Unfolding the Folder – The Nonsense of Southern Railways’ Cycle Policy

Folder Unfolded
This bike is pictured aboard the 18.19 train from Brighton to London Victoria. Trains travelling between the two cities at this time, and for six key hours every weekday, are subject to Southern Railways’ cycle policy, which outlaws all bikes other than folders, like this Brompton.

Southern explain this policy as their way of trying to lessen inconvenience for non-cycling passengers, and presumably to accommodate more passengers on each train. This rule is enforced despite the fact that every fourth carriage on each train has dedicated space for two bikes, arranged with a layout which sacrifices none of the seating provided for passengers. For six hours every working day, these spaces are left empty. The only bikes permitted onboard are folding bikes, ranging from flexible, wobbly £200 efforts to more viable, reliable machines costing in excess of £500.

So, Southern tell us: Two wheels bad. Two wheels plus hinge good.

Time for a small experiment.

My employer has just acquired a Brompton for us to use as a company vehicle. A great idea and just the ticket for meetings in London or in Peterborough, home of our parent company. As a folding bike, it can be legally carried on all Southern trains, regardless of the time of day. But what if I took this bike on a train without folding it? What if I didn’t fold the folder? Is a folder only seen as a folder when it’s folded? Would it create some kind of inconvenience to my fellow passengers in its assembled stature? Would a guard (sorry – Revenue Protection Officer) ask me to collapse the bike into its folded form? Would I be thrown from the train as a two-wheeled trouble-maker?

Of course not. I wheeled the bike through the ticket barriers and parked it in one of the dedicated bike spaces where it remained for the rest of my journey. No-one was inconvenienced and no-one was denied any travelling comfort by the presence of my fully assembled bike.

Which begs the obvious question: If this bike was allowed onto the train in its full-sized, fully assembled state, why are regular, non-folding bikes forbidden? Bikes like the Brompton are great, but they are expensive, they handle strangely and they lack many benefits of regular full-sized bikes. To ban bikes from trains in the crude broad-brushed way favoured by Southern calls into question any attempt to acheive affordable ‘integrated transport’ as part of the relationship between the sibling cities of London and Brighton.

Some commuters previously mixing their modes of transport have given up and reverted to their cars. Others have tried the approach of locking up their bikes at railway stations, to the glee of bike thieves who are thriving in this new era.

When Southern first began to enforce their cycle policy, there were protests, petitions and news coverage. Maybe it’s time to revisit this issue, before Southern begin to believe that this way of working is anything other than a terrible idea.

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5 Responses to Unfolding the Folder – The Nonsense of Southern Railways’ Cycle Policy

  1. Nick Sayers says:

    Well put, sir!

    I briefly had the use of a 1970s shopper bike (that sadly bit the shingle when I tried to use it on the Low Tide Bike Ride). One of the unforeseen benefits of using it was I could take it on trains during the dread no-bike hours on Southern Trains.

    The irony was that its hinge was so stiff I could only have folded the bugger if I’d brought a heavy wrench with me! I always stowed it unfolded, with no complaint or problem.

  2. Becs says:

    Clivey, if you are a commuter (though with bike theft what it is in the UK maybe not, Simon was such a victim of this crime) in the Netherlands like the Tall Chap then people generally have two bikes. One for the journey between home and the first station and one at the station at the other end of the journey to take you to work.

    Mind you the bikes are not the sort that people would want to steal. Maybe that’s the answer.

    I do think it’s stupid not to be able to take bikes onto trains although you can at least get bikes safely onto the trains in the UK. I tried in Belgium and nearly had a nasty accident. Wont be doing that again. I’ll strap my bike to my car and drive out to where I want to cycle :o) so it kind of fails to address the point of trying to use the car only for work journeys, once a month supermarket runs and holidays.

    But of course we will be using the car to come and see you so that we can deliver the appropriate Belgian delights that you enjoy so much. And I will drive all the way with my headlights on and marvel at the power of the BMW to intimidate other car drivers. It’s weird because my Mercedes A Class never used to have that impact on other drivers. Or the Lexus IS200.

  3. Clive Andrews says:

    I’ve always said, Becs, cars are great when they’re used for the tasks that really require them. And shipping a few bottles of fruity beer across the channel is certainly one of those tasks!

  4. George says:

    Don’t forget they did extend the ban on all Southern trains in and out of both Brighton and Victoria so, for instance, you could no more commute into Brighton from places like Eastbourne or Worthing either, though they put so much staff on it at Brighton, you could just ride to Hove, Preston Park or London Road station and get on there during the period.

    I was travelling to Hastings early in the morning, thought the coast trains would be unaffected but was turned away at the barriers, hot foot it over to London Road to find 2 bikes already on the train! Thank you Southern for being such inconsistent idiots…becuase of this I missed the fast train, had to get the slow one which stopped everywhere and got to Hastings 2 hours late.

  5. Henry says:

    Part of the trouble is that the trains, like most modern trains, are badly designed. There is a lot of wasted space, due to the position of the doors. If they were at the ends of the vehicles as in the older stock, it would have been easier to adapt the interior layouts to suit different needs, and less space would be wasted.

    Incidentally the trains are also narrower than the old ones for no good reason. They made the suspension too soft so they have to be narrower at the height where the luggage rack goes, and the lower part of the bodysides are curved and to make matters worse there is a duct at skirting level. It could be that the floor is too low, but there are various things wrong with the design of these trains which has squeezed out bike space.

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