MM (Multi Modal) Commuting

Combine the romance and practicality of rail travel with the romance and practicality of cycling and you've got yourself a winning combination.

Multi Modal travelling makes up the lion’s share of my cycling, usually combining the bicycle and train to get me to work. I live in Liverpool and work in Manchester – a car commute of anything between 1 to 2 hours on one of the busiest motorways in the UK, the M62. During rush hour, there’s usually a hold up of around 30 minutes at the halfway point and another slow moving queue near journey’s end. Every day there are accidents or near misses – it’s a game of Russian roulette – with ever decreasing odds. It’s a game I try to opt out of as often as possible.

By contrast, my bicycle/train commute is serene, civilised and predictable. I ride to the railway station – a leisurely journey of around 20 minutes – grab a ticket and a coffee, stow the bike in the cycle area aboard the train, then find a seat for my rail journey of around 45 minutes. In this time I can do anything I like – listen to the radio, read, blog, stare vacantly out of the window, write my to-do-list for work or make some phone calls. There’s none of the constant stress and anxiety one gets when driving to work.

Right now, I’m sitting on the train bound for a video editing training course in Nottingham. I’ve driven to Nottingham from Liverpool a couple of times before and each time, R.E.M’s song “Can’t Get There from Here” springs to mind. It’s a difficult, stressful journey combining the aforementioned M62, the busiest section of the M6 heading south from Cheshire toward the West Midlands and a nasty selection of A-roads taking you east towards Nottinghamshire.  Compound these facts with today’s wet, windy, unseasonal weather and you’ve got a recipe for suffering.

So instead, today I opted to travel by train, first riding into the city in the light early morning traffic (it’s 6:59am as I write this) to find a practically empty train with two available bike spaces. I’ve got the luxury of owning a Brompton, which is great for rail travel but today I’ve chosen the full sized bicycle – because I knew in advance that the trains I’d be travelling on have good dedicated bike spaces.

In terms of clothing, today’s wet weather throws up some serious challenges. I need to be comfortable on the bike, yet look normal on the train and during my training day. There’s nothing worse than being the sweaty, Lycra-clad sore thumb, especially in a situation where you’re meeting new people and just trying to blend in. So I’ve opted for a pair of jeans, a merino wool base layer and a merino wool t shirt. This gives me an entirely normal, everyday look but with the wicking properties of wool. On the bike journey, I rode through persistent drizzle, so I wore a thin breathable and waterproof jacket, with pit zips open. I rode SLOW, always resisting the urge to push hard on the ‘false flat into a headwind’ section of the route, coasting on the downhill sections and regulating my temperature with my front zipper. As soon as I reached the shelter of the station I took the jacket off, allowing my body to cool down, while I got my tickets and my latte – by which time my body temperature had returned to normal, I was sweat-free and busy finding the (empty) bike space on the Norwich bound train.

Luggage and how to carry it – today I’ve got my usual commuting gear (lock, pump, tools and waterproof) plus lunch and a 13inch laptop. All of this sits snug and dry in my Carradice Camper Longflap saddlebag. This ancient wonder, born in a small factory in Nelson, Lancashire (and made by a lady called Priscilla – as evidenced by the handwritten signature on the label) is the best way I’ve found to carry commuting-sized loads. It mounts behind the saddle, either using the saddle loops on a Brooks saddle or, as I do, using a quick release SQR block attached to the seatpost. This neat device allows me to attach and detach the bag in seconds. The waxed cotton duck fabric is hard as nails and completely waterproof. As an added waterproofing measure, the bag itself sits behind the rider, sheltered from the worst of the rain and out of the way of road spatter (unlike a pannier bag). When I boarded the train and stowed the bike, I detached the bag in seconds and now it sits beside me on the seat where I can keep an eye on all of my gear.

Sure enough today, the MM Commuting Gods have smiled upon me (thus far) and not all MM days are this slick. I’ve had days when I’ve had to cleave a way into a standing-room-only train on a hot, rainy summer evening and stand swaying and losing my balance with every jerk of the train – all the while trying not to sully my fellow passengers with chain oil and road grime. Other days, my train has been cancelled, late or simply so full that the conductor has shaken his head and not allowed me on. However, for the most part, MM Commutes have been a calm, relaxed and very human way to get to work, and today is no exception.

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6 thoughts on “MM (Multi Modal) Commuting

  1. Stephen

    How far are you commuting that you manage to ride without sweating profusely? I live in West Yorkshire and my commute is 14 miles, I find it impossible to conceive of not having to shower at the other end!

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I commute about 5 miles each way so I’m only just warmed up when I arrive. I tend to wear merino wool base layers in dark colours, which mask the ill effects of sweating really well. Also I tend to dress cool – starting my ride feeling a little chilly and warming through as I get up to speed. I tend to follow the ‘dress 10 degrees colder’ philosophy.

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