For my first Learning Experiences challenge for the LGRAB Summer Games I decided to carry a load. As mentioned previously, I packed a weekend's worth of clothes, bike stuff, and paperwork into urban panniers and pedaled off to a conference at the University of Delaware.
Although I frequently use my bike for local transportation, this was my first "self-supported" tour. My goal was to get there solo and in style – and get there I did, via a happy combination of bicycling, light rail, and commuter rail. I was very pleased with the ease of travel, particularly as I opted for a pink polo shirt and patch madras skirt rather than a bike jersey and shorts. Bike + train is just so civilized!
As might be expected, the loaded panniers changed the handling of my bike. The extra weight low around the rear axle made the front tire rise – I kept feeling like I was about to pop a wheelie. I also kept kicking the panniers with my heels as I pedaled. Some of the time I compensated by pedaling with the arch of my foot on the pedal, which is considered Very Poor Form, and the rest of the time I kicked away, which was annoying. Traditional touring panniers tend to be trapezoidal to allow heel clearance, which I think rather spoils their lines. Alas, dreary utility! I like my pretty rectangular panniers, but need to find a workaround for these issues.
The biking portions of the trip – in three states, from casa Jersey Knitter to the Newark Light Rail (NJ), in Center City Philadelphia between trains (PA), and from Newark Station to the conference center (DE) – were mostly on low-traffic roads, many with bike lanes and pretty little parks. I did have to ride like an arrow in Philadelphia to catch my train, but that was because ::cough:: I spent too much time gabbing with a friend. Otherwise, the riding was pleasant and easy.
On the trains – light rail to Newark Penn Station, NJ Transit to Trenton, SEPTA R7 to Center City Philadelphia, SEPTA R2 to Newark Station – my bike was in good company. NJ Transit and SEPTA personnel were invariably helpful and accommodating and most passengers seemed quite positive about bikes on board. I started to think maybe the paradigm shift has come.
Then again, maybe not – or rather our current built environment often reflects a different sensibility and imposes a different reality. The biggest obstacle of the trip was at Newark Station (DE). It's labeled accessible, but the station platform is at grade. In response to my dismayed queries, an obliging conductor explained the station IS accessible (there's a mini-platform... but it was locked and no one could unlock it), told me to stand back, then neatly hoisted my bike and carried it down the train steps to the platform. While I appreciated that brawny assistance personally, as a matter of public policy I have to wonder (not for the first time) how a passenger with limited mobility – people with mobility devices, youngsters, oldsters, women great with child – would fare.
Somewhere between Newark (NJ) and Newark (DE) I cast on my conference sock. The conference itself had a good amount of knitting time, neither too little nor too much. This is how far I got over the weekend. In a way, it's evidence I actually attended meetings instead of ::cough:: playing hooky to ride my bike. Not that I wasn't tempted – I'd love to go exploring.
And I'd love to try more car-free multi-modal touring, both for business and leisure.