Now that Matariki is over, and the days are slowly lengthening again, thoughts naturally enough turn to where to cycle tour during the warmer months?
The sublime West Coast Rd before ducking down to Southland? The evocatively named Lost World Highway? The breathtaking Rimutaka Rail Trail combined with the lovely Route 52? Or perhaps the Motu Trail over to Gisborne for the Rhythm and Vines concert?
Whatever your chosen tour, you need some way of getting to and from your route, unless you plan on cycling all the way there. One good option is taking a bus to a starting town near your planned tour before returning by bus. Intercity and Naked Bus are the two main nation wide bus companies operating services. For my recent tour I chose to go with Intercity.
I have had Facebook ‘discussions’with Intercity based on their reported past poor attitude…
towards having bikes on buses and had an experience last year that saw me denied service because I was bringing a bike. I had in person unknowingly booked a service that used double-deck buses which can’t take bikes. The sales person, despite knowing that I was taking a bike, never told me that I couldn’t take my bike, and the first I knew about this problem was at 7.30pm the night before a 7am departure. This wasn’t a fault of the sales person. It was a fault of the system that failed to inform both her and I that bikes couldn’t be carried on that service.
Given this context, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to another journey with them. Knowing that you can take bikes on single-deck buses, but not double-deck buses, I made sure my ticket, booked through an agent, was for a single-deck bus to the starting point of my tour (Taihape, to ride the Gentle Annie route) – but you have to check when booking.
In the morning I made my way to the bus station in Auckland Central, and reported to the driver. She didn’t blink an eye, and calmly asked me remove the front wheel and please could I secure it to the luggage compartment bracing. Not what I was expecting! I took off the front wheel and set about securing the bike inside the compartment. About to climb on board, the driver said that it would be difficult for me to ride without a front wheel, and reminded me that I had forgotten to put the front wheel with my bike in the luggage compartment. Ooops!
Her attitude was positive and friendly, and carrying a bike did not bother her. I found this to be the same for three drivers on the other buses I used in my tour (four in total). They didn’t blink an eye and were unfailingly helpful. One bus driver was grumpy, but it was because I had booked the ticket online, and there is no-where in the booking process to indicate that you would be turning up with a bike. Once he got past the fact that his booking sheet did not tell him that I was bringing a bike, he was actually pleasant and very helpful.
So from my experience, and from discussions with other cycle tourists, the key thing is to book in person. You can clarify with the agent that the booked service can take bikes, and the booking agent can make a note for the driver’s manifest that you would be turning up with a bike. This makes it easier for the driver.
However if you book online, it’s not immediately obvious which services take bikes and there is nowhere to indicate to Intercity that you will be bringing a bike. When I booked online, and turn up with my bike, the driver was annoyed – but that’s not the driver’s or my problem – the problem is in the way the software is designed. The online Terms and Conditions indicate that “If you wish to take a bicycle with you as luggage, please contact us in advance of travel so we can inform the driver. This may make it easier for him/her to leave space for your bike.” This then leaves the further step of having to contact the call centre to tell them that you are taking a bike – but if you, like me, don’t regularly read Terms and Conditions, you’d never know to do this.
Naked Bus’s online Terms and Conditions only says “Bicycles should be boxed to avoid damage to other passengers’ luggage, however if you are unable to box the bicycle, our minimum requirement is that the bicycle pedals and chain are covered and the front wheel removed. We take absolutely no responsibility for damage to bicycles that are not boxed. We cannot carry tandem bicycles as these are too big for our luggage space.”
Recently I spoke to a couple who faced being left on the side of the road in Bulls at 11pm, despite an online booked ticket, because the double-decked bus that arrived could not take bikes. How were they to know? (Fortunately the driver took pity on them). I suggest that bus companies do need to think through booking processes, given the growth in cycle touring. Overall, the relative ease of carrying my bike on a bus made my recent tour possible, and I will continue to use buses to access some of the great cycle routes around the country. I heartily recommend that you consider doing the same.