The Simple Pleasures of a bike-train-bike commute

I woke too late to bike commute the whole way into Salisbury, so I hauled myself into the shower, got into some trousers so enormous it was like wearing a tent, and prepared the Brompton for a sprint down the A361 to Trowbridge station. Still yawning, I wove up the hill, crested, and put the bikes hubs to the test on a fast descent down the other side. The Brompton is a skittish ride at the best of times, at 30+ mph downhill it’s a study in terror, yet somehow I made it to the junction in one piece. Then it was simply a case of pointing the front of the bike down the road and turning the pedals. On arrival at the station (terrific skid up the ramp and onto the platform – no mean feat with brompton brakes), I discovered I’d missed one train and had forty minutes to wait for the next one. The bike took me into the town centre and located a coffee shop for me. Soon I was ensconced at an outside table drinking a latte and reading a book. This seemed mighty civilized, and it was a great shame to have to knock back the coffee and zip back to the station.

I thought that with the current high fuel prices it would be more economical to go the 31 miles by train, but no, I discovered that the price of the journey had gone up 33% in the last seven months, incredible!

The beauty of the journey soon erased the price from my memory, this is the same route I cycled when I rode to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. The road crosses and dives under the track all the way to Wilton, sometimes mere feet from the track, other times it moves away, dipping behind an embankment or veering off to visit a lonely farm before rejoining its symbiotic partner, the railway track. I sat back and imagined my doppelganger riding at a speeded up pace level with the train. All those little milestones on the journey compressed into a blur of memories, the train moving too quickly to allow the mind to dwell on things like the toad crossing sign, the concrete bridge, the post office, the ox-eye daisies in the hedges, the constant pedal freewheel pedal freewheel rhythm of the rolling lanes. Train journeys seem to be a kind of time travel, you sit down, there is constant noise, but the feeling of motion is barely perceived. Very quickly (hopefully) you arrive at your destination. Strange, yet completely normal.

Cycling through Salisbury was a joy, apart from the fool who stopped on the bikes only bit at the traffic lights on Fisherton Street.

The Delivery Service: Too Posh for Post

Today I seized the opportunity to get a little cycling in despite the variable weather, sleet, sun and icy wind. My wife had printed out a pile of leaflets about the village preschool open day and had to deliver them in the nearby village of Telisford. We were down at her mother and father’s house using the cutter to chop the leaflets into shape, there was some debate as to who was going to go to do the leaflet drop. When getting the car out was mentioned I immediately stepped in with an environmentally friendly, two-wheeled, solution. The father-in-law was just starting a relay series of lunches for the various relatives gathered at the house and it looked like mine would be a while so I elected to do the leafleting before eating. I rushed back to our house, put on my waterproof and Hi-rez vest then broke out the Brompton. The Lemond was looking a bit dejected so I’m going to have to take it out soon, the Brompton has certainly been getting all my attention recently, its status slowly ballooning on the category cloud in the right hand column of The Highway Cycling Group blog. As I had my enormous trousers on, I clipped up to avoid chain snag, I looked like a cycling Cossack. With the leaflets in the bag on the front I set off down the road, a nice freewheel down to The Mill. Telisford is atop a steep hill, in fact the church and one house is at the summit, the rest of the village descends down a no-through road, culminating in a steep series of old and uneven steps down to Telisford Mill, recently converted to generate electricity. I quite enjoyed leaving the bike at the gates of these large houses and crunching over the gravel to the front doors. However I rapidly became annoyed by the distinct lack of letterboxes. Some of the houses had many converted outbuildings, stables, up to six cars, but not a letterbox in sight! Are they too posh to receive post? Do they have some secret means of receiving mail? The final stagger down the steps to the mill ended with me wandering hopelessly round someones garden until they came out and asked what I was up to. Ah, hand delivery, just like the old days. The Mill was churning out the Kilowatts, I could hear its whine fading as I puffed up to the Brompton waiting by Crabb Cottage (who do have a letterbox). Then up the hill and right towards Farleigh Hungerford, pausing to take a photo of a seriously ploughed field.

The Ploughlands

By now I was longing for that lunch, I wondered if it was ready yet. Just a few more houses to go, but quite spaced out (the houses, not me). The final house was about ten feet over the crest of the first hill towards Farleigh, the impossibly picturesque Lodge. It’s for sale, three bedrooms and splendidly isolated. Hooray, they had a letterbox though it was extremely small. Luckily, the leaflet I was delivering was also tiny.

The Lodge

Job done. Then it was almost downhill all the way until the in-laws’ house, where I tucked into a plate of eggs, bacon, chips and beans laced with HP sauce.

Now that’s good living!

Exploding Trouser Danger

I’m not sure what to say about this one, thanks to Laura in Japan for posting this link on her blog. A chap in Poland was cycling along minding his own business when…

..well, his trousers burst into flames.

I suspect this has some prosaic explanation rather than a case of genuine S.H.C. I think it possibly has a lot more to do with  cheap nylon trousers and fag-ash than it does with unexplained phenomenon.

Read all about it here.

Published in: on March 6, 2008 at 9:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Carrying lots of Tools with a Brompton

Some swine had kicked in the door of my father-in-law’s outbuilding last night so I was on hand this afternoon to help put on a new massive bolt and padlock, which should hopefully hold it until he can get the door fixed. The weird thing was nothing was taken, not even the incredibly expensive sets of golf clubs. My in-laws live down the hill from us and two roads down, a slightly convoluted route by road despite the short distance as the crow flies. Not easy to have to haul a pile of tools there and back by hand. I hate the idea of using the car to move stuff around in the village so I thought I would bring the necessary tools down using the Brompton. It’s amazing how much stuff you can fit in the Touring Pannier.

The brompton fully loaded with tools and reading material.

Inside the Touring Pannier.

In all I carried:

  • 1200rpm Electric drill
  • Large case containing 50 piece drill bit set
  • Large fixings box containing bolts nuts and washers
  • Sharktooth twincut saw
  • 1m steel rule
  • Piece of plywood
  • Sanding block
  • Sand paper
  • Additional hole boring drillbits
  • Bradle
  • Drill chuck
  • Box of two different sizes of screws and wall-plugs
  • Copy of Rodinsky’s Room by Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair which I am reading at the moment

There was still plenty of room in the bag. Handling was barely affected and weirdly it seemed to run smoother, even though I was wearing enormous trousers and therefore cycling with my feet half off the pedals to avoid them catching on the casters. I recall this being the case when I transported five copies of Nick Mason’s gigantic biography of Pink Floyd in the same bag along the Town Path in Salisbury. As long as the bike is kept upright it’s ok. I think that with an empty bag and the weight off the front the handling is skittish as I put the power into the cranks, the bike tends to want to pull off the ground with the effort. The weight of the bag seems to ensure the wheel stays glued to the road and the transfer of power goes unhindered to the chainwheel. Sure the acceleration is a little slower but it definitely rides along much more smoothly.

Rodinsky’s Room is excellent by the way, I can’t recommend it enough.

Published in: on September 1, 2007 at 10:02 pm  Comments (7)  


brompton on the trainbrompton on the train part twoWes and daisy and my brompton

I had to go to Salisbury for work purposes today. Just to make it interesting, my car is due its MOT and is therefore off the road, so I had to bike from the village to Trowbridge to catch the train. The ride of choice was of course the Brompton. Unlike the good old days of the ‘guards van’, most rail operators in the UK won’t let you take your bike onboard the train without a reservation, even then it’s not certain you will get on the train with your bike, the conductor may still turn you away for any number of reasons. It’s a major bone of contention with cyclists, and a symptom of extreme short-sightedness in the rail operators (and indeed transport policy-makers). It would be fantastic to just get on the train with your bike without any hassle and head on to South Wales, The Cotswalds, Scotland, where-ever. I’d love to just load the bike onto the guard’s van, meeting up with other cyclists as they come and go from the train. It’s not some weird cycling utopian dream (like ‘why can’t everywhere be like Centre Parcs’), it’s how it used to be. I have fond memories of being in the guard’s van with my dad on the way to London. There was always a cat in a cage, a massive trunk, two tea chests and at least four cyclists at any one time. The floors were wooden and well-worn, planks moving about as the train bogies swung round the corners, alarming creaks and rattles coming from everywhere, great fun. Well those days are over, the idea of having to reserve a space for your bike, or not take it on certain services during certain peak times of day, seems to me to be the antithesis of what cycling represents; freedom and spontaneity in travel. So what can you do if you want to turn up unannounced on the train with your bike and still be allowed to take it on board? The answer is buy a folding bicycle. As far as I am aware all train operators allow them on board fully folded. In theory the bike should also be covered, but in the few years I’ve been taking the Brompton on trains I’ve never had any bother with my bike being uncovered, though I know others have.
Anyway, got up late, missed the first train, caught the second, had to wait at Westbury station for ages. On the Southampton train I stored the bike in the luggage/disabled area (I would have given the space up if anyone needed it) and relaxed for the 20 mins into Salisbury. Relaxed a bit too much, fell asleep, arrived grumpy and befuddled. Still Zoe, one of my colleagues in espace solutions LLP (websites:design:consultancy), soon cheered me up, firstly by giving me her dogs to look after while she dropped her girls off at nursery, and secondly by handing me a much needed cup of tea. I changed out of my enormous trousers into more suitable work attire, did a job of work, then after a nice little ride through town I caught the train back. I noticed that the clip holding the handlebars to the wheel when the bike is folded is starting to fail, leading to the handlebars unfolding when I pick it up. I know it’s possible to get a custom made clip so I’ll need to look into that, either that or make my own.

I decided to get off at Warminster and cycle back that way. Not sure why, I think I just prefer the A36 to the A361, not that there’s much in it really. Also, from warminster there was more downhill. It was spitting with rain, thankfully I’d just missed a downpour (about 0.25 inch of rain) and the ride back was pretty easy. I think that constitutes the longest single ride I’ve done on the Brompton, a mere eight or so miles. However, I did have the front bag loaded up with a laptop, my filofax, my notebook and a complete change of clothes.

Tuesday Ride

In the afternoon I cycled into Trowbridge on the Brompton in order to gauge how long it would take me to get to the train station, 16 mins was the answer. As I don’t have a cycle computer on the Brompton I had to input the distance and the time into a distance calculator to find out how fast I went, I’m pleased to say that I did it at 15.5mph average speed even with a pair of enormous trousers on (though I was clipped up so I looked like a cossack). I nipped into Waterstone’s (Ottakar’s that was) to see my old chum John Hayes, a man so deeply into bicycles that he has pedals instead of feet. It transpired that:

a) Waterstone’s are starting a Tour-de-France promotion after the weekend


b) He would be passing the village at seven twenty in the evening so we arranged for me to tag along on the ride.

John didn’t do much cycling over the winter so by his own admission he’s carrying some extra weight, same as me really. I’ve been pushing some higher average speeds than him, but I suspect that he hasn’t really been cranking it, also he goes out mountain-biking on Thursdays and always ends up at the pub, whacking the calories he’s just burnt back on again.

The sprogs were playing up at bedtime, this in combination with the fact that it’s my wife’s mother’s final delivery day for her art degree and all the helping this entailed, meant that it was a close run thing. I sprinted through the village and found that thankfully he was still waiting for me by the pub.

We decided to head Warminster way. John led, but we found that with the extra wide margin on the A36 we could cycle side by side without getting in the way of the traffic. The going was easy and we could chat with no problem, that was until we hit Black Dog Hill. I took it at 12mph in a display of bravado and nearly killed myself. I freewheeled at the top by Dead Maid’s Junction, which gave time for me to stop wheezing as John caught up. Pretty soon we were on the Warminster bypass and enjoying the freshly laid tarmac. We got some respectable speeds going and I was even able to take a couple of snaps.

John and I on the A36, incredible speeds

We turned back into Warminster at the other end of the bypass, and John took me out along the industrial estates in towards Westbury. With a bugger of a headwind we took turns drafting, it’s amazing how much less effort you need when you are cycling on someone else’s wheel. I pulled away again on the hill into Westbury, but John hung back then snuck up at speed as I slowed for a roundabout, leaving me in his wake and having to put double the effort in to catch him on the uphill. I finally caught him in the centre of town, Westbury has a pretty fast flow of traffic and some quite nifty chevron covered corners, ideal for bikes going at speed. Back out along the A350, John’s bike is steel so he felt the mini Hell of the North that is the stretch by the cement works much less than I did. I took my turn at the front in the headwind and pulled us up the hill, then it was a fast gradient into Yarnbrook. John turned for home at The Rising Sun pub, with similar distances to go to finish the ride at our respective houses, we each put in 27.5 miles at an average speed of 16.6mph though John probably made it 30 by cycling out to meet me. We’re hoping to make this a regular Tuesday ride and maybe get a few others along as well. Cheers John.

Up early tomorrow to cycle to Trowbridge in order to catch the train.

Bikewash and Beer-run

It was incredibly hot here today. The boys played in next door’s paddling pool while the wife went shopping, she asked if I wanted anything and off the top of my head I thought of 25cl bottles of French Lager. While she was out and the boys were occupied next door, I wheeled the LeMond Etape out and gave it a much needed wash. Warm water, washing up liquid, a rinse down, a polish, pulling the chain through a rag until all dirt and oil had gone. Nothing but bare metal drying in the sun. If I had tried to ride it at that point, with no lubrication the drivetrain would have started to rip itself apart. Metal on metal, imperceptibly grinding until the gears slipped. So when the bike was fully dry I applied the unguents, dry lube for summer, sprayed on and allowed to cure into its waxy sheen. I do love the feel of dry lube on a clean chain.

I read recently that you shouldn’t use a chain cleaning device and solvent on a chain because it breaks down the lube built into the links. That may explain how I got through so many chains on my older bikes, I was a bit fanatical about applying the old solvent in my Halfords chain cleaner. Little did I know I was shortening the life of my chains, the crankset and the gears. So now I just apply a bit of washing up liquid in water, run the chain through a clean rag until the rag is black and the chain is golden. Then I dry it off and apply the dry lube link by link.

They didn’t have any 25cl bottles at Sainsbury’s and the weird thing is that although it was a throwaway request, suddenly I really wanted those little bottles. Only the Brompton had the capacity to carry the bottles so it was onto the folder and down the A361. Damn it was hot! I had changed into a freebie Amateur Athletics Association vest I was given when I worked for a bookshop, and a floppy hat, but it really was baking. There was a lot of slow moving, very hot, very dusty traffic all round Trowbridge, luckily there were also a lot of cycle lanes around Tesco and it was easy getting in there. Here’s another advantage to owning a Brompton, you don’t need a bike lock when you go shopping.

Brompton and bag in the trolley.

A quick pasta hit, back on the Brompton, easily carrying beer, dressing, shower gel and some Tesco value bicycle clips to stop my enormous trousers flapping into the drivetrain.