Our Hase Pino Tandem has done a lot of miles by car in Britain, France and India, thanks to the neat way it splits in two to fit into quite small cars. It has flown to India and back (details coming soon) but until last week it has not been on a train.
Taking the tandem on trains was one of our criteria when we bought it, mainly because I have become used to travelling with my Brompton and the combination of bike and train is so liberating and flexible. We only became interested in the Pino when the newer version was launched with the split frame which seemed to make this possible. However when I looked more closely at the practicalities it was clear that, in the UK at least, tandems and trains don’t mix easily. We solved all the problems and travelled successfully on two trains but it took some planning and invention that I describe here.
British trains are quite cramped, narrower than most trains across the world to fit through the small bridges and tunnels on UK railways. One of the penalties of being the first country to develop railways was that everybody else could learn from our mistakes and build their railways on a more generous scale.
On top of that, the very aggressive commercial culture of UK railways today means that increasing numbers of passengers are shoehorned into quite small trains, leading to cramped conditions similar to cattle class in aircraft and very little space for luggage. Or bicycles. Most trains have space for two bikes and most train operators officially limit bikes to two per train and definitely don’t allow tandems.
In practice of course train crews don’t really mind as long as there are no problems and you often see quite large numbers of bikes on trains. We’ve also heard of others who have transported Pinos by train with no real difficulty. This mismatch between rules and the actual behaviour of railway staff must be quite perplexing if you come from a more strictly organised country.
When we decided to join the Cycle Sheffield Route66 ride from Manchester to Hull we had to solve the problem of a start and finish point separated by a 4 day bike ride so we could not use a car. I knew already that the TransPennine Express trains from Sheffield to Manchester had good space for bikes so I wasn’t too worried about that but I didn’t know much about the Northern Rail Trains coming back from Hull. I took a look at one of the trains while in Sheffield station one day and used the sole of my shoe as a crude measure to check the length of the space available for bikes (I used the same method to measure the station lifts).
It was clear that there was just about enough space for the Pino with the boom removed so I needed a way to deal with that, and because the Pino is a very wide bike I felt that life would be much easier if the seat and wide handlebars were not in the way. However it was essential to be able to wheel the bike and steer it to get around the station and onto the train. I didn’t feel that splitting it in two was an option as that would give us a lot of separate pieces of bike to manage as well as our luggage.
We booked tickets and a bike reservation on a mid-evening train to Manchester. On Friday afternoon and early evening the trains are very crowded and the bike area would probably be full of people and luggage. This proved wise as we had no problems but cyclists who travelled to the ride on earlier trains had to be very assertive about their bike reservations to get on to the packed trains. In that situation the train manager would have reason to exclude us as a tandem.
For the return trip Northern Rail don’t do bike reservations and we were not sure what time we would want to travel so we left it to chance, there are hourly trains through the evening so if one was too crowded we could probably get the next. Northern Rail are a very bike friendly company so we didn’t anticipate any unreasonable restrictions as long as we took care not to cause a problem.
I then turned my attention to the bike. It was clear that we could strip it down to a much neater package but we needed to attach all the removed parts somewhere on the bike and in particular we needed to deal with the long stoker’s chain that runs out to the front cranks via a couple of pairs of telescoping plastic tubes. One of these pairs of tubes had been problematic and needed to be kept as short as possible to avoid the chain dragging and rattling inside so I had been in the habit of pulling the two halves tightly together and securing them with gaffer tape. When the boom was removed these then projected beyond the front of the bike. I was also worried about what to do with the length of slack oily chain.
Luckily I’ve already been thinking about this problem with my plans to improve the Juliane Neuss recumbent Brompton and my solution for folding long chains is to use plastic tubes to convert the chain to a stick that can be folded. With the Pino the only problem was the semi-permanent tape that holds the two parts of the telescoping tube together.
So I replaced the gaffer tape with some lengths of Velcro tie, fixed to the tubes with a combination of double sided tape and cable ties and that proved to be a great way of both tensioning the tube for smooth running and quickly releasing it to fold in two.
The final piece in the jigsaw is a good number of Fasty tensioning straps to hold everything together
It took us about 15 minutes to prep the bike at the station and maybe a bit less to get it back into riding order. At Sheffield we needed to cross the footbridge with two lifts so we prepared it at the station entrance to fit into the lifts. A luggage trolley was helpful to carry the panniers etc (not every station has luggage trolleys in these days of wheeled suitcases). At Hull and Manchester which are both terminus stations we were able to wheel the bike straight off/on to the platform so we did the assembly/disassembly right where the train stops.
- On the Transpennine Express train to Manchester. This is one of the older “Turbostar” trains that has a very big bike space, much longer than the Pino. The newer trains have a bit less space but should be OK. Handy retaining straps.
- On the Northern Rail train the Pino’s rear wheel projected a little into the cross gangway but it was not a serious obstruction.