Bike vs train

Last weekend was less of a Team Training event then a Team Fail, after I was too ill to cycle and Megan realised in an all too painful way that for some motorists we cyclists are wearing invisibility cloaks.  I would say that the weekend started off well, with a stress free and optimistic train journey north with my bike, but I’d be lying.

I feel I should clarify this post by highlighting that not all train companies hate cyclists, and that at least they’re trying…but I’d rather just moan about how horrible the whole experience was.

Online booking? What is this, the 21st century?
To reserve a space for your bike on a train (essential as they only have space for three bikes on every train and only two are bookable) it would be nice to simply click a button whilst booking online which said “Bike reservation required”.  But perhaps this is too much like hard work for the train companies to manage.  Luckily both trains I needed to catch to get from Oxford to Leeds were run by the same company, so I only had to phone up once to book a space.

Can I just put you on hold for a moment?

I don’t know why this particular train company doesn’t allow online reservation for bike space (though none of them do as far as I know) and then insist you phone up to a line that only works Monday-Friday 9-5.  So I found myself using my break time to stand outside the office and speak to a customer service adviser for 30 minutes to book my tickets and bike reservation.  I was put on hold twice, for 5 minutes each time, while she went off to first check that there was availability for my bike, and then to book it for me.  I wasn’t happy about reading out my card details over the phone, in the middle of the street but she refused to let me reserve a bike space without booking my ticket as well.

At the station

Never having travelled alone on the trains with just a bike for company, I noticed a few things I would not have noticed before.  Mainly, there is no where to lock up your bike inside or near the station.  As I had some time to wait for the train it might have been nice to go to the toilet, or queue up for the ticket machine without having to man handle my heavily laden bike into the small queue and not knock anyone over.  Also, if there was more than two of us with bikes there would be no way we could all get into the lifts together to get over to the correct platform.  As it was, I waited 10 minutes whilst others who also needed the lifts (wheelchair users, people with pushchairs and heavy luggage) used them first.  It’s a good job I wasn’t in a hurry to catch my train at this station!

Announcements is also somewhere that the station could help cyclists.  They announce how many carriages, which letter carriage is at the front and which end of the train is first class…but no announcement of which carriage the bike storage was in.  I asked a mildly helpful employee who told me it would be “somewhere in the middle” of the train.  The train arrived and I ran down the platform with my bike as the cycle storage was at the far end of the train.

Why sit in your reserve seat, when you can stand, squished up to someone’s armpit

I think most of us are familiar with squashing onto trains that are standing room only, but this is quite hard when you have a bike.  Generally people with large suitcases stand in the doorways and you have to squeeze past to stand in the aisles…not so easy when you’re getting on with a bike, and the bike storage area is in the doorway….and they’re standing in the bike storage area with their suitcases.  Also not easy when you can’t just wheel your bike into a space, but you have to stand it up and one-wheel it into a small space and then lift it up so that it can hang from the ceiling hook:


The more spacious of the bike storage on this train


Because a doorway is the best area to allow cyclists easy access onto and off the train.

I came away from this experience a bit battered and bruised, but eventually the bike was on the train and I was ready to go and find my seat….easier said then done.  The train was so packed that I found myself squished down a central aisle between lots of other people unable to find a seat.  I waited until the train was pulling in to the next station and battled my way back to the door.  On arrival I ran down the platform and jumped onto the carriage with my reserved seat.

So far away

In an ideal world it would be nice if every carriage had bike storage, or even if there was bike storage and the front and back of the train.  Unfortunately Crosscountry Trains don’t live in an ideal world, so as we approached Birmingham New Street station, where I needed to change trains, I had to battle my way back through the standing people from my seat at the front of the train, to my bike at the back.

Which way?

Unfortunately there was a delay in our arrival due to some pesky kids playing on the train track in front of us, not the fault of the train company at all.  As we approached I quickly checked on my phone to see what platform my next train was leaving from, thank heavens for modern technology!  On arrival in Birmingham I really began to discover what it must be like for anyone travelling with lots of heavy luggage or pushchairs, or for the millions of wheelchair users who must miss trains on such a regular basis that there’s little point in travelling by public transport. Getting off the train there were no signs that I could see telling me which way to go for the lifts.  I followed a sign which said “other platforms” but this led to.  I ran on for a bit more before I found the lifts and just managed to squeeze in my standing my bike up on one wheel and slightly terrifying a toddler in a buggy (sorry!).  Looking for the next platform I quickly realised that I could see no signs for a lift to get down there, and realising I had about one minute before the train was departing I flung my heavy pannier bag over one shoulder and grabbed my bike with the other arm and ran down the escalators   Getting on to the very long platform I was hurried by a staff member as the train was at the far end and I ran to where the bike storage was.  Unfortunately the doorway was once again packed with people who stood and looked at me like I was crazy.  I had to call for a member of staff who was incredibly annoyed that I was delaying the train, and this nice man yelled at the passengers to move out of the way so I could get on with my bike.

“We encourage the integrated use of cycles and trains – two convenient and environmentally friendly forms of transport”

I’ve taken a bike on a train before, and it’s fine when you are only going on one train, with no connections, and there is enough seats on the train that passengers don’t have to stand in doorways and block the cycle storage.  Sometimes getting into the station and on to the platform can take a while, with the amount of lifts you have to get to get from one side to the other, but it’s really not too much of an inconvenience.  However, I would dispute the statements from most train companies that they encourage people to bring their bikes onto trains.  In fact, I find this statement laughable.  It seems train companies want to encourage people to use bikes, except when the trains are busy, or when there are more then three bikes (if Team Pedal were travelling by train we couldn’t reserve spaces, as most train companies only have two reservable spaces).

Taking my bike on a train is an option, I don’t have to do it and in future I probably wont unless I can’t avoid it.  However, if instead of a bike I had to do this journey in a wheelchair, there would be no way I would have made that connection.  I don’t know of any wheelchair users who would be able to get up, pick up the chair and run down an escalator with it!


A vision for the future?


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