Cyclists and straphangers

The Birdy on its travels.....

The liberation of the folder. Oh, the freedom. I’ve an Open University tutorial on the 19th of May; ‘Technology management an integrative approach’. A catchy title.  It’s in the London School of Economics on Houghton Street in Westminster. It requires an early start, a late finish, a couple of train journeys and a short hop across central London. I could take my car – it would certainly be cheaper and provide flexibility – but I’m not. It’ll be train and folding bike.

Petrol heads will wonder why on earth you would want to do that. Do trains ever run on time? You’re going to share space with other people? Won’t that run the risk of <cough> interaction? Not being able to tune into Bad music FM?  What about rain when on the bike?  Standing on a train platform? STANDING? Deary me.

I can understand this perspective, I really can.

.....and ready for the train.

When the wind was lashing down this week, finding every weakness in my waterproofs and disturbed puddles sending mini tidal waves across my shoes, our car – which spends the majority of its time outside the house as some sort of street furnishing – seemed a very attractive option. But the viewpoint is flawed. Despite occasional blips, the rail network is largely efficient. I book my ticket with a good idea of when I will leave and the precise time I expect to arrive. We spend too much time in modern society creating bubbles and divorcing ourselves from other people. It’s good to be around others. It’s better to engage. As for personal space, the train affords opportunities for quiet space (cunningly named the ‘quiet’ carriage), or if you want distraction, plug in your laptop and work. Watch a film. Play a game. Listen to a podcast. Read a book. A magazine. A newspaper. Write a journal. Try that in a car. And as for the bike…….where do you start? Fresh air, liberation, total flexibility, being part of your environment, reducing your impact on it, maintaining your fitness, improving your health, emancipation from rising fuel costs, free parking, opportunity. The purchase of a folding bike last year made connected travel plans even easier. Fold up the Birdy and pop it in the rack – I can highly recommend it. Rain – which in my experience dries off after a bit – is a minor inconvience, particularly with modern fabrics. As a rule we don’t dissolve in water.

Paddington station, London

If you’re wondering what’s precipated this half rant, I attended a meeting yesterday with the driver of a beamer. The conversation touched on the fickle UK weather. Views were expressed about travelling in it. People don’t drive sensibly, parking is tricky, roads are clogged. My perspective was different. It’s wet, damp and unpleasant, but being a cyclist it doesn’t really change the transport environment that much. The beamer driver’s sneer was barely contained. I’m not sure he’ll be seen on two wheels anytime soon.

Offestting this irritation, I also had the enjoyable experience of receiving an unexpected package from Amazon. 5 months ago I pre-ordered ‘Straphanger’  (a slang term for public transport users) by Canadian author Taras Grascoe . According to Amazon it’s not out for another 2 weeks but I’m currently gazing at evidence to the contrary. With the tagline ‘Saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile’ I’m looking forward to assessing Taras’ viewpoint. I suspect I’ll find myself in broad agreement. For truly difficult journeys, where the public transport system has failed you, where infirm acquaintances need your assistance or where speed is absolutely of the essence, a car is useful. Necessary even. At all other times, it’s a choice. An increasingly expensive and burdensome one.

‘Straphanger’ by Taras Grescoe is available from Amazon .

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