Rush Hour Commute – Cambridge to Kings Cross

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Three years ago I returned once again to life as a commuter from Cambridge to London, and decided to experiment with cycling as a way of reducing my overall journey time. Traffic wasn’t a problem in the morning as I set out for the 05.45 train, but arriving back in Cambridge in the evening, rush hour certainly slowed down my journey home, importantly meaning I got to see less of my family.

Starting with my Giant hybrid, three months of cycling proved successful, with times for my 4 mile journey to the station dropping from 18 minutes to around 14, giving favourable comparisons with a car journey. Before long I was also using a “Boris Bike” (one of the publicly available bikes in London) for the 1.5 mile journey between my office and Kings Cross Station. This cut the 20 minute walk (and continued to avoid an unpredictable and unpleasant tube journey) by half and worked well.

The next step was the move to look for a folding cycle. This was largely driven by the limitations of the London public cycle scheme – rushing to get a train in the evening, I could usually find a bike, but the racks closest to the station were often full, so I often had to park further away and walk, which would take too long and I’d invariably miss the train I was rushing for.

 

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I then carried out some fairly extensive research into the world of folding bikes. I read reviews, specifications and spent time talking to both bike shop specialists and existing folding bike commuters I met on the train (of which there are loads in Cambridge). Top of the pile by volume, came the Brompton, loved by many and used by a large number of the regular bike commuters on the Cambridge to London run. I picked out the six speed version based on my (perceived) need to change gear often to keep a high cadence, which I’d found kept excessive strain off my knees. I then borrowed one of these for a ten day period while a colleague was on holiday. Immediate impressions were very favourable – it was incredibly easy to fold. Once I’d been shown how to do it, I was pretty quick almost straight away, and a fold definitely took under 30 seconds. The ride was an improvement over a Boris Bike too - great in London traffic – much more nippy than the Boris bike, and really fast to accelerate in traffic. Most importantly the ability to ride ride up to the station and jump on a train got me on an earlier train than I would have managed without a folding bike.

However, at the other end of the journey, I encountered some difficulties which ultimately took the Brompton off the shortlist. The problem was really on the longer home leg of the journey, the Brompton was just too slow. My journey times rose, but more than that it was really hard work on the Brompton. I didn’t notice in London either because it was a shorter journey or because I was in heavy traffic, but out of town it was really noticeable.

That led me to the second bike on the shortlist, made by a company based in Cambridge so well represented in the Cambridge to London commuting community. After a short conversation with the team at Airnimal’s HQ, I identified the Joey model as the best fit for my commute, and arranged a week’s trial. My initial impressions were favourable – riding the Airnimal was a revelation. It’s just such good fun, it really puts a smile on your face. The way it feels is fantastic – the best way I can describe it is that it felt like driving a BMW and by comparison my hybrid felt like a Volvo.

The next test was how well it dealt with the commute. “The fold was much easier than I anticipated. No doubt it’s not as quick and easy as the Brompton, but even my first attempts were under a minute, which is fine for the station. The size when folded is also bigger than the Brompton, but more than compact enough for the train. However,  where the Airnimal really worked was on the road. Both in London and out of the City in Cambridge, the Airnimal was unbelievably fast. My time from desk to Kings Cross dropped by 30%, and the Cambridge station to home leg was consistently faster than on my hybrid, including a new personal best of sub-13 minutes.

I made the call to go with the Airnimal – the Brompton was fine in the City, and the fold and portability is unequaled. If I just had a mile at each end of my train journey, I’d definitely consider a Brompton. But for my circumstances, the performance over longer distances is critical, and the Airnimal is just awesome. The folding works fine for me, and the fact that it puts a smile on my face when I drag myself to work early in the morning is just a huge bonus.

Nearly three years on, and the Airnimal is going strong. Used between three and five days a week, under all conditions (never missed a cycle because of the weather), it has been utterly flawless. I get it serviced twice a year at Airnimal HQ and have only had one puncture in the schwalbe marathon tyres. Over time I’ve come to appreciate the riding position and handling even more, and the disc brakes are brilliant in bad weather.

The Airnimal has also played a part in me becoming a cyclist. As I began to cycle more and get stronger and fitter, I began to go further afield. I bought a road bike and now go for a long weekend ride on top of my daily commute. In winter when the roads are snowy or icy, I stay off the thin, smooth roadbike tyres and take the Airnimal out for the weekend ride. Even in commute guise, the Airnimal is just as competent and enjoyable to ride as it is in the City traffic, and it has proved a fantastic investment.

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