Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bikes and Trains (and folders)

This morning, 8 cyclists were chasing the measly 3 bicycle spaces provided on my usual train to work (the 08.11 from Bristol Temple Meads to Taunton).

It’s quite interesting to view the social dynamics of the bike-space competition. Should it be first-come-first-served, with those arriving on the platform first getting first dibs on the spaces, or should there be some sort of communal needs-based assessment with the most time-pressured individuals being granted priority? I must say it warms my heart when the latter happens, but it is a rarity as people travelling at that time in the morning (peak time) tend to need to be at their destination at a given time. I haven’t yet seen any all-out platform rage, as people stake their priority claim to a bike space, but I’m sure it must happen on some of the busier commuter routes, perhaps taking the form of bicycle-mounted umbrella jousting (see here for tips http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hdwz1n2Kgc&NR=1).

A friend of mine, who regularly commutes with bicycle between Bath and Bristol, has taken to cycling in the opposite direction and boarding at one of the small stations before Bath as he has no chance of boarding at Bath Spa itself. Clearly the solution here might be to “man up” and just cycle the full 15 miles between Bath and Bristol but he’s claiming the 7-8 miles additional combined cycle at either end as justification!

Train companies don’t really like carrying bicycles as the longer loading times messes with their timetabling, but arguably providing less awkward bike spaces where you don’t have to perform bicycle origami to get them into the allotted space might speed up the boarding process. There is clearly a demand, evidenced by this morning’s 5 stranded cyclists and the fact that you can’t get a bicycle reservation on that train for anything short of services usually censored by a super-injunction.

The MBTA's Bike Train has half a carriage dedicated to carrying bikes

So what to do? Lobbying the train operators or your MP for change (find rail company details on www.nationalrail.co.uk and your MP on www.theyworkforyou.com) may generate the best results, but it’s a long-term solution. In the short-term, I was amused to find out about a range of “stealth” bicycle bags “ideal for sneaking on to trains and buses” as the website of one manufacturer claims - http://www.duffbag.com/products/duffbag-stealth-bag/duffbag-stealth-bag-/.  They aren’t cheap and you have to dismantle your bike, but if you are a regular bike-train traveller it might be worth it – I’d love to see them in action. Several travellers on my train now have two bicycles that they use at either end of their train journey. Myself, having been left on the platform one too many times, eventually crumbled and invested in a second-hand Brompton. I might look like a smarmy git, but at least I can always get on the train. 

Smarmy git (aka my mate Ryan) demonstrating integration of rail and folding bicycle!

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,
    I am from duffbag the company you mentioned in your article about bikes and trains. I could not agree with you more, bikes and trains SHOULD go together, the site of railway station car parks full of cars all day kind of depresses me. You said you would love to see our Stealth bags in action, well here is a blog post about using them on Eurostar and TGV http://www.duffbag.com/blog/2011/03/07/bike-bag-on-eurostar/

    Also here is a video of use on London Underground


    As you can see it works!

    But I have to admit your folding solution is probably best until a more thought through integration of bikes and trains can be implemented..