Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=2000-664

Take off, take your bike, and take the train

Last time, I talked about early cycling, and today’s attempts to recreate the glamour of the past. Most of the time, though, cycling is just a practical, cheap and straightforward way to get around.

What makes it more flexible is the ability to mix modes – to combine cycling with rail travel, car or boat. Jimmy Savile made the point usefully in this 1982 BR poster:

'Ride it by rail' poster, 1982 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

That family looks like it’s off on holiday, but commuters can benefit from mixed-mode journeys too, and this is where the folding bike comes in very handy (as most commuter trains don’t allow full-sized bikes at peak times).

The Folding Society is a great source of information for anyone thinking of buying a folder, as there are many excellent examples available. One popular make is Brompton, whose work we have on show at the museum.

Brompton L3 bicycle, made 2000 (David Rooney)

Last week, I took a look round Brompton’s west-London factory. Its location rather reinforces my point about mixed-mode journeys, hemmed in as it is by the M4 elevated motorway and a triangle of roads and railway lines.

M4 elevated motorway, 19 April 2010 (David Rooney)

Inside, the factory is a hive of activity as the bespoke cycles are manufactured, assembled, tested and shipped.

Brompton bicycle factory, 19 April 2010 (David Rooney)

Outside, I returned to the nearby Underground station and made my way back to work. Cities are great places for getting around, and the beauty is in the flexibility.

On foot, by car, on the roads or by rail, we switch from one mode to the other depending on what works best – and more often than not it’s quicker by bike!

On your bike

The lovely Emily in our Science Night department has expressed her concern at my taking to powered transport at Wroughton last weekend. She saw me powering into the distance on my Brompton folding bicycle and naturally feared for my safety on anything with an engine!

I’ve been thinking of buying a folding bike for ages, but wondered what they were really like to ride. Then I discovered that South West Trains are offering very good value Brompton hire as part of their attempts to make public transport commuting a viable option. Last week I took up their excellent offer and tried one out. Wroughton’s windy runways were a great place to see what it could cope with!

David Rooney on a Brompton (credit: Peter Turvey)

David Rooney on a Brompton (credit: Peter Turvey)

I’ve been cycling for years but full-size bikes are banned on most of London’s public transport. Of course I could cycle all the way but, let’s be honest, many people (myself included) would balk at that and the result would be abandoning the bike altogether after a short time.

Ideals are all very well, but we live in the real world, and personal motivation and psychology must be taken into account. Folding bicycles offer flexibility, and that means choices, and we like having choice.

We’ve had a Brompton on show for the last ten years in Making the Modern World (looming over poor Sierra Susie):

Brompton bicycle at the Science Museum (credit: David Rooney)

Brompton bicycle at the Science Museum (credit: David Rooney)

I’ll tell you more about the Science Museum’s collection of historic folding bicycles at a later date. Some lovely stuff there!