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The bike is your mollusc - John C. Kirk

Feb. 15th, 2008

11:57 am - The bike is your mollusc

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Following up on Tuesday's post, Oybike have fixed their docking station at Willesden Junction, so I used one of their bikes to cycle from the station to the hospital. This was ... informative.

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.

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From:totherme
Date:February 15th, 2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
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Could you get a full sized bike, and keep it at the station?
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From:johnckirk
Date:February 15th, 2008 03:38 pm (UTC)
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Which station are you thinking of? East Croydon and Willesden Junction both have cycle racks outside, but I don't know how secure they are. (We also have a cycle rack inside our office building, with plenty of space for extra bikes.) More importantly, if I use the full sized ("fixed"?) bike to go between Willesden Junction and the office then I wouldn't be able to use it between home and East Croydon (and vice-versa), whereas I could use a folding bike at both ends.

It might make sense to use my own bike at the Croydon end, and an Oybike at the Acton end, but then I'd have to find a secure location for my bike at home overnight. I've requested some cycling guides from TFL, which are supposed to list all the cycle parking facilities at both ends of my journey, so I'll see whether they have any useful tips. I did notice yesterday that South Croydon has a brand new cycle rack outside it, but I can't help thinking that if commuters leave bikes there then they're basically saying "I won't be back for 9 hours, take as much time hacking through the lock as you like".
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From:totherme
Date:February 15th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
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It's worth asking for the opinion of a proper cyclist (my housemate?), but I suspect that two cheap full sized bikes may be both cheaper and more comfortable than one half decent brompton. Especially since you're quite tall. Get cheap bikes and expensive locks, and I suspect you won't have so much trouble with theft as you're worried about. My bike lived outdoors in Oxford and Croydon for years with only the weather causing any damage.

I guess that vandalism is probably likely to be a bigger problem than theft... Maybe be a little careful where you leave things overnight.
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From:totherme
Date:February 15th, 2008 03:49 pm (UTC)
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Oh - also, work out how much money you can save on public transport with your cycling options. I spent a fair bit of money getting my bike up and running again last term, but have now made it back in travel cards. Those numbers may affect the solution you eventually decide to go for.

Of course, once you're financially committed, you have to actually go through with the cycling. You can't "just take the tube today, because it's raining" ;)

FWIW, I've found that since I've been cycling, I don't want to use public transport any more. It's crowded and bleh.
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From:johnckirk
Date:February 15th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
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That's a good point. In the short term, if I just replace the bus journeys with cycling then I'll still need the travelcard for the train journeys, and it won't save me any money (although it may work out cheaper than gym membership). In the longer term, I could try to extend the amount of cycling I do, e.g. doing a 10 mile cycle to Clapham Junction and catching the train from there instead of East Croydon (so I'd need fewer zones on my travelcard).

Out of interest, how long would it take you to cycle 19 miles (on average London terrain)?
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From:totherme
Date:February 15th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Ask at the station how much a rail season ticket (as opposed to a TFL travel card) will cost. I used to save money by getting a monthly ticket from East Croydon to KW rather than a 5 and 6 travel card. Once I started using the trams regularly, I needed the travel card though.

My journey to college is a little over 6 miles, as I mentioned here. If the roads are clear, and I'm going fast, I can do that in 20 mins. The thing is though, the roads usually aren't clear, and I don't want to participate in a cycle race every day of the week. It takes more like 40 a lot of the time. The other day, I got from my desk to the sofa in 45 minutes of fairly relaxed cycling - so that includes bike unlocking and so on.

This is still faster than the tube, which takes 50 if it's working, and arbitrary lengths of time if it's not.

I wouldn't recommend you go from 0 cycling to 19 miles every day in one step. You might find that you want to do that in time, but certainly don't budget for it.
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