Saturday was a good day to be in the heart of Bristol. But only if you were a protestor, a police officer on overtime or gay. But not if you were going to a wedding.
I should have known things weren’t going to be easy when I arrived at the garage to collect my bus for the day. YDL318, a Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, had been helpfully parked outside ready to go. Except that it wasn’t. As part of my walk-around checks, I dipped the fuel tank and found that it was almost empty. The folks at the garage usually make sure that the bus I’ve been allocated has been fuelled up because I don’t have a fuel card but on this occasion this hadn’t been done. Fortunately I was able to borrow a card and so, after completing my checks, I made my first visit to a petrol station in charge of a bus.
I’m glad I wasn’t paying – it cost £126 to fill the tank!
If you’ve read the previous post you’ll remember that this bus only does 30mph so it took me about an hour to drive up to Bristol. The flip side to that is that, being a low-geared bus, it climbs hills surprisingly well. To reach my pickup point I drove up Jacobs Wells Road which involves quite a long uphill haul. This bus managed to get all the way to the top in 3rd gear! OK, so being empty probably made a difference but the FLF that I sometimes drive probably would have struggled.
The Avon Gorge Hotel clings to the cliffside very close to the city end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, part of which you can see in the photo above. I turned the bus by reversing into a nearby side street and waited for the guests to emerge into the familiar grey dampness that masquerades as summer 2012.
I thought that 50mph was slow amid 21st century traffic but that was before I’d sampled 30mph max! My usual bus, a Bristol FLF with a 5-speed manual box, has a top speed of about 53mph but today I had a different Lodekka which only has a 4-speed box. Not only that but it’s fitted with a low ratio rear axle, which means that top speed is only 30mph, occasionally 33mph on a good downhill stretch!
To start with, I was going to conduct and my colleague Paul (who used to be a driver for Hants & Dorset) was going to drive but, after discussions, he drove the Crosville Bristol L seen in the distance of the picture above while I drove the Lodekka. Thank you Paul!
Our pickup point was Burwalls, just at the southern end of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The journey up from Weston gave me a chance to get accustomed to the Southern Vectis Bristol FS6G, which I had only driven once before. Despite both being Lodekkas fitted with the ubiquitous Gardner 6LW, the difference between this bus and the FLF which I usually drive was quite noticeable. To start with, the engine sounded quieter and not as harsh and rattly as the FLF’s. As we drove up the A370 towards Bristol I noted that there were far fewer rattles and vibrations in the cab. The steering seemed to be much tighter for a start, with much less free play. The other, most obvious difference between the two buses is the difference in top speeds, as I mentioned earlier. 30mph is fine in town or for climbing hills on the Isle of Wight but hopeless when out on the open road on the mainland where there are considerable distances to cover. I was very aware of the massive tailbacks that built up very quickly behind me and several times I pulled over into bus stop laybys to let the traffic go by.
You may have noticed in the photograph above that this Lodekka has a white steering wheel. I’m not sure if this would have been fitted from new but it usually alerted the driver to the fact that he was driving an 8ft wide bus. I believe this was introduced on the Bristol KSWs, as the previous Bristol Ks were 7ft 6in wide. Whether or not that’s true, the white plastic covering was in excellent condition and made driving even more pleasant. The covering on the FLF I’m used to driving is cracked and broken in places which means it’s rather rough on my hands!