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Fetching Delbert, an epic public transport struggle

As mentioned the other day, I’d bought myself a secondhand ‘spares or repair’ ebike on eBay, an NCM Venice Plus. The weekend arrived and it was time to collect it. I’m located on the West Cumbrian coast and the bike was to be collected from somewhere between Leeds and Bradford (outskirts of Bradford in reality). I’m a bit apprehensive about relying on public transport for more complex multi-leg trips these days but, needs must.

I packed carefully, oh, that was just a dream. What I actually did was fail to prepare, get up late and in a rush, put an old padded shirt on top of yesterday’s T-shirt and wear my steel safely boots in case a hike was called for, this look was topped with a flat cap and round my neck I carried a large chain lock like an oversized medallion. Into one of the shirt pockets I put my phone, a USB charging cable, earphones, and wallet. Into the other went my version of a comprehensive portable toolkit (Bahco bike multitool, cheap adjustable spanner with a metre of duct tape wrapped around the handle and half a dozen 200mm cable ties).

A rail ticket had been purchased in advance for £45 (long live the senior railcard). Whitehaven to Carnforth to Leeds to New Pudsey to be followed by a walk to the seller’s address but first, a bus to the station so I left the house at 07:00. This first hurdle proved a little tricky as the 07:10 bus (my only option) still hadn’t shown up by 07:15 so not a great start. Instead, a forced speed walk to the station allowed enough time to grab a Greggs bacon roll and coffee on the way and I made it to the station in time to find that the train was delayed by 7 minutes. This was a slight worry as my first connection only had a 9 minute transfer time with platform changes involved.

The journey to Carnforth was on a very quiet and seemingly unheated train, I should have worn a coat. The USB charging sockets worked though (tend to be hit and miss) so I risked reading with the Kindle app which can drain the battery quite quickly.

As we neared Carnforth I was clock watching, we were still 7 minutes behind schedule so a dash it would be. I ran through the tunnel between platforms only to find that the Leeds train was delayed by 19 minutes and had standing room only as far as Skipton. This delay was the exact same time as I had for my final transfer on the outward leg so I was hoping for an adrenaline junkie behind the wheel (not sure that trains actually have steering wheels). In fact, we ground into Leeds station 27 minutes late so all I could hope for was a delay in the final train leaving there.

At this stage the wheels really did ‘come off’, a delay there was indeed. Leeds station was in gridlock with no trains scheduled to leave at all and thousands of people wandering aimlessly about. It seems the complete regional signalling system had totally failed with no trains having left Leeds in the required direction for several hours. What to do?

Knowing that the route home would have different options if I started from Bradford rather than Leeds, I took a taxi to Pudsey with that in mind as a backup plan. The taxi cost £20 which seemed pretty reasonable for the time the journey took and the driver was very friendly, cheerfully telling me that the train problems were a real bonus for him.

I rang the bike seller from the taxi to explain my delay and he kindly agreed to meet me (with the bike) at New Pudsey station to save me a little time. He was a nice guy dressed head to foot in Hi-Viz (literally head to foot). He handed over the bike, charger and keys and off he went, probably feeling a little hard done by as he did mention several times that I’d got a real bargain.

What to do next as my plans are in tatters? At least the bike has been owned by ‘safety-Sam’ so it won’t have been raced or rallied.

A discussion with the staff in the ticket office revealed that the trains to Bradford were in fact all stuck at Leeds so my ‘Plan B’ was of no immediate benefit. They suggested that returning to Leeds station would give me the best options when things improved although they had no new information on when this would be. Unfortunately Leeds station was about 8 miles away and I’d bought a spares or repair bike rather than a functioning one. It occurred to me that safety-Sam probably rode it to the station as he’d been wearing a high-vis helmet complete with an array of flashing lights (it was early afternoon). Of course it is also possible that he sits at home wearing this and a seatbelt when watching the TV.

A quick assessment of the bike suggested that I could probably get somewhere on it as long as I didn’t need to change gear or pedal backwards as that caused the chain to fall off (classic sign of a long-overdue service), a pity as the area is quite hilly. I then realised that it was probably downhill most of the way to Leeds as it is far lower than Bradford. The broken spokes were more of a concern as having three of them really limits it to a light rider and I’m quite fat but hey-ho, out with Google Maps and engage cycle mode.

I didn’t know there is a ‘cycle super highway’ from Bradford to Leeds but Google is better informed than me. Still thinking about the spokes (I was genuinely worried about them as I could feel the back wheel flexing), I went very cautiously over bumps and took about 40 minutes for the trip which was otherwise uneventful. The cycle super highway is not perfect by any means but it is far better than many cities offer, maybe I’ll revisit it for a weekend at some point.

Leeds station was still in bedlam, most trains were still not running but they did have some helpful staff available and I was advised that my best bet would be a direct train to Carlisle expected in 90 minutes time although a bike space could not be guaranteed. I chilled outside (literally, another coat reminder) for an hour and then got to the platform early to be at the front of the queue, the train was there and the doors were unlocked so it was straight on to grab one of the two bike spaces. The train left on time and the only disappointment was that it was dark as part of the journey is on the famously picturesque Settle to Carlisle line.

At Carlisle I had around 50 minute to wait, alas this train would be the one I’d hoped to avoid when I originally planned the trip, the infamous Saturday drunk run back down the coast and it did not disappoint. A extremely drunken youth from Lockerbie was arguing loudly with security who would not let him into the station, their patience was quite something to behold and the youth’s unbroken squeaky voice made it quite funny as his various threats did not seem particularly dangerous. Once that excitement had passed, a young lass thought it helpful to almost block the main entrance with an impressive amount of puke (entry also denied).

Onto the train after a security check which I’d anticipated as this a ‘dry’ train, I figured they wouldn’t be overly impressed with the adjustable spanner so had secured it to the bottom of the frame with the duct tape (knew that would come in handy) and fixed the lock to the bike. I was the only ‘oldie’ on the train and appear to have been invisible to the party-goers as I was totally ignored which suited me. Actually this isn’t quite true, a young lad did tell me he was scared to go through the crowd to the toilet, I looked and the crowd was mainly a group of lasses in their twenties who frightened me too. Most of the passengers were in high spirits, singing and dancing throughout the 70 minute journey. There were no signs of any of the trouble this train is noted for.

I left my fellow travellers to seek their thrills in the bright lights of Whitehaven, for me it was a ride up the ‘big hill’ home. Fortunately the bike (Delbert is his new name) came complete with lights, I arrived home at about 21:40 almost 15 hours after leaving. Hot chocolate and bed for me.

Was it worth it? The bike cost me £250, collection cost me £70 including the unexpected taxi ride. A full daylight inspection tells me that all of the parts needed to properly repair Delbert (freewheel, chain, brake pads, brake fluid change, and some spokes) are things I already have as they are common to one of my other bikes. When fixed, I plan on keeping Delbert but I’d expect to get between £600 and £700 if I was to sell him in the spring when prices are generally around their peak. Not a bad return in reality.

Think I’ll have a quiet time next weekend, well actually not as I’m going to Manchester… by train.

Footnote; Delbert is the second NCM Venice I have purchased secondhand (the other being Alphonzo), both have come from carpeted garages (see the photo from the seller) which seems odd.

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