Sunday, 7 October 2012

Biking with a bump

Like many fixed term researchers and permanent university staff members, I live far away from my work place. I don’t have a car so I take the train and bus. My commute from home to my office in Bristol is a seven hour round trip. On the days when I don’t work from home, I tend to stay in Bristol for a few nights at a time to limit the travelling and cost.

After lots of googling and forum reading, I decided to buy a bike! I hoped a bike would:

•    save time commuting to/from the train station

•    save money. Each week I was spending about £15 on bus fares alone and over the course of a year that’s at least £500

 •    help me to lose the baby weight and stay active

I decided to get a folding bike as this would fit easily on the train. I took the plunge and bought a bargain Dahon bike on ebay for £150. I would have preferred a wonderful Brompton but I couldn’t justify spending all that money when I didn’t know how I would take to cycling.

I also bought a helmet, D lock and chain lock and as I’d be riding late at night I also bought bike lights and a reflective vest.

Like Melissa Terras I would have preferred a more sophisticated ‘look’ at work but faced with an hour of cycling in strong winds and heavy rain I opted for an Overboard waterproof bag to keep my laptop, dictaphone and papers dry. And as a research assistant doing interviews with students, there is much less pressure on me to look smart as compared to tenured teaching staff.

The advantages were that cycling whilst pregnant was helping me to keep fit and prepare for the birth and cycling along the promenade was much less monotonous than a bus ride in heavy traffic.

However, after only a few weeks, things were becoming difficult...  

1.    I was three months pregnant and was too exhausted for an 8 mile bike ride after a tiring day’s work. Though there are many advantages of riding a bike whilst pregnant I was new to cycling and I found it harder to keep my balance, especially whilst carrying a heavy bag. I also learned the hard way that commuting in all weathers and late at night is also different from cycling for pleasure.

2.    The Dahon is marketed as lightweight and I imagined it would be easy to fold and carry around the train station. However, the bike is very heavy (it's about the weight of a toddler) and not so easy to fold.

3.    Carrying a bike up and down steps is not fun and certainly not quick and I struggled to make the train connection in time

4.    The bike is impossible for hills (Bristol is not flat!) and isn’t particularly fast on flat roads either (though that could have been my lack of fitness!). Because I was such a slow cycler, the bike was adding to my commuting time rather than making my journey quicker

5.    Due to my lack of experience riding a bike (I am very wobbly at the best of times) I was too afraid to cycle on busy roads so ended up pushing the bike alongside as I walked on the pavement

So despite my best intentions the bike is now gathering cobwebs under the stairs. I might sell it on ebay to buy a more powerful bike to use with a trailer for the children. I have given up wanting to cycle to work – I would rather just be lazy and just get the bus.

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