As in a number of other areas, our local trains take all bicycles, folders or conventional, at any time without charge or restrictions on numbers or booking. On the train I usually catch in the morning when working at the University, we usually have at least 5 cycles , of which all but mine are conventional. Now this might suggest that folders aren't really necessary for commuting with train assistance in such areas, but this cautionary tale shows that this is not the case, and a folder is still very useful.
On Monday 5th July I was waiting at Tipton station as usual, and the express which goes through before the arrival of our local train had a Class 47 diesel on the front, and the normal electric locomotive on the back was being towed with its pantograph down. This immediately rang warning bells in my mind, but the local nevertheless arrived on time and ran normally until we were approaching Birmingham New Street. It was then announced that the train would be terminating at Birmingham International, as the line was closed between there and Coventry due to late running engineering works. By the time we reached International there were at least 5 cycles on board, and passengers were warned by an announcement that they would have to transfer to buses at International. As we got off the train the station loudspeakers announced that passengers requiring local stations between there and Coventry should contact station staff. As can be imagined, the situation was quite chaotic, as people arriving for express trains for London were also having to be sorted out, and of course north-bound trains weren't getting through, so passengers wanting to get to Birmingham also had problems.
The solution that seemed to be on offer was that those going to Coventry were being put on conventional buses, mainly normal scheduled ones, while those going to intermediate stations were either being told to queue for a bus/coach which would arrive Real Soon Now, or were being put into taxis. Cyclists were apparently being told that these options were not open to them. This is of course the classic situation in which one simply folds a Brompton and carries on one's journey unaffected.
Faced with this problem two younger cyclists on conventional cycles simply abandoned their journey and went back home on the original train, while another managed to persuade the authorities to put him and his bicycle in a taxi.. Older cyclists are not as easily defeated, and one, of about my own age, just got on his bike and cycled the 15 miles to the north of Coventry, arriving at 7.55, just before his official starting time of 08.00. And what did I do, as a folder, using on that day my Brompton SP? Well, I must admit that as it was a nice day, and it was only about 12 miles to the university, I didn't actually exercise my bus option, but I rode all the way!
Later in the morning, having finished all the work I could do that day (I need access to the computers when normal users are not logged on), I decided to cycle to Birmingham International and catch the train from there to Wolverhampton, where as it happened I need to do some shopping that day. As I got down to the platform an express to Wolverhampton was just about to depart, and with the Brompton I was able to fold it very quickly and join the express. I couldn't have done this with a conventional bike, and indeed I would have hesitated to try to do a quick fold and board an express with a folded but uncovered other folder such as a Bike Friday, though the Birdy might have got away with it. By the time we reached Wolverhampton I had saved 25 minutes compared with waiting for a local train which would not have impose limitations on carriage of conventional bikes.
Monday 5th July was rather exceptional - fortunately - but it does serve to show that having a folder can be a major asset even in areas where trains carry conventional bikes unhindered. Oh, and of course when I arrived at work I simply folded the bike and put it under the desk, with none of the worry of chaining it up and possibly having it stolen.
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Last updated: 11 July 1999