Saturday, May 18, 2019

What Can Go Wrong With a Brompton


I will begin by saying that provided you service your bike before touring and regularly maintain it in good conditions throughout the year, not much can go wrong.
Over many years of touring with a Brompton I never had a single critical failure that stopped me from cycling. All I had to deal with were punctures, tyre replacements due to the fact that tyres on 16" wheels wear out quicker and little else.

What can go wrong

I would like to highlight a failure that I have experienced a couple of times. This is something that can happen when you are transporting the bike by plane in a soft bag like I do. Brompton bikes fold in a very clever way which keeps most fragile parts like the gearing system on the inside and well protected. One downside to the way they fold is that naturally the rack that you use to carry your backpack folds at the bottom and becomes the base of the bike. If the bike bag is dropped or put under a lot of pressure when put into the cargo what can happen is that the stays bend. This can cause the rack and the attached mudguard to rub on the tyre. Each time this has happened to me I was able with some pulling and pushing on the stays to make the wheel freely spin again but should the damage be more serious I feel it is important to learn how to remove the rack. Being able to do so you have the option to disassemble the mudguard and see if that solves the problem or coming to the worse remove the rack entirely and at least be able to cycle on by carrying the backpack on your shoulders. This is not ideal but in the worse case scenario when the rack is badly bent you at least have the option to carry on and see if it is possible to fix it along the way.

I believe that the good reliability I enjoyed depends on two main factors.

( 1 )

I try to be proactive and change parts that are more vulnerable to wear and tear. Brompton has some recommendations on replacing parts, especially Aluminium components. They recommend changing hinge clamp plates, handlebar and chainset every 7000 kilometres and for them to be checked regularly when the bike is serviced. 
A stretched chain will wear out the sprockets quickly so this should also be changed regularly, probably every 3000 kilometres or so.
Brake and gear cables will also wear out and fail so I make sure that every few years I replace them before they let me down while I am away.

( 2 )

I am always aware that I am riding a Brompton. Remember that certain parts of the bike and especially the handlebar are not meant to be put under the same kind of weight and pressure that you would a handlebar on a sturdy mountain bike. I sometime do see people using their Brompton uphill in ways that it is not meant to be. Standing up on the pedals and rocking the handlebar puts extreme pressure on these parts. I never stand on the bike. If the road is too steep I get off the bike and walk instead. I have heard of one rider experiencing a handlebar failure that resulted in a fall and an injury. I haven't had a chance to ask how this happened but I assume that this was due from not following the two points I just highlighted. If parts are abused and never replaced when they should be, you greatly increase the risk of something like this happening.

What you should be able to do

( 1 ) Fix a Punctures This is a basic knowledge you must have if you want to be able to tour. Keeping your tyre pressure as high as the tyre allows will limit the chances of it happening but on a long tour it is likely that you will have one. It is not difficult to fix but on a Brompton you often have to remove the back wheel in order to do it so make sure you know how to do it.

( 2 ) Replace a Tyre As mentioned 16" wheels tyre will wear down quicker than larger sized tyres. I use Schwalbe Marathon tyres and in my experience these will last anything up to 2000 kilometres. Of course this will vary according to the condition of the roads you are riding. Depending on the length of your tour you might get away without doing so but changing a tyre should be something you are able to do.

( 3 ) Adjusting the chain tensioner This ensures your gearing is well functioning. I find it easier to remove the tensioner when I take off the wheel and each time I do so I must refit it and make sure all gears are functioning. If the gear cable should fail again you would have to be able to adjust this so it is an important skill to have.

( 4 ) Remove the rack As highlighted above this can become an issue if you have the bad luck of your bike being damaged during transport. A badly bent rack could stop your rear wheel from spinning and at times the only solution is for you to remove it.

( 5 ) Fix a broken chain If you have a well maintained chain and take care to replace it when it needs it is unlikely that you will experience a failure. One thing to consider is the fact that a chain failure is critical and you won't be able to continue. I like to be prepared and I always carry some spare links and a master link that I can use in case the chain snaps. When you replace your next chain ask your Bike shop to keep the old one for you and use it to practice how this is done.

( 6 ) Replacing brake pads Being able to replace a worn brake pad will ensure that you are always safe on the road. I always carry a couple of spare pads just in case.

( 7 ) Replacing cables Replacing gear and brake cables is not critical but it could be a helpful skill to have. Even if you are not able to replace them yourself, do carry some spare cables with you as Brompton cables have sometime different specifications ( ie gear cable ). Having some spares you will be able to at least have it fixed whenever you find a bike shop along the way.

( 8 ) Replacing spokes I never had a broken spoke while touring on a Brompton. Replacing a broken spoke is not too difficult but what is difficult and takes a lot of practice is truing a wheel. This is something I am not able to do. Like in the case of cables I always carry some spare spokes from the back wheel and possible for the front wheel too. If I break a spoke I have at least the option to have it fixed at a bike shop and continue on the tour.

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