Saturday, March 15, 2008

How to Load a Bike on a Bus (Old Lady Style)

I guess it would make good slap stick comedy act. A street show with this old lady loading her bike on a Metro bus is good for laughs even at those rare times when I feel graceful performing it. So I phoned the Metro before writing this blog entry and asked, “Can someone give me instructions on how to properly load a bike on the bus?”

“It’s on our website,” answered a patient female voice.

I asked her whether she was referring to: which reads as follows:
1)As the bus approaches, have your bike ready to load.
2)Talk to the driver before stepping in front of the bus with your bike. Make sure the driver acknowledges your desire to load.
3)Remove any bicycle accessories, including panniers, that prevent safe operation of the bus or may fall off when bus is moving.
4)Squeeze the rack handle and lower rack to release the folded bike rack.
5)Lift your bike onto the rack, fitting the wheels into the slots. Each slot is labeled for front and rear wheels. Load your bike into the outside slot if it is vacant.
6)Raise and release the support arm over the front tire. Make sure the support arm is resting on the tire and not on the fender or frame.
7)Be sure to sit near the front of the bus and keep an eye on your bike

“Yes that’s the one.”

I yawned. “That tells me everything I need to know except how to load on the bike,”

“I don’t understand. That’s what it’s about, how to load your bike,” said the incredulous voice. How could I be so stupid?

“Those instructions tell you how to operate the rack mechanism, but not how to lift the bike on,” I pointed out.

“Well, that’s obvious.! You just lift it on!” The patient tone had risen to a note of exasperation.

But it isn’t obvious. I’ve watched lots of people putting bikes on buses, and have witnessed a variety of methods. The straight forward way is to grasp the seat post with your left hand and the handle bar post with your right hand, lift, and plop both wheels in the slots at the same time. I’ve seen lots of big strong guys do it that way. Not me. I tried it a time or two, but even if my skinny old wrists managed the maneuver, my lower back objected to the pain, especially if I had left on the panniers full of shopping loot or books from the library.

So I developed a completely different system that may have looked a bit clumsy but worked painlessly and effectively. Standing on the right side of the bike I would reach my right arm over the rear wheel, grab hold of the metal arm leading to the axel, and lift the rear wheel into its slot. This method gave me enough leverage to easily handle the bike’s entire weight. It used my full body strength instead of relying on weak little wrists. Finally, with the rear wheel thus steadied, I would drop the wobblier front wheel into place. Voila!

That went well for nearly twenty years. But then along came the modern buses with their shiny stainless steel new fangled racks. Some brilliant designer had the novel idea of chopping the end off the rear wheel slots. So if you try to put the rear wheel in first, the bike falls off the rack. You have to take the wobblier front wheel with no metal arm to steady it and put that on first. I guess the point of the new design is to make it quicker to remove the bike when you leave. It sure works. All you have to do is lift the front wheel and off comes the bike. If you’re lucky, it doesn’t fall in the street.

But that rendered obsolete my old dependable loading system. I had to come up with a new procedure. Namely I had to figure out how to put the wobblier front wheel on first because there was a whole slot to put it in . Luckily, even though my wrists are weak, I do have long fingers. So I could take hold of the frame and the front wheel both in my left hand, thus steadying the wobbly wheel. Also this system of grasping the bike at a lower level gave me sufficient leverage to get the bike on. It was not as easy as my old method but worked well enough provided, of course, that I had taken Metro’s advice and removed the panniers first.

All went okay until December 5, 2007. That was when I fell and broke my hip. (I’ll tell more about that in a later entry.) That is the bad news. The good news is that doctors are amazing mechanics. I have a new ball joint and I’m already back on my bike. Well, actually it isn’t my bike. A friend lent me a cute little bike made by Burley. It’s called a Birdy. Now I don’t use panniers at all. I am limited to a small back pack for carrying shopping loot and/or books. But the bad news is I can’t even use the bike rack at all. Birdy’s derailer is in the way. The rear wheel won’t fit on the bus rack. However, the good news is that it’s a folding bike. I can dismantle the thing and get the bus driver to lower the wheel chair ramp to haul us up. Can you imagine what a Charlie Chapman act that is?
Salvation is on the horizon. In July I’m planning to buy a similar cute little contraption that REI has on back order. It’s called the Novara Buzz Fly-By Foldable Bike. That one has a hub shifter so there will be no derailer in the way of putting it on a bus rack. Maybe that way my street performance will get fewer laughs.