in the bike's build.
Their sturdiness and comfort design means you can't go very fast. But compared to typical consumer bikes you don't have to put your foot down as often to balance because it has such thick tyres and you feel the overall extra weight might give you a chance against even a jugganaut. Ok, exaggeration. Because of their frumpy looks I did feel a bit self-conscious and had a few people try to get my attention but I'm sure we'll all get use to them.
Finally the highest gear is like the lowest on most other bikes so expect to be leg pumping like a toddler on the smallest cog. They're not for long journeys anyway because you can only do London zone 1, see limited geographical spread of docking stations. All in all, a pleasant ride with neat extras like a bell, dynamo lights and a not-quite-a-basket carry area; all for free if under 30 minutes.
Bike I'm more proud of riding
Here's the shop I got the sexy bastard from.