Excuse me, why do you bring your bike on the train?

Wednesday 11th September, 2013
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have a pet hate of cyclists. They used to get in my way on the roads, constantly breaking the Highway Code. They often try to run myself and my family down on local pavements. Most recently, they're always on the train at peak times, blocking emergency exits, when they aren't even allowed to be there.

I constantly moan at the SW Trains twitter team that this is a ridiculous situation. They aren't allowed but nobody stops them. Platform dispatch crews leave it to the guards and the guards don't care at all. In fact, guards who aren't commercial (ticket checking) rarely even care to walk through the train during a journey. I asked the head of guards for SW Trains in a recent passenger forum and he explained that guards are keen to avoid confrontation. Even at off peak times, cycles should be in the designated area and secured using the provided strap. This is for the safety of other passengers, but clearly guards care more for their own safety than for that of their paying passengers. For reference, I'm basing this on my experience of over 1,000 SW Trains journeys in the past year.

But why do cyclists do it? They know it's not allowed, so why break the rules?

I've been dying to answer this question for a long time but usually I find those in my carriage are somewhat unapproachable and also listening to their earphones. But today's example simply looked like a nice guy. I checked to see if perhaps he had a puncture or broken chain, that had forced him to get the train, but there was nothing obvious. So I asked him "excuse me, why do you bring your bike on the train?".

He looked at me and smiled. "I'll share a story with you", he said.

"A while back I was just like you, paying over £300 a month for my season ticket. It kept going up year on year, despite usually being late, and I just had to pay it. Meanwhile, the train was always full of bikes at peak times that weren't supposed to be there...like I am today. This used to really annoy me because, they also didn't have a ticket - just like me right now. There was no point in them having one, the bike wasn't allowed anyway, so at peak times they were always going to be invalid. If the guard came they could be thrown off the train, ticket or not, so why bother spending £300 a month?

"My season ticket was due for renewal and I popped to Tesco for a few bits on the way home and noticed they had a cheap mountain bike for about 70 quid. Rather less than my season ticket, maybe I should ride to work? But, in reality, it was too far to cycle and would take too long. I could ride half way though, that would reduce the ticket cost, but the bike wouldn't be allowed on the train.

"It didn't matter, my mind was made up. I popped home to get the car and bought a bike. The following week I didn't renew my season ticket. Instead I just cycled to the station, it was quicker than walking, and got on my usual train...with the bike. People gave me the odd glare but never said anything. I just wanted to see how far I could get before getting thrown off...it never happened. I made it all the way into town and nobody questioned it."

"But why travel at peak times?" I asked.

"Well firstly, I travel when I need to get to/from work but I do try my best to get on the busier trains. I arrive late, so the guard doesn't have time to speak to me before we leave, and then the train is so packed he's got no hope of coming down to sort me out. Of course, as it's busy, they don't check tickets too...so I never buy one".

"Never?"

"Well, not this year...nor most of last. I bought the bike around Easter time in 2012...and have never bought one since."

"So you've never been caught?"

"One or twice, but not much. I usually try to get near the front of the train, where it's busiest and the guards can't get through. They usually hide near the back where it's quieter and don't bother moving. In what, 18 months? I've been stopped maybe five times maximum. I usually make an excuse about the ticket machine not working and buy a ticket on the train...or on the platform when I get off.  I've had a couple of warnings, been fined once, but it's a lot cheaper than £300 a month."

"So you've never been thrown off?"

"Once, it was during the Olympics. They seemed to have extra staff around that time and they were checking tickets a lot. Thankfully the weather was nice, so I just got off like he said and cycled the rest of the journey to the office. I wasn't even late for work, most of the roads were closed to cars so it was an easy trip. The only problem was finding somewhere to park my bike...I usually just lock it up on the platform in Waterloo. It makes it a lot easier to get through the barriers if you don't have a bike, so I dump it when I get off the train. I don't ride it in town, I'd need a helmet and stuff for that,"

"If you're not going to ride it in town, why take the bike with you?"

"You missed the point...I don't have a ticket. The bike is there in case I get thrown off the train...I can cycle the rest of the journey".

"So how much have you saved?"

"Over 300 a month, less a fine or two and the cost of the bike...about five grand".

I think I'll buy a bike this weekend.

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