Friday, January 29, 2021

Folding bikes do come with a great advantage. A small footprint that makes it easier to pack them ready for transport. How you pack them depends on the risk you are willing to take and to a certain extent the type of tour you are planning.

There are two main choices here. You could use a hard case or go for a soft bag.

Hard Cases

They use their hardcore shell to protect from damages and have lots of padding on the insided to further ensure your bike will be found as you left it no matter what happens. They are usually expensive, large and cumbersome but on the plus side quite comfortable to move about as they always include a set of wheels to roll it. Airlines charges do vary but as a general rule you will find that a bicycle carried in this type of luggage falls into the ‘sport equipment’ extra fares when they apply them, otherwise you will simply pay more due to the weight but also the size of the package as your luggage will often have to be checked in at special gates for Extra Large items. They do not have much space left for anything else beyond the bike. This means that you will have to carry much more weight in the cabin. Often airlines will not let you bring more than one bag for example and will also want to know the weight. You see where this is going. Yet again more charges as well as losing your patience in stressful negotiations!

As far as affecting what kind of tour you will be able to have, a hard case poses a practical problem too. You will have to store it somewhere when you start touring. A tour from point A to point B will only be possible if you take some transportation to return to the starting point when you have completed your journey.

Provided the above conditions are not too limiting, a hard case ensures that your bike will be safe and undamaged.

Soft Bags

Especially when traveling by airplane, they are not as good as hard cases in protecting your bicycle. On the other hand they give you all the freedom to decide where to stay and how to travel. As they are light and can be folded small and carried as part of your luggage you will also have the ability to use them should you need to take some transportation in the middle of a tour. You can find an effective bag for not much more than it would cost to buy a cup of coffee and being light, they limit the chances of you having to pay any extra fees during transport. 

The last thing we want as touring cyclists is to realise that our bike was damaged during transport. With a soft bag you have to put some extra attention and care in how you are packing. Put soft items all around the bike, and include further padding at the bottom. Another good idea is to insert some cardboard that you can cut down to size and can become another layer that can protect the bike further.

Soft cases are all that I have used for all my touring travel. Experience taught me how to compensate for their vulnerability with some of the ideas that you have just read and more that you will be able to see from my videos on the subject.


Thursday, January 28, 2021

Pam and Gilbert from 2Bikes4Adventure believe that you can travel the world on bicycle without quitting your day job. They’ve figured out ways to make this work for them and every year they refine their system. The overlap between cycle tourers and ocean cruisers is small. Learn more how we are narrowing the gap between those two extreme ways of seeing the world using our Brompton bicycles.


Saturday, January 16, 2021

In this video I discuss what in my opinion are the best tires for touring on a Brompton and show you in details what you will need to do to replace them and adjust your hub gears.

Watch the full video here


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A trip with an Interrail train ticket and a Brompton foldingbike in June 2018. Ferry Malmö - Travemünde and train to Hamburg. From Hamburg a train in the night to Frankfurt. Train from Frankfurt to Appenweier. Biking to Strasbourg. Next day TGV to Marseille. Train strike changes plan, staying in Marseille overnight. Taking scenic local train to Miramas next day instead. From Miramas to Lausanne in Switzerland via Lyon and Geneva. Taking scenic lakeside train route to Olten next day. From there going to old scenic Gottard route to Bellinzona. And taking 57km Gottard base tunnel to Zurich. From Zurich taking the night train to Hamburg. And from Hamburg going home via Flensburg and Copenhagen.


Monday, January 11, 2021

Not a common event on the strong little wheels of a Brompton but if you do have to fix a broken spoke on the road or while touring it might be useful to have a look at how this is done. Good advice from an amateur mechanic and Brompton rider.

View the full video here


Saturday, January 9, 2021

One of the most common questions I get asked is how much more effort is needed to cycle on a folding bike compared to a touring bike. This is not surprising. At first sight my Brompton folding bike loaded with luggage at the back and at the front might look like a harder setup to ride. 

My usual answer is: “It is just a little harder."

It is a rather vague reply but it is my experience over the years. I have extensively toured with mountain bikes and touring bikes in the past. On a folding bike you trade-off a little bit of comfort but in most situations, you will hardly be able to tell the difference.

A more interesting question to ask would be:

“Is the ability to tour and explore places limited by using a folding bike?”

The answer to this question is a resounding NO. 

If at all, the curiosity to push the boundaries and see how far my Brompton could take me, has pushed me further than I would have done and I completed routes that I would have thought challenging on any bike. I am not saying that with a touring bike I wouldn’t be able to push further, higher and cover longer distances faster. Anyone interested in speed and performance, should probably not choose a folding bike in the first place, but what about those, that I believe being the great majority, who are more interested in experiencing the journey and its sights?

While touring, my longest daily mileage ever has been 160 kilometres and it was done on a Brompton. The highest mountain pass I have ever climbed on a bike was 5300 metres and I did it riding my Brompton. I never meant to set records but these are clear examples that they are more than capable bikes. Provided you avoid, as much as possible, rocky trails or muddy roads where folding bikes perform rather poorly, the ability to go anywhere else is only limited by your willingness to adapt a little and by your mindset.

I am sure there are mathematical formulas that contradict what I say and tell you that according to physics, the resistance of a 16” wheel compared to a 26”, will make you a certain percentage slower but you won’t notice this as much in practice.

As far as other aspects that will make it marginally harder I will mention a few in an effort to be fair and as exhaustive as possible.

( 1 ) Aerodynamics They will play a part, especially if riding on strong headwinds. You might find that folding bikes usually allow you to take a position that is less aerodynamic and offer more resistance.

( 2 ) Handlebars Beyond what is offered as standard, they tend to be smaller and less customisable because they fit with the specific folding system of the bike. You will probably have more limitations in the hand grip and in the position your body can take while riding. While touring long hours each day this can contribute to a less comfortable ride. When your body position and the ability to change it is restricted, it becomes paramount to find a folding bike that is as comfortable as possible right off the bat.

( 3 ) Gears There are folding bikes, especially those at the higher end of the market, that offer wide ranges and lots of gears but these usually come at a higher cost. Generally, folding bikes are more limited in the number of gears they offer and less options will mean a harder ride at times. On my Brompton I tour with 6 gears only which means that I have less choices to adapt exactly the ratios to the terrain I am riding. If this might sound like a great discomfort, I would argue that you also do not need to have 20 or 30. A few gears with well spaced ratios that are soft enough to climb a steep hill and hard enough to push the pedals when descending are all you need.

While they might be a little harder to ride, my conclusion is that folding bikes are perfectly capable bicycles for riding a long tour provided you are willing to make small sacrifices for the flexibility they bring.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

We all agree that punctures are bad for cyclists. They stop your ride, delay you and get your hands dirty. For the latter, I always recommend an easy fix. Simply, never leave home without some DIY or even vinyl gloves. They are small and light enough to fit with your spare tubes in a tiny saddle bag and you will thank me later.

But what about the rest? All the huffing and puffing, the 'why all this happens to me?' Or the fact that punctures tend to happen at the worst of times and as you lean down for a repair, it will likely begin to rain?

I find that on a Brompton this is further complicated by the way the rear wheel is fixed to the bike and due to the hub gear. And, yes, in case you are wondering, a tyre puncture usually happens to rear wheel. 

Recently there are on the market airless tyres like Tannus, which are filled tyres without inner tubes and promise to fix this for good. The reality is that I personally find them not as comfortable to ride. I find they have more drag while riding and they are not as stable when cornering which I couldn't get adjusted to.

Over the years I have found that three main habits greatly help in preventing punctures. When I started touring with my Brompton fully loaded with luggage I would average a puncture every 500 kilometres or so. Since using these 3 principles I am happy to say that such a poor result is a thing of the past and I have ridden my bike over a 1000 kilometres of gravel and 3000 kilometres of tarmac on a fully loaded bike without a single puncture! Some of them will be of course things that you already do and know but following all of them made a huge difference to me.

1) Tyre Wear:

I use what are considered some of the best quality tyres for touring: Marathon Schwalbe Standard  as well as Plus. No matter the brand what is key is to keep an eye on how worn is the tread. When this is thin with lots of cuts in the rubber it is a good idea to replace it with a new one. If you are touring and would like to save yourself a little money when touring, use that worn rear tyre as a spare tyre that can be used as a replacement in an emergency.

2) Air Pressure:

Investing money into a good portable pump was worth every penny for me. While touring,  I used to rely on the Brompton standard pump that comes fixed to the bike. Before starting the tour I would go to a bike shop to get the wheel pumped up to a good pressure but after a few days riding this would inevitably decrease. Topping up air pressure with the Brompton pump is not really possible. It is a pump that is designed for nothing more than getting you home if you need to fix a puncture but it won't be able to bring the pressure up to an ideal 80 to 85 PSI. Now I use a portable Lezyne pump with a gauge which allows me without too much an effort to bring the pressure up to a level that would normally require a floor pump. Using it to top up some air every couple of days or so, ensures that I keep my pressure up to an ideal level especially on that rear wheel which supports most of the weight and pressure.

3) Tyre Check

Before you start your ride each day or at the end of it, get into the habit of slowly spinning one wheel at a time, inspecting whether anything got stuck to their tread. Sharp objects don't always give you a flat tyre there and then; what can also happen is that they slowly pierce into the rubber the more you ride. If they are not sharp enough to puncture your inner tube they might still cause small cuts on the tyre surface which then is more likely to pick up further debris. Making it a regular habit will also make you more aware of how much the tyre is worn in the first place which brings us back to the first point.



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