So, I cycled to an automotive event…
Last Thursday night, I was invited to the North East Automobile Association (NEAA) Annual Awards at Ramside Hall outside Durham as I was one of the judges on the Sustainability Awards. So I decided to make a day and night of it, booking into the hotel for the night and planning a cycle on Thursday afternoon around the old railway trails of Co Durham before the dinner (I’m self-employed, I can do this kind of thing).
So I carefully rolled my tux into a rucksack, cycled down to the hotel and dropped off the bag, and set off around the route. And very lovely it was too, except… towards the end I had something of a catastrophic rear tyre valve problem about 5 or 6 miles short of Durham. Plan B failed another couple of miles up the road, my phone ran out of charge trying to find an available taxi that could take a bike, so I was left walking/jogging my bike back to the hotel. And, of course, it started raining. When I finally got there, I had to weave through arriving guests, get my room card, jump straight in the shower, scrub off the sweat and dirt, get the penguin suit on (thank the gods I pre-tied my bow tie), and straight back out again into the event reception. And then talk sense to sensible human beings.
The NEAA event itself was lovely – it was particularly great to see the number of female apprentices and graduates being recognised for their efforts in what is still a very male world. The other great thing was the enthusiasm for the electrification challenge, without any of the cynicism or tokenism you sometimes get when an industry faces a massive change. The Sustainability winners were very well deserved. Interestingly, for those following UK electrification politics, the speakers talked positively about the battery gigafactory being built in Washington (the Tyne & Wear one, not DC), but avoided all talk of the much hyped but messily imploded BritishVolt gigafactory plan at Blyth (I get the impression the industry never bought into the hype).
After the lights went up, I went and asked the night receptionist where I could store my bike (it was still locked to a drainpipe outside, dripping mud). He was very helpful, but this was clearly a question he had never been asked before, not least by a somewhat tipsy man in a tux just before midnight. My bike ended up wedged in the concierge’s cupboard.
Apparently Durham doesn’t do bike shops, so I had to walk the bike the three miles to the station. Booking me and it on a train was no problem. When the train pulled in to the platform, I made my way to the carriage marked with a bike symbol, but the cupboard was locked. So I waited 5-10 minutes for the train guard to turn up and asked him to open it for me. “No, that’s where the coffee cart gets stored.” he told me, suggesting I could just leave the bike blocking the corridor. “It’s got a picture of a bike on it.” I said, trying to stay civil despite my mild hangover. So he opened it and fortunately it was empty. I struggled a bit to get my wheel on the hook inside (I run 42mm tyres which are quite fat but not mountain bike fat) but could finally go and sit down.
The bike mechanical was a real disappointing as my plan was going really well up to then. And the fallout was also a reminder that cycling is still an outsider in terms of infrastructure. If you drove up at a hotel and there was no carpark and no garage nearby to help with a breakdown, you would be shocked. The fact the train guard was unaware of the cycle facilities on his train and the cycle hooks were poorly designed, again shows where cycling really sits in the priorities. This matters, as we won’t get to Net Zero by shifting to electric cars alone – we won’t have the capacity to build enough and then you need a lot of green electricity – so we will need a massive shift to active travel as well. If we want that to happen, we have to make cycling safe and easy and we are a long, long way off that.