22nd January 2011 Taking the stoker and the tandem home

Packing the tandem at Arrecife airport

22nd January 2011 Arrecife, Lanzarote to Weymouth

Unexpectedly we were unable to return home by ship. Travel by air was the only option despite our intention not to travel by air again. The stoker finds air travel both difficult and uncomfortable because of the effects of her thrombosis. Aircraft are extremely environmentally damaging and we prefer to tread as softly as possible wherever we go.

We try to prepare for most eventualities when travelling by tandem but a degree of improvisation is required to travel Ryanair at the last minute. We got a reasonable price on the ticket but they charge a good deal extra for checked baggage and for bicycles. We did ask if they would consider the tandem as a wheelchair as it is especially adapted for the stoker but as expected they refused. Mr O’Leary did not get where he is today by being soft on anyone.

We downloaded Ryanair’s terms of carriage and measured all our bags very carefully. The back of the tandem could go as a bicycle for €40. We had the soft nylon bags for it but would need to look for some other packing material. Surprisingly, the front of the tandem with the rear panniers attached to the carrier and complete with handlebar bag is within the size limit for checked baggage. This cost us another €25. The front panniers with a little adjustment are within the size limit for hand baggage and Ryanair has no weight limit on this.

Now for the stoker. Nothing short of a full sized bed would make air travel comfortable. All Ryanair could offer was special help boarding the aircraft, which she does not need. Also, if she claimed reduced mobility she would not be allowed to sit in the seats with better leg room near the emergency exits They do however have an option to allow passengers to buy priority boarding for €4. We opted for this because even if she could not get an emergency exit seat she would get a right side aisle seat. As it turned out she got an emergency exit seat with excellent leg room.

So for the grand sum of about €75 extra we hope that the tandem and the all important stoker are now fully sorted.

Our final apartment was only 4km from the airport and before setting off we rearranged the baggage to meet the Ryanair restrictions to the letter. The front panniers were to be our hand luggage. They are smaller in length and width than the requirement but much too deep. We made them wider and narrower, one by putting the laptop in sideways and the other by taping two picnic boxes together to do the same job as the laptop.

At the airport we removed just the front of the tandem. It can be divided into three but Ryanair would not have been able to cope with this. We packed our helmets, waterproofs and removable pedals into our day rucksack and strapped it onto the rear carrier.

 Our baggage after collection at Bristol

In an Arrecife ferreteria we had bought ten metres of bubble wrap for €8 and a full set of car luggage straps in Lidl’s for €7. We wrapped the tandem in bubble wrap and tied the drinks bottles to their cages. We then covered the tandem in its lightweight nylon bags which we always carry and made lifting handles with the luggage straps. The whole thing is certainly not baggage handler proof but a good compromise.

We dealt with the front of the tandem in a similar way. The main difference was that we fitted the rear panniers to the front low rider pannier carrier, having put mainly clothing in them to keep them as light as possible. We then used the luggage straps, going through the front wheel to tie the whole lot together before putting on the bubble wrap and the nylon bag.

This whole process took about an hour and we were pretty pleased with ourselves as we made for the baggage drop. Here we had some problems which surprisingly stressed the stoker out and left the management to smooth the way. It is usually the other way round.

The queue to check in was not all that long but moved so slowly that we were worried about getting the bags checked in in time. The checkin clerk was not happy with the front of the tandem, saying it should have been registered as another bike but she let it go this time, probably because time was moving on. In the unlikely event that there is another trip we will do this. It is not worth the extra hassle to save ten quid.

The next problem was that the packed bike was too large to go through the normal x-ray scanner. Our, by now personal, clerk accompanied us to the oversize baggage checkin which presumably is not usually used by Ryanair.

If we ever have to do this again (please no) we will leave even earlier so that we are nearer to the front of the queue and avoid this last minute panic. As it was we did not know whether the tandem with our luggage was on the plane or not.

Assembly on the train

By the time we had been through passport control (why?) we were just in time to collect the tandem from the baggage carousel. As far as we could see it appeared to be undamaged. We paid the extortionate non refundable fee to “hire” a trolley and made for the shuttle bus stop for Bristol Temple Meads rail station.

The bus driver was extremely pleasant and helpful. Basically if a piece of luggage will fit on the very large luggage racks they will take it. The rear of the tandem is a fraction too long and because we had not lowered the stoker’s seat also too wide. The management did his best not to block the bus access and the driver agreed it was ok. A normal bike packed for travelling by air would almost certainly fit. It would also be easier, as it was for us, if the service is not busy.

We did look at the possibility of cycling into Bristol which is about twelve miles. This can be done largely on Sustrans route 334. The main road route looks very nasty for bikes.

 Ready to ride home in Weymouth

Bristol Temple Meads rail station does not charge for trolleys and the large lifts were just big enough to take all our stuff. Leaving the tandem packed very substantially reduces the small risk of it being rejected on the train.

Once the train had quietened down the management spent the rest of the journey assembling the tandem. We were on the more modern of the Last Worst Western’s Bristol Weymouth stock. It had been specified by those who ruined the railways in the 1990’s, some of whom probably trained with the management. It had a very small bike space.

On this occasion the train crew made encouraging comments each time they passed as the fully formed tandem gradually emerged from its packaging. Amusingly it was quite difficult getting the tandem off the train. We had to put it vertical and wiggle it. When we finally left the train the guard wished us good luck with our journey home.

As we rode home in the dark and the cold we were very grateful that no damage had been done to it on the journey. The baggage handlers had obviously been very kind to it and to us.