New bike, new possibilities25th February 2014
For a while now, I have been playing with the idea of getting a folding bicycle for use on cycling getaways. The main reason behind this is that one of the things that has held me back from cycling further afield has been the limited carriage of bicycles on buses, coaches and trains. It is true to say that I have entertained thoughts of bicycle rental though the only time that happened was on my first visit to the Isle of Skye in 1999. Maybe it’s something that needs rediscovering.
In the days of goods vans on passenger train services, things were far better but my arrival in the U.K. came well after those days and some operators like Virgin Trains will not carry a non-folding bike for you without pre-booking. Others again restrict the carriage of bicycles on their services at peak times and others who do not only provide space for a small number of non-folding bicycles anyway. Two is typical on Northern Rail services and that cannot be called generous.
There may be buses with bicycle pens operating in parts but these are the exception and not the rule. Any space on a bus that could be used for bicycle carriage gets devoted instead to conveying those on wheelchairs and children’s pushchairs. Those buses with bicycle carrying capability can be ephemeral too and any example would have been the bicycle racks on the backs of buses running Arriva’s now defunct TrawsCymru services across Wales.
Bicycle carriage on coach services is very restricted as I discovered on my first ever trip to Fort William back in 1998. It was so unlike Ireland where I did see someone pop a bicycle into the luggage locker of a Bus Éireann without any comeback for the act. In contrast, National Express will carry a folding bike for you but only in a padded bag or hard case. Their conveyance of full bikes meant a certain amount of dismantling but even that is out of the question now.
With all these constraints, it is easy to see how folding bicycles have risen in prominence. The best known brand is a British one: Brompton. These are not cheap yet remain popular even if other manufacturers have entered the fray. These offer less expensive items and you even might be able to get a folding bike for around £100 in a Go Outdoors sale. Mind you, it probably is best to go for something more expensive to get better quality. Sometimes, you get what you pay for with these things.
Recently, I finally took the plunge with a Dahon Vitesse D8 from my nearest branch of Halfords. They had the bike in stock and built it well for me. The folding mechanism was demonstrated too, if imperfectly. Once I got home, I spotted the actual folding order on a label attached to bike: saddle down first. handlebar folded next, then main bike frame. A short ride was a brief test of the 8-speed gearing and other important aspects of the bike like steering and brakes. The former of these worked well even it felt just a little giddy so that might why users are not advised to set the handlebars too high. As for the brakes, these had the bite that I would have wanted so there are no complaints there.
Thought the Dahon is sold as being for commuting, I quite fancy using it for more than this. Usefully, it has mudguards and a luggage rack so my mind to turning to various level cycling trails in Derbyshire. First, there is Longdendale Valley near Hadfield for seeing how things go to start. While a train journey possibility would allow transit of a full size bike, it sounds a good place to begin with a folding one. Others that come to mind include the Monsal Trail between Miller’s Dale and Bakewell, the High Peak Trail from Dowlow (not so far from Buxton) to Cromford and the Tissington that also starts at Dowlow but instead goes as far as Ashbourne. Roving into Staffordshire, there is the Manifold Trail as well even if that has a scary tunnel at one point. More possibilities may appear to follow these but they all should make a good use of the new bike. The next step is to get it out there to savour those places and overcome such fears as punctures or other mechanical troubles. That off road cycling could help with regaining on-road confidence would be a bonus too since I have been on a lengthy break from cycling for one reason or another.