Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hang that bike!

Bob, in Tempe, finds the perfect bike to coordinate with our Bike Shop Hub Ortleib panniers.
Bob and I took the rail to Tempe last week in order to check out a new triathlon store that just opened up.  The train was surprisingly crowded with bicycles last Saturday, mostly parked in opposite the door, and since our ride would last about 20 minutes, Bob suggested that we hang our bikes inside the bike compartment.  It was a rather awkward maneuver, despite the fact that Bob's a pretty strong guy, since he to work in limited space and within the short time that the train is at the stop.  He hiked both on to the hooks though. 

Our his and hers Breezers hanging in the bike section of a rail car.
So far, I've never tried to hang my Breezer.  For one thing, it weighs 35 lbs, and I just don't think I can manage lifting it up to the hook, which is pretty high for a 5'1" lady.  For another, I pulled a muscle in my lower back and don't want to completely incapacitate myself while riding public transit.  To be quite honest, half the people on the light rail just stand with their bikes by their side during their trip.  Most of the people that I see lifting their bikes up to the hooks are youngish, fit men.  The instance I saw a woman do so, she was lifting a fixed gear bike that appeared to be very light weight and void of any bags or accessories.  I've never seen a senior citizen attach their bikes to the hooks, period.

This kid is probably texting his roommate to meet him at the station and help him get his bike off the hook.
Nonetheless, the trip would probably be more comfortable and the cars easier to move around in if bicycles were off the floor and in the bike section.  I wonder if the problem is the design of the bike hanging system.  When I first heard about it, I assumed that it would have a curved track beginning at the floor that would allow the cyclist to easily wheel the bike up to a hook.  No, this is not how the system is designed.  The track simply runs vertical to the floor of the rail car and begins about two feet from the floor.  The hook is located almost to the ceiling.  Even without back pain, I couldn't do that, and I'm strong.  I think a better design could accommodate many more bikes against a single wall of the bike section and leave the other side available for seating and standing - as well as room for mounting bikes to the hook.  What do you think?  Have any SRAB readers used a system more friendly to people who aren't power-lifters?  I wonder if Valley Metro would consider looking at a different system for future expansions?


David Bickford said...

I'm not a particularly big or strong guy, but I've learned to hang my 30-lbs Breezer without difficulty. It took about a week of doing so until I felt perfectly comfortable with the maneuver. I think it would be extraordinarily helpful if Valley Metro provided mock-ups of both the vertical racks used on trains and the horizontal racks used on buses at major transit centers. Having an opportunity to practice in a low-pressure environment would allow a lot of bicyclists to see that it's really not as hard as it looks.

Given the volume of bicyclists using the trains, I do agree that an eventual redesign of the center portions of the rail cars might be in order -- not only to make the bikes easier to store, but also to fit more of them. I can't count the number of times I've been on trains where bicyclists who are willing and able to hang their rides cannot do so because all four spaces in the racks are taken.

Finally, I'll say that the distribution of a bike's weight is more important than its total weight in determining "hang-ability." When I selected my current bike, I was just about to order an Electra Townie. At the last minute, I decide to try lifting it up as I were hanging it on the train. I found it so awkward that I changed my mind and opted for the Breezer. It weighs almost the same as the Townie but the mass is distributed in a way that makes it much easier to lift. The only time I've ever seen a bike fall out of a rack on the train, it was a Townie. Cruisers and comfort bikes are great to ride along neighborhood paths, but for a commute that involves public transit, they don't seem to work as well. Just as I wish there were transit bike rack mock-ups at key rail stations, it would also be great if local bike shops had them so that customers could evaluate that aspect of a bike before making a purchasing decision.

She Rides a Bike said...

I hadn't thought of distribution of weight, David but I'm sure that makes a difference. My cousin would agree w/ you about the difficulty of lifting an Electra Townie. She stopped taking hers on the rail because she couldn't begin to lift it. She recently purchased my Dahon and I believe she's had a much easier time with it (and only 27 lbs). One reason that I decided to purchase a Brompton though is that the neat, easy fold will completely eliminate the issue to hanging for me - it will take up no more room than your typical piece of carry on luggage - and I'll even be able to sit down in the rail cars.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Hanging a bike on the PHX light rail when it has loaded panniers on the back is for me an unwieldy and possibly dangerous task. I've tried a couple times, and it just doesn't make the horizontal to vertical transition without it all ending in tears. So to hang it I would have to remove the panniers. My long public transit riding experience, going back several decades and in several countries, simply will not permit me to divide my attention between bags set in one place while I try to hang my bicycle in another. Won't do it. Not secure at all. So loaded panniers on the back while riding the light rail ends up meaning I stand next to the bike. Which as you mention seems to be accepted, as long as you don't block the doors. I saw a loaded touring cyclist manage it on a crowded PATH train into Manhattan a few weeks ago, and sitting across from him, I tried to imagine wrestling that behemoth up onto a hook. I think I'll just continue to stand, at least until I get a foldie.

phillip wright said...

Sometimes the best intentions are well....FLAWED. The metrolink in So. Cal is great but there is only room for 4 bikes on one car. If it is full, you have to sit with your bike leaning against you. The city bus only has room for 2 bikes in the front so if they are full, you have to wait for the next bus. Or, if there are 2 people with bikes at your stop waiting with you, you have to ride the previous stop to ensure that your bike gets on the bus.
Nice effort, PHX. Not everybody hangs their bikes from a hook in their garage, so people can't/don't want to hang their bikes while riding public transportation.

She Rides a Bike said...

Phillip Wright, I've never used the bus bike rack for that exact reason. If the bus circulated every 8 minutes I could plan ahead to give myself time to wait for a second bus but the circulation time here is at least twice that so it's just too time consuming. I wonder if buses could be designed for racks on the door side of the bus as well, making the chance of being able to combine bike and bus more reliable. Again, with the Brompton bag I've heard there's almost never a problem carrying a folded Brompton on a bus.

I'm with you, JRA. I'm not going to separate panniers and my bike. The confusion often ensuing at stops makes the idea to risky. I can see my pannier and I going separate ways in that situation.

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