Sunday, May 26, 2019

How to tour on a Brompton

Cycle touring is a passion of mine and bringing a bicycle along is my favourite way to discover new places. In the last eight years I have used a Brompton folding bike. I can definitely say that it exceeded my expectations and performed so well that it has become my bicycle of choice for my cycling tours ever since.
I fly packing the Brompton into a soft folding bike bag and my setup to carry all I need on my tour consists of a Brompton T-Bag at the front and a standard rucksack fitted on top of the bike rack in a way I described in this article
Over the years it has become a tried and tested way to carry luggage on the folder and having been used by Brompton travellers all over the world. It offers a stable and well balanced ride and is extremely versatile in any multi-modal tours where some kind of transportation is an option. 
If needed, you are able in just a few minutes to switch from a fully loaded bicycle to a packed setup that you can hold in your hands and carry on a car, bus, train or plane.
Every bicycle traveler loathes the difficulties of transporting bikes to destinations, finding boxes to pack things, and shift around two or more panniers at the same time.
This setup prevents all that and makes it all very easy and mostly hassle free.
Concerns about the reliability of a Brompton folding bike as well as its comfort and ability to cope with hills, descents and generally long days of riding with the weight of my luggage, proved to be unfounded. Touring on a Brompton has just been a pure joy. 
I believe there are three conditions and a few trade-offs worth considering before you begin cycle touring on a Brompton; if these don't seem too much of a limitation I would have no hesitation recommending it.

  1. You are planning a tour on decent, mostly surfaced roads.
  2. You will not be touring in extreme cold temperatures.
  3. You will not be for any extended time in remote areas where self efficiency is a must.

( 1 ) Brompton's are sturdy bikes and can withstand more abuse than you imagine but still their small wheels and thin tyres are not best suited to rough terrains and muddy tracks. I have at times cycled on unpaved roads and you will be able to cope with the odd exception by walking, but if that is the condition of most of the roads you will travel on, an expedition touring bike or a mountain bike will be a better choice. Mud, due to low clearance of the mudguards and limits on the choice of tyres, is something that Brompton are definitely not made for.

( 2 ) This might be a bit more arbitrary and you can probably prove me wrong but I have found that my setup has to be really compact and light in order to work best and provide the benefits that a folding bike brings in the first place. Traveling in freezing temperatures means having to carry much more weight and gear in order to be comfortable during the tour. Each kilograms you add to your setup will put further strain on the bike and make it harder to be carried on public transport if needed.

( 3 ) Bromptons are reliable bikes but they are not bullet proof; they also use a lot of specific and proprietary spare parts. Traveling for an extended period in remote areas means that should you have a technical issue, you might not be able to fix it. Adding to that the likelihood that no transportation is readily available, your tour will not be much fun. Traveling remote areas involves being self sufficient i.e. carrying a lot more stuff than you would otherwise. Carrying lots of water and food and all the gadgets and utensils that make it possible, is not an easy option on such a small bike.


in over 10000 kilometres I have had hardly any reliability issues to report, probably on a par or even less than on mountain bikes or touring bikes I have used in the past. In all my tours all I had to cope with were punctures and several tyre replacements. I find the key is to properly maintain your bicycle and ensure that it is well tuned and fully functioning before setting off on a tour. My strategy here is to be more proactive than I would be on another bike. I regularly replace parts that need changing after a recommended mileage. Chain and sprockets are swapped when needed, gear cables and brake cables are also newly fitted every few years, to limit the possibility of failures while I might not be able to source spare parts.
Marathon tyres even on such tiny size are exceptionally tough. One thing to consider though is that the rear tyre will wear out faster than on larger wheels. It is only natural that the small wheels increased contact results in increased wear too; I always bring one or two spare quality tyres for Brompton's 16" wheels as these are not always easy to find in bike shops around the world. In the past I have simply swapped tyres when I felt that they were not evenly worn but a tyre failure shouldn't be a reason to wreck your plans and one or two spare tyres are small, not too heavy and can be easily carried.  
Wheels always performed faultlessly, staying perfectly tuned to the last day.
I always carry several replacement spokes too, again due to the fact that should you need to fix the wheels, a shop might not have the right size. These are stored in the hollow tube holding the rucksack. 
Something I am always aware of is to try and be gentle on the bike. While climbing a steep hill I refrain from any temptation of standing on the pedals and rocking the bike as I would do on a mountain bike or a racer. When the road is bumpy and uneven I ride in a very conservative way and do not hesitate to dismount and have a little walk if I believe it safer for myself and the bike.


The great benefits in portability means that you have to do some compromises in comfort; these are less noticeable than you might think. With a six, 12% reduced gearing bike setup, you are able to climb most hills or even mountains where gradients are not too extreme. You will find them adequate gear ratios to cover most terrains, fast descents, flat sections etc. Using a Brompton makes you more conscious of how much weight you take with you; you will travel light and this makes you faster or as fast as any cycle tourists you might encounter along the road. On descents the opposite is true. Always be aware of rolling on small wheels and therefore more cautious and focused.  Your pace and the daily distances you are able to cover will likely match those of other tourers and their more traditional setups. 
A front T-Bag with the heaviest load and a lighter rucksack at the back turns up to be a very efficient way to load the bike. It is well balanced, secure and the handling of the bike feels more stable than unloaded.
Having a rucksack instead of dedicated bike panniers is much more versatile. If you want you have the ability to take a day off the bike and go for a trek and when you have to take the bike on buses or trains you have a fast way to put luggage on your shoulders while having your hands free to carry the folded bike and T-Bag.
Older Brompton versions had brakes deficiencies especially on long descent but more recents models, certainly from 2013 on, come equipped with adequate brakes and feel secure on the steepest descents even with the extra weight you are carrying.


In my opinion Brompton offers the best setup for a multi-modal tour, where the odd transfer by other means of transport is involved. There might be times where the road is too steep and you might need to break your cycling with a short walk but I turn this limitation into an advantage. It becomes a good chance to use different muscles and I have found out that a folding bike loaded this way is extremely comfortable and easy to push.
To me these compromises are well worth it and I found touring with a Brompton folding bike, an easy and fun way to cycle travel.


  1. Great blog Gianni. i was wondering how it is to fly with Brompton only in a soft bag.What about damage to derailleur, chain and other parts?

  2. Thanks Atle! As far as derailleur and chain are concerned they are inside the fold, which is perfect for protecting parts as well as keeping you clean when you carry it. I put up a video on how I pack the bike to protect it a bit more. Of course it isn't as a good option as a rigid bag, but rigid bags limit you in the sense that you can't carry them with you once you start cycling and also it is more obvious you are carrying a bike and airlines will jump at you and ask you for more money... In my experience and from what I have heard from other Brompton travelers unless you run into particularly rough luggage handlers your bike should be ok.

  3. Hola Gianni, no sé si entiendes el español. Yo no hablo inglés, lo siento.
    Muy de acuerdo con tu artículo sobre las posibilidades de una bicicleta
    Brompton para la práctica del cicloturismo yo he realizado viajes con ella
    y nunca me ha fallado.
    Enhorabuena por tu gran página y magníficos videos.

    Saludos. Gerardo.

  4. Hello Gianni,

    As a owner of an M6L x 50T (2016 build), I found the hardest gear useless to me with my casual riding style. But, I found the 3rd and 4th gears great for flats.

    After deciding to reduce my gearing with a 44T chainring, I now find it be be noticeably easier. But, I need to relearn what my favourite flat gears are.

    Just curious. What gears you prefer to use in which situations? If you don't mind me asking.

    Ciro D

    1. Hi Ciro I have never tried the 50T ratios. As you can see from the site I use the Brompton for touring mostly and I found that with the extra weight of the luggage I carry the 12% reduced gearing is perfect. Favourite gears on flats are 4th and 5th. 1st is mostly used on steeper hills and when used it means traveling at a speed of 7/8 kph. Below that I would think I rather walk as I would travel as fast! Hope it helps. Enjoy this fantastic bike!

  5. Gianni, I have found almost all your travel videos on You Tube and finally came back to this web page from one of the links. Your tour videos are one reason I went for the Brompton as my retirement bike. I ordered an M6R with 12% reduced gearing- perfect for my legs and all the hills here in Michigan. I hope you keep traveling in fun and safety like this. Your videos are fun to watch. I feel like I'm peddling along with you as I watch. What's next?

    1. Thanks Mark, I appreciate your comments and am glad to know that my videos helped you make a decision. They are very nice bikes to ride and very versatile as you can ride them in a city or fold them to quickly take them with you in a car, train, plane etc. I just returned from a short week riding around the Bay Area and will upload a video of that too in the next few months. Good luck with your traveling plans!

    2. Thanks for the reply :-) I'll watch for your latest video.

  6. Hey Gianni. Great blog. I´m currently teasing with the idea of traveling Europe on a bropmton but I´m not sure if it will be right for me. I weight about 100kg, which is close to the limit brompton recomends, and I don´t know if it will be advisable to do long distances (80km) being so close to the limit. Also, what are your thoughts about the riding position of the bike for long hours? Did you noticed any pain, something you had to improve to be more comfortable? Thanks!

    1. Hi Federico, thanks. It's not easy to answer your question but if I were you I would first check that your weight and weight of the luggage you carry are not too much over what Brompton recommends. I assume their recommended weight is on the conservative side as they have to be extra cautious. In my experience it is a very sturdy bike and I haven't experienced any failures in 10000 km or my trips. I would also make sure that the bike is well maintained and parts are replaced when needed and then test your setup on day rides where you can get a feel for what the bike can do. Riding position personally is pretty comfortable,I don't experience any pains on my trips. It is important to have an alternative position for your hands as that allows you to move the body every now and then and use different muscles. All you need for that is some kind of grips. I use Ergon and highly recommend these. Take care and good luck with your plans.

  7. Hi. We have one Brompton 6 speed with the older Sturmey Archer narrow range hub, so to get an equivalent low gear to the wide range hub and 44T crank, we put on a Shimano 39T ring on the crank.

  8. Hi Gianni, great read about touring with a Brompton. I'm currently buying a Brompton M6R, and plan to do a set up like yours. Can you recommend any equipment ie backpack,tent, sleeping bag/mat, cooking equipment? I like to pack very light. Many thanks Brian

  9. Hello Brian and sorry if this comes really late! You might have bought all equipment by now! If you haven't I would suggest you go to my YouTube page at Brompton Traveler. I have a few videos on packing and the things I carry when I travel on a Brompton. With these bikes you must travel light. Backpack is a 45L Exped which was the lightest I could find, tent I waste 500 gr but love the comfort of a 2 men Hubba Hubba MSR. Of course many more things than I can list here! Take care.

  10. Hi Great Blog

    I and my partner have been a cycle tourist for many years and we have always used Moutain bike. Last year my partner and I used brompton for a trip to the north of England, Hadrian's wall and Liverpool.
    We have used the standard model bicycles 3-speed .
    We have token only the Tbag, a little bag, where was the clothes for the rain, under the brooks saddle and a small backpack on our shoulders
    The trip was a very positive experience. But the 3-speed brompton is at the limit in fact we have decided to buy the 6-speed - 12% reduced gearing.

    We wanted to buy the explorer model but it is sold :( and there expansive. So we purchased a customized model and we tried them on our hills in Bologna and they look perfect. I had already organized a trip to Scotland for this year but I have to postpone it :(

  11. Dear Gianni, first of all congratulations for your amazing website! It is a very well documented and sweated work. I've watched several of your videos and they are incredibly tempting (specially -at least for me- your trip in Ladakh). Your way to move around with the brompton is so simple and easy going that makes me think seriously about replacing my touring bike for a brompton. Actually I owned one between 2005 to 2009 and I had plenty of fun with it (not only for commuting but also for one day excursions and some off-road). You have encouraged me to get a new brompton with 6 gears and a 44t chainring instead of a 50t. I hope I will be able to do my next bike trip with such a tough and agile bike! Grazie mille and keep going with your calling and your splendid writing and filming!

    1. Thanks a lot Carles, most appreciated. I wish you and your new Brompton some exciting adventures as soon as we are able to move again! :)

  12. So I kinda wanna get into blogging. I was wondering where can I make a blog where people might actually read it?.

    1. More than where it is about the content you create I think. Work on any platform ( Youtube, Instagram, Podcasts, Blog ) to create interesting content and if you see some respond better than others concentrate on those.



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