Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

All stressed out with no place for the bike to go
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Indy Lifestyle Online

With this column's by now traditional sense of the urgent and newsworthy, I got to the Reinventing the Bike Shed exhibition, down by London Bridge, about 15 minutes before it closed, and that was the weekend before last. So don't start planning your own visit.

On the positive side, the exhibition went with a competition, organised by Southwark Cyclists and the architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley, to design new solutions for bicycle storage in the city. The designs from that are going to be exhibited in September, so in a sense we're ahead of things.

From my point of view, the exhibition was a minor disappointment, since it didn't answer the question that has haunted me for a decade: how do you keep a nobbly, unwieldy metal thing like a bike at home?

Like a lot of London houses, ours has a narrow hallway, and any bike left there is a challenge to the coordination and limberness of everybody in the household, plus visitors.

Things might be all right if I had handlebars like those some couriers favour, cut down to a tiny T that barely gives your hands room to grip (mad, though: what you gain in ability to steer through gaps, you lose in stability).

Carrying the bike through to our tiny garden isn't easy, because of the narrow doorways and the awkward dog-leg by the stairs; and once you get it outside, there is a new struggle to get it under a flapping cover, secure, and stacked tidily against the wall so we can still get to the bins.

More often than not, I leave the bike in the hall and then wander around with my hands in my pockets, whistling a jaunty air and wobbling slightly, to suggest that I'm probably not the sort of person who would ride a bike in the first place. This has been surprisingly effective, but I am worried that it may not work in the long term.

Several people have kindly suggested some sort of overhead storage, a bracket or rack high up on the wall; but our hall is not high enough or wide enough to get the bike properly out of the way, and it wouldn't look nice. One friend of mine gets around his problem by storing all the family's bikes in their tiny front garden, crammed in so tight that it's not worth a thief's while to get involved; but our front door opens straight on to the pavement.

Short of major reconstruction or moving to a part of the country where we can afford a garage, it's hard to see what can be done. Or, of course, converting the entire household to folding bicycles; but that would feel like an admission of defeat.

As I say, Reinventing the Bike Shed didn't say much about home storage: it was concerned more with the difficulty of parking the bike outside the house, in the city, and offered a series of ingenious, elegant, and occasionally even practical solutions: lockable bike racks, which can be opened with an electronic card; vast underground storage carousels, manifested above ground by a small, sleek metal cabin like the better class of modern public lavatory.

Most of this struck me as overkill. All we really need are lots more Sheffield racks - a thick, square arch of metal. And I have my own set of rules: carry one armoured cable lock, wide enough to go round most lampposts, and one D-lock, which will fit round narrow things like railing and parking meters; make sure the bike is snug against whatever it is you're locking it too (I lost one bike when the bastard thieves used it as a lever to bust the D-lock); put a lock through each wheel as well as the frame; and leave the bike in very visible places.

Above all, make sure you insure the bike to its full value and then cultivate an attitude of pessimism verging on despair. This still doesn't help me with the hallway, though.

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