Myths on touring with Brompton

It is impossible to climb mountains with a Brompton

I was the first to believe this. When I decided to use a Brompton Bicycle for touring, I was extremely careful in choosing a route that wouldn't entail much climbing. Cycling the US Pacific coast on a couple of occasions, I limited my efforts to uphills that never took me over 1000 meters and grades that seldom exceeded 6%. The reliability and total fun of touring with this bike brought me this year to do something a little more daring: cycling in the Canadian Rockies. In the end, I was able to tackle pretty hard climbs that would be hard to push through on any other bike I could choose.

I have cycled along the Icefield Parkway both ways, climbing cols over 2000 meters, and more challenging even, Duffey Lake Road from Lillooet to Pemberton in British Columbia, ascending 1500 meters, often as steep as climbs in the European Alps. All it took were a few minutes pushing the bike where the road was just too steep, but these were out of well over two hours of climbing time. I am by no means a strong cyclist, and I don't necessarily train before my tours. I get fit as days go by, so a sensible first consideration is to not plan the steepest of climbs on your first few days when your body needs to get conditioned to the effort needed to cycle long distances.

I reached the conclusion that it is indeed possible to climb mountains on a loaded Brompton, and the limitations are not that much different from those you have to consider when touring on a heavily loaded bike.

On a Brompton, you can choose (and you should!) the six reduced gearing option, and if this is not enough to get you going, walking is more efficient! On my softest gear while climbing the most difficult sections on Duffey Lake, I would cruise at 5 or 6 km/h, just above walking speed. Should I need lower gearing, I would be better off pushing the bike up when needed.

I believe this is the same on any bike loaded for touring; you end up using the softest gear, and should you go below the five-kilometer threshold, it hardly makes sense pedaling, and it becomes easier pushing the bike to get over the toughest parts. Of course, it goes without saying that tourers on touring bikes or mountain bikes will, in the end, carry much more weight than you do, and I often found that, to the contrary, I was faster while climbing than they were!"

You can't ride too far with a Brompton

Another myth I used to believe. Ideally, a day ride on my tour will not be so long that I am unable to stop frequently, eat loads, and take all the beautiful pictures and videos and still make it to a campsite by 4 pm. Talking about distance, on average, I find that 70 or 80 kilometers is an ideal distance. Of course, sometimes we have constraints on time, or it is necessary to ride longer to get from point A to B, so what then?

Surprisingly, I found that covering long distances on a Brompton is not impossible either. On a recent tour where I had to cover longer distances than I would have liked, I completed several days where, in the end, my speedometer was just short of 130 kilometers. Indeed, this is on par with the longest distances I ever covered on tours with my mountain bike, and I was twenty years younger too!


Anonymous said...

I concur.

For climbing mountains I swapped the chainring from a 44 tooth (6 gear Brompton with the -12%) to a 39 tooth chainring. Makes climbing easier ;)

I did 101 km (my longest ride yet...) between lunch and dinner(around six hours of riding with two short breaks). Riding time was exactly as long as google maps had predicted, which means it was as fast as my regular bicycle.

Laurel said...

So grateful for these writings, to see that epic is possible w/ a Brompton is incredibly inspiring at this moment of indecision. Talk about trailblazing. I’m in awe. Haw’aa

Anonymous said...

I swapped my 44 T chainring for a 40T ring, perfect for climbing and can still reach over 40km in my highest gear.

Andrew Heard said...

I swapped the chainring further, down to 34T (from BrommiePlus) with 14T & 18T cogs on the rear. Even with full front bag & large saddle bag, cycling up a 10% slope is now possible.

Andrew Heard said...

25km/h is about the fastest peddling possible with highest 34T/18T/3rd hub gear, so just enjoy freewheeling at higher speeds


Definitely the way to go! No need to sweat even downhill :)

Anonymous said...

A dual chainring, with or without a derailler, is a nice and simple change.

A six-speed Brompton with a 46/30 double chairing offers a gear range of 1,60 - 7,35m (20 - 92")