Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Featured. Show all posts

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Bike 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. 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 it has 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 shifting 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 ) Bromptons are sturdy bikes and can withstand more abuse than you might imagine, but their small wheels and thin tires 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. However, if that is the condition of most of the roads you will travel on, an expedition touring bike or a mountain bike would be a better choice. Mud, due to the low clearance of the mudguards and limits on the choice of tires, is something that Bromptons are definitely not made for.

( 2 ) This might seem a bit arbitrary, and you can probably prove me wrong, but I have found that my setup has to be really compact and light 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 to be comfortable during the tour. Each kilogram 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're not bulletproof; in addition, they utilize numerous specific and proprietary spare parts. If you find yourself on an extended journey through remote areas and encounter a technical issue, fixing it might prove challenging. Compounding this challenge is the probable lack of readily available transportation, potentially putting a damper on your tour. Navigating remote areas requires self-sufficiency, meaning you'll need to carry a substantial load of supplies compared to a more conventional setup. Hauling ample water, food, and all the necessary gadgets and utensils for the journey is no easy feat on such a compact bike.

Reliability

Over the course of more than 10,000 kilometers, I've encountered hardly any reliability issues to report—likely on par with, or even fewer than, the problems experienced on mountain bikes or touring bikes I've used in the past. Throughout all my tours, I've only had to deal with punctures and the odd tire replacements. The key, I've found, is to diligently maintain your bicycle, ensuring it's well-tuned and fully functional before embarking on a tour. My approach involves being more proactive than I would be with another bike. I routinely replace parts that require changing after reaching a recommended mileage. Chain and sprockets are swapped when necessary, and gear cables and brake cables are also newly fitted every few years, reducing the risk of failures during a tour when spare parts might be hard to come by.
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 sizes. These are stored in the hollow tube holding the rucksack. 
Something I am always aware of is to try to be gentle on the bike. While climbing a steep hill I refrain from standing on the pedals and rocking the bike as I would do on a regular bike. 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.

Comfort

The great benefits in portability mean that you have to make some compromises in comfort, but these are less noticeable than you might think. With a 6% to 12% reduced gearing bike setup, you can climb most hills or even mountains where gradients are not too extreme. You will find these gear ratios adequate to cover various terrains, fast descents, flat sections, etc. Using a Brompton makes you more conscious of the weight you carry; you'll travel light, making 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 be more cautious and focused. Your pace and the daily distances you can cover will likely match those of other tourers with 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.

Conclusion

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.


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Saturday, May 25, 2019



You cannot 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 metres 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 and in the end I was able to tackle pretty hard climbs that I would be hard pushed to climb on any other bike I could chose. I cycled along the Icefield Parkway both ways,  climbing cols over 2000 metres 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, 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 limitation are not that much different from those you have to consider when touring on a heavy loaded bike.
On a Brompton you can chose ( 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 kmh just above walking speed. Should I need lower gearing I would be better off pushing the bike up when I 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 kilometres threshold it hardly makes sense pedalling 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 myths I used to believe. Ideally a day ride on my tour will not be so long that I am not able to stop frequently, eat loads and take all the beautiful pictures and videos and still make it to a campsite by 4pm. Talking about distance on average I find that 70 or 80 kilometres is an ideal distance.
Of course sometime we have constraint on times 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 kilometres. Indeed this is on par with the longest distances I ever covered on tours with my mountain and I was twenty years younger too!
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Friday, May 24, 2019




If you are looking for a well tested solution for securely attaching a regular backpack to a Brompton bike, I thought I would share some pictures clearly showing how it works.
It has been tested in multiple tours I have so far taken on a Brompton and used by many Brompton cyclists; this simple hack works really well. You can use any backpack you might already have but I find that a 45L capacity is about the perfect size. The  shoulder straps are harnessed over a horizontal bar ( I use a empty tubular metal but any thing sturdy would work. Broom stick anyone? ) attached to the saddle by means of leather straps.  A couple of large sized zip ties also do the job really well if you don't want to buy similar straps. The waist strap is tied to the seat post as a way to further secure the backpack as well as giving it more stability. The Brompton rack bungee chords are then tied to the bottom of the sack to make sure it doesn't shift forward and hinder pedalling. Another benefit of this system is the fact that it is very quick to dismount the rack and put it back where it belongs, on your shoulders!
This setup is very stable and makes a rucksack the perfect cycle touring solution on Brompton.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019




Here is the complete list of what I carry while bike touring with a Brompton. This setup works really well for me and has been improved as a result of several tours and several thousand kilometres on the bike.  I assume one is not touring in extreme cold temperatures. The ability to carry luggage on the Brompton is limited therefore it is crucial to limit the things you bring, finding an efficient way to pack them by having weights well distributed and making them easy  to access during your tour.

Everything you need is carried on the bike inside two bags.  A front T-Bag with a capacity of 30 Litres and a hiking backpack of 40 litres capacity sitting over the rear rack of the bike.


Backpack content:





Things that are used less should obviously be put in the least accessible place. The bike bag is only used to carry the bike on the plane, therefore it is stacked at the bottom of the backpack. Over this I put all the bike tools and repair kits as well as all the toiletries and water bag. Next are one or two folded Dimpa bags that are used to cover the bike for short transfers on bus or trains and if needed to cover the bike at night. Then I would put the bungee chords and slippers and sleeping bag. Finally, I reserve the top for my charger and cables and clothes things that I might want to access during the day. My Thermarest mattress is a little wider so I just strap it to the outside of the backpack and secure it with the bungee chords of the rear rack.

T-Bag content:


The front T-Bag contains most of the valuables and things that need to be accessed easily while you are cycling. With its clip it is easily removed from the bike and is therefore never left unattended. In the inside zip pocket I usually keep my passport and other travel documents. At the bottom of the main compartment I insert my lightweight tent and cable accessories. Next I put my jacket and depending on the weather my sweater, gloves and hat. On top I keep my camera, Go Pro and all the cable and accessories I need to take pictures or shoot movies during the ride.
My iPhone is usually strapped around my neck with a lanyard and rest in my shirt pocket. This makes it easy to access it securely at any time while riding or still. This always leaves space for food when I do my groceries during the day or before setting up camp. The T-Bag has also two rear pockets, one I normally use for a water bottle as it fits perfectly the other one I generally use to keep my wallet and my gadgets charger should I need to re-charge things on the go. The outer mesh pockets are very spacious and are an excellent place to keep my lock, repair gloves and bananas or energy bars that are consumed regularly and are convenient to access at any time.

Clothes:




In the picture above you can see all the clothes I take with me while touring. It might seem very spare but I assure you it is all you need to be comfortable and warm enough to tour in most weather conditions. Most garments come in sets giving you the ability to always wear a clean set while you wash and dry the other one. In order to be light I choose clothes that are comfortable not only for cycling but also provide a good option for all the time I spend off the bike. The only cycling specific garment I take with me is one pair of cycling shorts. These I normally wear under my light trousers at the beginning of the tour when I am not used to be on the bike for long hours and the padding will make this transition more comfortable. The downside is that they are not quick to dry so I limit their use to the minimum necessary to ride comfortably. I still use underpants while wearing them as this will keep them much cleaner and should you wish to, you will be able to wear them a few times before a wash. I have talked about the great qualities of Merino wool in another article, suffice to say that my merino base layers and socks provide odour free and comfortable wear for many days without the need to be washed. Zipped trousers are used in their short version during the ride and the extensions can then be zipped at other times allowing for a very flexible use. Long johns are very useful to provide extra warmth with a very little addition to space and weight. I mostly wear them at night while camping. Riding long hours each day doesn't mean that one cannot keep clean during a tour. A very useful trick I figured out is that wearing light and quick drying underpants that are washed each day under the shower (perfect sponge too...) or with some water is a great way to keep clean; having two pairs of them means that you can wash the pair you used during the day, wear the clean ones for the night and the following day while the others are put on the outside of your luggage to dry. This works a treat and also brings a degree of theft deterrence while you shop! All the clothes that are not worn during the day are stacked on top of each other and rolled. I then put them inside an Exped 8 Litres waterproof compression bag. Once at the campsite I can have easy access to them when I need to get changed. Also this bag design, without buckles and straps makes for an ideal pillow.
As far as shoes I have used a light pair of trekking shoes, again avoiding the cycling specific solution.  Yes it is more efficient to have clipped shoes that you can attach to pedal and very stiff soles that don't bend while you pedal but my view is this. Clips might had a little speed and distance to your day but come at the risk of being tied to the bike. Even those who are used to them might not react as quickly when their bike is fully loaded with weights. Bike shoes might not be as comfortable when you are off the bike too.  I next plan to try riding on Keen sandal type shoes which are much used by cycle tourists and seem to offer a good balance between riding and comfort.
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Even the most reliable of bikes are subject to wear and tear during a tour and any part has the potential to fail and stop you on the road. Like most cycling tourists, I am not an experienced mechanic and in a dozens tours with different type of bikes I have so far completed, I mostly had to deal with fixing punctures and  some basic gearing or brakes adjustments.
Although some people are doing exactly that, I would not recommend a Brompton bike for unsupported extreme expeditions or round the world trips where you will be spending weeks without the chance to access basic facilites or other forms of transportation should you need to.
Even if you were a skilled Brompton mechanic, the limitation on the amount of gear you can carry with you, means that you could easily find yourself without the right tools or spare parts to be able to fix it and continue.
Bromptons are mostly built with proprietary parts that are not easily accessed in remote areas and your run of the mill local bicycle shop might be at a loss in trying to get your bicycle back on the road.
Where this folding bike excels instead is in multi-modal touring and short to medium tours where you will have access to alternative transportation in case of emergency and if possible access to shops where spare parts can be found. The latter is not a must provided that you are happy to take the risk of an unlikely failure that could stop you from cycling; even in this situation having a folding bike that you can easily pack away and a rucksack you can quickly put on your shoulders makes for a good chance that your touring holiday will not end in total frustration.

BEFORE YOUR DEPARTURE

(1) Before you set off on a tour, always make sure that your bike is in good conditions. Like I said above Brompton's are sturdy bikes but if you have the bad luck of running into a major failure, they are not as easy to fix as a regular mountain bike or racing bike. Before starting my tour I usually service my bike at a Brompton dealer, as they are the expert and know what are the parts that mostly need looking at for wear and tear. I am not sure it makes any difference, but I do mention to them that I am going on a tour and ask them to pay special attention to critical parts such as wheels, chain, etc.

(2) In the last few years global popularity of Brompton bikes has rapidly grown meaning that dealers are now rapidly expanding and can be found more and more in towns and cities all over the world. Access to them while you are touring in your destination might not be as difficult as it used to. I usually take a flight to the starting point of my tour and as much as possible I pick a destination that will have a Brompton dealer available should I need to. I haven't had the unfortunate event of a bike damaged by airline transport but this is obviously a possibility and if you are not far from a Brompton dealer, once arrived you will probably be able to repair the bicycle without losing too much time or having to change plans. Further along these lines, if this is an option, do some research and know where easily accessible Brompton dealers can be found along your touring route should you need to get some spare parts, fix things or simply having a check on your bike during your tour.

WHAT YOU MUST LEARN

(1) The most likely repair you will have to carry out during your tour is a puncture tyre. The procedure for removing the tyre from the wheel and replacing or fixing an inner tube is the same that you would follow on any other bicycle. What is trickier on a Brompton is removing the rear wheel in order to replace the inner tube. I found the Brompton Technical Guide youtube videos a valuable resource to learn to do so. Do not rely simply on watching the videos or read manuals though, as always practice only makes perfect! To be prepared start by removing the rear wheel at home where you have access to all your resources should anything go wrong. Once you are a little bit confident the next step is to take your Brompton for a day ride and do the same repair by the side of the road without having access to videos or manuals. That way you will be well prepared and much more confident once you start your tour and a puncture will be just a minor frustration and a good excuse to have a break and enjoy the scenery!

(2) Replacing the tyres. Small wheels mean that your tyres will wear out much quicker than you think. Even the best of tyres if you are cycling past 1000 kilometres will start to show some wear and tear, especially in the rear wheel. After my first extended tour on a Brompton where I had to swap rear and front tyres half way through my journey I decided it is a good idea to bring two new tyres with me in case I need. Being small means that they are lighter and that they can be easily slid on the outside of my backpack, a perfect and unobtrusive way to carry them for any emergency. In my experience 16" tyres in most countries are associated with children bikes and even though you could access a bike shop easily you might not find a spare Schwalbe Marathon in that size and what is on offer might be completely unsuitable for your purpose.

(3) Adjusting a Sturmy Archer gear cable. In order to have your gears perform well it is sometime necessary to adjust the little chain alignment. If you removed the back wheel you had to learn to losen that anyhow so it should be something you are familiar with already.

(4) Lubricating the bike. This is straight forward but again a Brompton bike is built in a different way and it is important to know which parts need lubricating and which part don't. Any extended tour involves you cycling for days and chances that you will also encounter bad conditions such as rain or dust on the road means that your bicycle will need some more attention in this department too.

(5) Learn to carry out basic safety checks. These are often found in the manual that came with your bike. Make sure you do this before you start your tour in order to assess the condition of the bike after it was transported to your destination. Get into the habit of having a quick check each day following the manual recommendations.

WHAT YOU SHOULD LEARN

If you are inclined to, it will certainly help learning a few more advanced repairs.

(1) Fixing a broken chain. I never had a chain failure on my trips but it does happen. If you have the right tools with you it could be the difference between being able to fix it there and then and continue cycling as opposed to having to itch a ride to the next town. The good thing about a broken chain is that you won't need a Brompton specialist to fix this, any local bike shop will be able to quickly offer help and repair it.

(2) Fixing a broken spoke. Again not something I had to deal with on a Brompton so far. This is a tricky repair mostly due to the difficulty of truing a wheel once a spoke is replaced, an art in itself. If you can learn this it is something that again might save you a long walk to the next town. I haven't mastered it myself and for this reason, one thing I do make sure is that I carry spare spokes with me. This is important because like a chain every bike shop will be able to help you but might not have the right spoke sizes for your small wheels! Again children bike's spares are not always of the quality you need for your more 'grown up' bike!

(3) Replacing braking pads. If you are going on a 2000 kilometres or longer tour you might have to swap your braking pads too. This is a straight forward procedure and even though I never did change them during a tour they are small and compact enough to carry and I always make sure I have a spare set just in case.

SPARES AND TOOLS YOU SHOULD CARRY


2 Spare 16" inner tube
2 Schwalbe Marathon Kevlar ( expensive but lighter and easier to replace )
Patches and glue for fixing tubes
Selection of Spokes ( rear and front wheel use different sizes )
1 set of Brake Pads

EXTRA SPARES YOU COULD CARRY

Brompton Front Carrier Block & Clip
1 Sturmey Archer Derailleur unit
Chain repair kit
Screws and Bolts

TOOLS YOU NEED

Brompton Pump
Wrenches: 8mm, 10mm, 15mm
Allen keys: 2mm; 2,5mm; 3mm; 4mm; 5mm; 6mm
Lubricating Oil
Tyre Levers
***
All the right keys and wrenches sizes as well as tyre levers are included in the Brompton Toolkit. A little expensive but it fits inside the frame and is very compact and ideal for the job.
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Plastic Gloves ( why get your hands dirty! )
Chain Pusher ( if you know how to repair a chain )
Spoke Wrenches (if you can replace a broken spoke )

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