On Saturday I attended the second meeting of the GB Cycling Embassy (CEoGB). It was a day of several firsts for me:
The first time I’ve attempted to take a bike on a train, the first time I’ve attempted to ride a bike around Manchester and the first time meeting Mark from IBikeLondon, TheCyclingJim, Sally/Townmouse Kevin from Inclusive Cycling to mention a few. Oh and to complicate matters I had my youngest daughter in tow.
Being a bit of a last minute decision it wasn’t until Friday afternoon that I tried to book my bike on the train. I found a telephone number on the Transpennine Express website quite easily, rang it and got straight through to the right person who reassured me that it would be no problem taking a large bike on the train and gave me a reservation code for the trains I wanted in a matter of minutes. This is easy peasy…
Encouraged by how straightforward it had been I then rang East Midlands Trains to get an alternative reservation for the trains half an hour either side of the ones I’d already booked as a back-up plan! Not so easy. Don’t bother following the instructions on their website - they are wrong! As is any sensible guess of the alternative options. After about half a dozen attempts which no matter what I tried I was always diverted to National Rail Enquiries. In desperation I selected the “Special Needs” option and finally got through to someone who could make a reservation for me. Once I got through to the right person it was plain sailing, but I dread to think how much my phone bill will be after that pallaver.
Anyway, on Saturday morning youngest daughter and I arrived at Sheffield Station and went to buy a train ticket. Trying to navigate my bike through the queuing system was a bit tricky - in this sort of environment my bike becomes a pushchair, having a toddler on the loose and pushing a bike in a busy and crowded place is not my idea of fun, so she was staying fastened into her bike seat until we were safely on the train.
Having purchased a ticket we headed for the lift. Luckily the first lift at Sheffield Station is a through lift so that was fairly easy. The second lift down to Platform 5 wasn’t but it was generous enough to turn the bike round.
Once on the platform I asked a couple of station staff where to stand for the bike entrance to the train - they both directed me to the middle, which of course turned out to be wrong. I didn’t get any offers of assistance getting the bike on the train (or anyone bothering to check my reservation) but at least the step up from the platform wasn’t too high and I could just about manage it on my own.
Once inside the train I realised there was no way my bike would fit in facing forward and had to turn it round. Luckily there was just about enough space for this manoeuvre, but I’m not sure if it would’ve been possible if there had already been another bike there.
Once reversed into place I did have to turn the front wheel 90 degrees to keep it out of the way of the door.
And good job I brought my own bungees - the flimsy bit of velcro which presumably was supposed to go through the rear wheel, wouldn’t reach and I had to attached it to the rear rack instead. Oh and the “wall” this was attached to was a piece of mdf which didn’t appear to be fixed down properly and was flapping about like crazy. Nice combination of quality workmanship and design there…
I used one bungee to attach the centre of the frame to the fold up seat frame and the other to stop the front wheel from flopping around.
I’m not sure that was really adequate, but the bike didn’t fall over on either the outward or return journey thank goodness.
Anyway we arrived safely in Manchester Piccadilly. Unfortunately the lifts were much smaller than at Sheffield Station and it was a bit of a tight squeeze and I had to reverse my bike out. Going down on the travellator was a lot easier, but a bit crowded in the midst of hordes of football fans and swarms of police. I’m not sure what they made of a small woman pushing a very large bike with a toddler sat up front, but I certainly got quite a few confused looks! Mind you I discovered later it was Wimbledon and Luton playing so they were probably equally baffled by just being in “the North” and hearing people speaking in a strange accent…
I’d promised youngest daughter a trip to the wonderful Manchester Art Gallery. I can highly recommend it for kids, there’s lots of hands on activities and it’s free (donations welcomed) which is handy if you are on a tight budget or your kids have a short attention span! So we set off by bike, I know Manchester City Centre pretty well on foot, but I couldn’t fathom out any way to get to the Gallery legitimately by bike because of the one way streets and no right/left turns. There didn’t seem to be any cycle contraflows or exceptions at all in that area, so we did a combination of pushing and riding on the pavement (slowly) where it was quiet. Luckily when we arrived at the Gallery there was a pair of Sheffield stands on the street corner opposite so locking up the bike was no problem.
Youngest daughter having a great time and pretending to be a bear.
After lunch at the Art Gallery (and the obligatory “present” for youngest daughter from the shop) we headed back to Piccadilly to meet up with everyone for the Cycling Infrastructure Safari. I tried an alternative route going the back way via Chinatown, but again was constantly foiled by the one-way system.
At Piccadilly it was still busy with football fans, so I was wondering how easy it was going to be to find everyone. Luckily I spotted a vintage bike and recognised its owner as Mark from IBikeLondon, soon followed by a flock of Brompton’s and their owners. Finally the locals arrived, obeying the rule that whoever has the shortest journey must arrive last ;-)
Mr C from MCRCycling led the way to show us some of Manchester’s “finest” cycling infrastructure - which first had to be accessed by making a right turn across 4 lanes of traffic. An “interesting” manoeuvre which even with very assertive signalling and road positioning (and a substantial mass of 15 cyclists all doing the same thing) still rendered us invisible to the majority of drivers who were intent on flooring it as they spied the Mancunian Way! The wind had picked up and funnelled by the canyons of high rise buildings made for some difficult conditions. Youngest daughter was not impressed and screamed “too windy” and burst into tears and proceeded to howl for the entire ride!
It was quite a relief when we finally arrived at our destination.
Time seemed to fly by at the meeting and youngest daughter was mercifully quite well behaved (so long as kept fed and watered and entertained) but we had to leave before the end to catch our train. As we were out near the University I decided it would probably be easier to go back via Oxford Road Station and go for my “back-up” train as we were unlikely to make the earlier one I’d booked the bike on. This meant we travelled on East Midlands Trains for both the outward and return journey, so I didn’t get to try out the bike accommodation on Transpennine Express to see how it compared. I was quite glad we’d gone to Oxford Road because I’d forgotten how quiet it is a the weekend, so it was very civilised compared to the chaos at Piccadilly. Unfortunately the platform is quite low and watching the trains come in I began to worry if I’d get my bike on the train. I asked the guard on the platform if he would be able to help and luckily he was very friendly and offered to lift the bike on for me. In the end another passenger helped me get the bike on, but the guard even came back and apologised for getting waylaid with another matter! Such a contrast with the miserable buggers on Sheffield Station.
While I was waiting for our train to arrive an elderly lady got off another train with an electric bike and a shopping basket. She looked like someone’s nan. A normal sight in some countries, but quite a novelty in Manchester.
Finally we were on the train home and youngest daughter waved Manchester goodbye.
We decided to get off at Dore on the way back which meant a mainly downhill cruise rather than a tiring slog uphill. On the downside the 40mph stretch was rather intimidating and just to reinforce the point we were overtaken by a Ferrari and a Boxter racing each other on the dual carriage way (more bloody footballers - probably). Youngest daughter screamed “don’t want to go on the road” - a fitting end to the day!