July 10th, 2012

Olympic cycling

I cycle to work as part of my daily commute. However, being lazy I normally cycle to a station, take my bike on the train, and cycle again at the other end; if I cycled the whole way then it would be a 55km round trip. There are restrictions on carrying "normal" bikes at peak times, which is fair enough: basically you can't take them on trains which arrive in London (certain stations) between 07:00 and 10:00, or which leave London between 16:00 and 19:00. If you have a folded bike, you can carry it on any train, and the Brompton is ideally designed for this because it's so compact. For instance, if I'm standing in the door area of a train with my back to the handrail and glass partition, I can stash my bike in the dead space behind my legs which would otherwise be unusable.

On my journey home tonight, one of the train staff stopped to talk to me: she was warning all cyclists that we wouldn't be able to bring our bikes on trains during the Olympic period. I'd heard about that, but I thought that folding bikes were still exempt, i.e. they'd just be applying rush hour rules all day. I asked her about this twice, and she insisted that the ban applies to all bikes. This was a Southern service, so I checked their website when I got in: During the London 2012 Games, we are expecting our trains to be even busier than usual. We welcome fully folded (Brompton style) bikes on our trains at any time [...] Non fully folded bikes will not be allowed on any Southern or Gatwick Express train on the following routes. South West Trains have a similar policy: From Friday 27 July to Sunday 12 August and Wednesday 29 August to Sunday 9 September, non-folding cycles WILL NOT BE ALLOWED on any South West Trains services. We welcome fully folded (Brompton style) bikes on our trains at any time.

That all seems clear enough, and I can understand why they emphasise "Brompton style"; I think it's cheating a bit to have a full-size "folding" bike that just hinges in the middle. The problem is that the member of staff I spoke to was clearly misinformed. She said that she'd heard about this in a briefing this morning, so there will probably be other people working for the railway with the same misconception. I think my best bet is to print out the relevant policy documents from the websites, then highlight the key sections and carry them with me. Still, it will get a bit annoying if I have to keep having the same argument every day. My alternative is to cycle the whole way, but I'll need to modify my route to avoid the Zil lanes.

More generally, I can understand why trains are going to be busy in central London. However, it seems odd that South West Trains are banning bikes from their entire network. As one Guardian comment put it: So if you are a commuter who rides to the station in, say Fareham, and takes their bike on the train into Southampton then tough, you'll have to find another way to get to work in the morning.

Oh well, hopefully things will be back to normal in 2 more months...

Edit: South West Trains have now reversed their bike ban except for the Olympic Cycling weekend (28th/29th July).