I was a little bit wonky when I started out, probably because I haven't cycled in a while. I checked the condition of the bike first, and it seemed to be basically ok, e.g. tyres pumped up, although I had to tighten the saddle to stop it rotating. In hindsight, I think I should have raised the saddle too (if possible) because the bike seemed a bit small for me; it was difficult to keep my toes on the pedals (rather than the balls of my feet), so I did catch my toes on the road a few times.
When I looked at these bikes in 2006, I was concerned that they didn't have lights fitted, which would reduce their usefulness; at this time of year, sunset is about 5pm, so I leave work when it's dark outside. Looking at the bike today, it did have lights on it, although I couldn't see any obvious way to turn them on; they may be powered by a dynamo, but I couldn't tell whether they were working in daylight.
I'm not sure which gear I was in, but I couldn't change it down, so I'm guessing that I was in first (the easiest one). However, it was still quite tiring, and I was actually feeling nauseous by the time I'd got to the top of a relatively small hill. By the time I reached the hospital, my shirt was soaked in sweat, particularly the back (where I had a rucksack on). That's really not a good sign, since this was only a 15 minute trip, so I definitely need to do this more often. (And yes, I realise that logic sounds a bit odd!)
When I came to return the bike, the docking station at the hospital was completely empty, so I had no trouble plugging it in. Mind you, one tip: when you press the red padlock button to select a port for the cable, don't test to see whether you can open it with your finger, otherwise it will automatically re-lock when you let go. That doesn't cause any major problems, it just means that you have to start the process again. Instead, use the cable from the bike to slide the thing open, and shove it in as far as it will go. When you see a code appear on the screen, you know that it's worked.
You then have to phone in and submit this code, which seems a bit strange to me; surely their system could handle this part automatically? In my case, this went a bit wrong because it didn't recognise the code on my first attempt (probably a typo), and by the time I tried again the station had timed out and turned itself off. I phoned in again and spoke to an operator to explain the situation, and he made a note of my name and the location so hopefully it will be ok. Still, I think the best approach in the future is to write the code down on a piece of paper, then you can phone it in at your leisure. (This is also handy if your mobile phone battery is running low.)
Edit: I suppose that the bikes would need to identify themselves to the docking station in order for the system to know which one has been plugged in, which would be more complex than the current system.
If I'd planned ahead, I would have put my work shirt in my bag so that I could change when I got here. Fortunately, I keep a ward uniform in my office (in case I do overtime), so I've changed into that shirt; it makes me look a bit like a dentist, but it solves the immediate problem, so my colleagues probably prefer this.
Anyway, since I found this short journey a struggle, I'm certainly not ready to try cycling the entire journey (19 miles), so a folding bike looks like the best choice.