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Quite a journey before getting on that Belfast Bike

FLYING ON ONE WING: The Belfast Bike, when it was eventually freed from its dock, had only one pedal FLYING ON ONE WING: The Belfast Bike, when it was eventually freed from its dock, had only one pedal
By Squinter

NO idea why, but Squinter decided on Sunday that he fancied a bike ride. The main impediment to the fulfilment of this wish was the fact that Squinter doesn’t have a bike any more. But not to worry, we’ve Belfast Bikes all over the place, right?
And so it was that Squinter and his missus found themselves on Sunday afternoon in CS Lewis Square off the Newtownards Road, intending to rent a couple of machines from the bike station there and cycle to Comber for lunch. Reason: the Comber Greenway is a quite lovely stretch that Squinter has walked with the dog many times and it struck him that the rural path would be a perfect and very safe way of starting on the Belfast Bikes adventure.
Squinter was fairly confident that he’d be on his way in five minutes or so, because the jaunty little video that Belfast Bikes have on YouTube suggested that registering would be as simple as crossing the road. Didn’t quite work out like that…
Sat on a wooden bench in the shadow of the lion from Narnia, Squinter downloaded the app on his phone in double-quick time (the keypad on the Belfast Bike panel wasn’t working) and then set about registering in order to allow the app to go live. Let’s just say that by the time he finally managed to get up and going the afternoon had crept on more than a little and the cheerful anticipation of a day on two wheels in the country was giving way to deepening irritation.
Long story short, the joyous time arrived when Squinter punched the security code into the app, the green light flashed and with a satisfying clunk the heavy bike came away from its dock. Squinter threw his leg over the saddle and set off on a victory lap of the square. He pushed off vigorously with his right foot, but when he attemped to engage the left, the sole of his shoe hit the concrete with a rather disconcerting jolt and Squinter braked sharply. Looking down, he saw that the left pedal of the bike was missing.
Now Squinter has ridden many defective bikes in his life. He hired one in Valencia and the front brake was a bit dodgy (always better to have a good back brake, though). He borrowed one in Amsterdam that was stuck in fifth (quite a strain after half an hour, even in a billiard-table city). And he spent a couple of days touring the Algarve on a bike that came with the apartment (a memorable 48 hours even though – or perhaps even because – the back wheel was two thirds the size of the front). But with the best will in the world, getting to Comber from Belfast on one pedal is not a journey that’s likely to have you arriving in County Down in good spirits. And so Squinter called the helpline, to be answered not by a helpful Belfast voice, but by an automated English one referring him to a range of numbers, the one he required being, of course, the very last one. And then he waited while the music played, and played, and played, and played. And then he hung up and called back, listened to more music for an eternity and then hung up again.
Only then did it occur to Squinter to simply return the bike to the dock, which he did, just before the charge-free first 30 minutes elapsed. At which point he went to the second of the three bikes remaining at the station, gave the pedals the once over and rented that one. On the second victory lap Squinter noticed that his knees were closer to his chin than felt comfortable and he stopped to adjust the saddle (piece of cake according to the Belfast Bikes YouTube primer). Unfortunately the thread on the thumb screw was rusty and tightening it enough to get the clip to engage proved impossible. Squinter decided that this was a defect he could live with, even though the unsecured saddle had a rather worrying tendency to spin when taking a corner. And the reason he decided to do an Easy Rider impression with a wonky saddle rather than simply get another machine? Simply because there was now only one bike remaining and the missus hadn’t got hers yet.
And so out came the phone again, in went the security code for the third and last bike and… a big sad face emoji appeared on the screen. Squinter wasn’t allowed to rent a second bike – one was his limit. This even though the Belfast Bikes website points out that a single account is permitted to rent up to four bikes. Squinter tried again: another sad face emoji. A question for Belfast Bikes: how do you suppose the average human being is going to react to being presented with a sad face emoji when something goes wrong? Will he smile at its cuteness? Will he be placated by this empathetic representation of his mental state? Answer: no, he will feel like going to the nearest B&Q and purchasing a sledgehammer (although Squinter’s sure that most people will, just as he did) successfully battle the urge to turn the docking station into a scrapyard).
Back on the helpline, the music played, and played, and played…

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