The Snowdrop Express is one of the first 100Km Brevet Populaires of the year in the Midlands (4th February in 2006)). Last year I did it on the Airnimal Chameleon, along with David Minter and Susan Barlow on Bromptons, and Paul Stobbs on a Micro. Unfortunately I went a bit off course over the last 3 miles, and ended up doing an extra 5 miles or so, and as I had not followed the official route (though I went through all the controls, and finished within the time limit) I didn't qualify as having completed it. In 2005 the weather was distincly damp, so I was hoping for better weather in 2006.
The 2006 ride was originally listed as being 113Km, but when the route sheet arrived it turned out it had been extended to 125Km, due to closure of one of the cafes which was to have been a control stop. On top of that, the minimum required speed for 2006 had been raised to 15kph (12.5kph in 2005). Given the extra distance and speed, the Airnimal Chameleon really became the only possible choice - I would need all the help I could get. This year I was one my own (apart from the other 100 or so riders!).
The 'first fold' of the Chameleon allows it to fit in the back of the Smart, but it is a fairly tight fit (not a problem of total volume, but of the longer dimensions with only the first fold), and to make it a bit easier I dropped the passenger seat. A couple of weeks ago we had a new Trice QNT in the back of the car without needing to fold the seat - though it did involve rather more folding/separating/dismantling of the Trice! I've fairly recently replaced the mudguards on the Chameleon with the new SKS raceblades, which are very light and can be removed in a matter of seconds (they are secured by rubber straps). These are quite useful both in terms of making it easier to fold and stow the bike, but also to leave the mudguards off, or put them on, to suit the weather conditions - saving some weight by leaving them off is for me quite an advantage on a long ride.
I rather over-estimated the time to get to the start at Hartlebury, and so was able to see the riders departing on the earlier Sunrise Express ride (same route, but in the opposite direction, and starting 30 minutes earlier). Unpacking and unfolding the bike, and refitting the front wheel, seatpost and mudguards did not take long, so it was then a case of killing time until the 9:00am start. With around 100 starters, we were sent off in two batches - as a slow rider, I opted to be towards the back of the second group. Conditions at the start were dry, with almost no wind fairly cold and rather dull - things did not change much throughout the ride.
An advantage of fairly settled weather conditions is that you don't need to take a lot of extra wet weather gear, nor was there any need to allow luggage space to carry any layers that I might want to take off. Regular readers know that I am a bit obsessive about weight, so avoiding extra clothing etc is an advantage, and I also try to use the lightest possible bags etc to carry things in - it is alarming just how much extra weight is involved in carriers and bags, even when they are empty. For this ride I chose the Carradice Barley bag and the Bagman bag support - just about ideal in terms of size etc, but still a bit heavier than I would like ideally. It was noticeable that this combination was being used by quite a lot of other riders too.
As usual, I took a camera with me, but, also as usual, at least when riding on my own, I didn't take any photographs, as I prefer to concentrate on the riding. Please accept my apologies for the lack of any pictures to accompany this article.
Mountings for water bottles are a problem on a lot of folders - many don't have any, or only one set. Bike Friday deserve a commendation here - most of their machines have 3 sets. Unfortunately on the Chameleon there is only 1 set of mounts, and these are behind the seat tube - quite inaccessible, and if the saddle is low, and/or you have a bag on the saddle, you may not be able to get a bottle cage and bottle in there anyway. For this ride I strapped on a bottle cage mounting I got from Decathlon to the angled member which supports the seat tube - it mounts with rubber straps, so won't scratch the finish, and is reasonably secure, though I did have to gently push it up into the central position a few times, and it was rather easy to knock it with a leg while mounting and dismounting. It's not really secure enough to allow the bottle to be pulled out while riding, but at least it is easy to get at when stopped. As it was a cold day, I did not actually need to get at the bottle much.
The first stage, of 46Km to the control at Upton on Severn (Bridge House Cafe), I rode most of the way behind a couple of guys who were going at about my pace, probably about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way down the entire field (it's not a race). As is usual for me, I didn't stop long at the control, and was soon back on my way. I rode for a while with another chap, but his speed was rather higher than mine, and when another rider caught up, he and she went on, which allowed me to continue on my own at a pace which was comfortable for me.
This year's ride took us into Evesham and down to the river for the second control, at Raphael's Restaurant. Again I only stopped here very briefly before resuming the ride. On the final stage I rarely saw any other riders - 3 or 4 overtook me (I manage to gain some ground by only having short stops at the controls), but they soon left me behind. Although there was really very little wind, it was clear that it had been behind us on the way out, and was now against us on the way back - not a major problem, but one would always prefer it the other way round. The route had also been reasonably flat, with no major hills, until one nasty steep, but fortunately short, one near the end. I just managed to get up in bottom gear - a rider in front, who had overtaken me just before this, had to walk part of the way (high geared racing bike!), but even so I did not catch him until the very top of the hill. I missed a turning about 2Km from the finish, but was able to quickly retrace my route and get back on course, and was back at the start/finish (the cafe on the industrial estate at Hartlebury) well within the maximum time allowed.
After a welcome enormous helping of baked beans on toast (price included in the entry fee, as was a slice of cake, though this was beyond my capacity), the bike was easily replaced in the car (though in an entirely different way than for the outward journey) for the drive home.
Conditions for the ride had really been quite good - it would have been nicer had it been a little warmer and brighter, but the absence of rain and only very light breeze was welcome, especially after the much wetter conditions last year. The route was pleasant, in terms of generally quiet roads, and little in the way of serious hills, and the route sheet was quite easy to follow. I didn't see any other small wheeled bikes at the start, and the only non-standard machines, apart from the Chameleon, were a number of tandems.
The Airnimal Chameleon makes an ideal folder for this sort of ride - really no compromises in terms of performance compared to a 'conventional' diamond-framed bike. In fact it is in many ways an in sult to the bike not to use it for much longer rides, but though the bike is capable of these, this rider isn't. It's not particularly compact when folded in its simplest 'first fold mode', and folding does necessitate taking out the front wheel and seat post, but it will still go in the back of the Smart without much trouble. The bike performed perfectly on the ride, though I do wish I could arrange a more satisfactory mount for the water bottle.
Finally, many thanks to the organisers of this excellent event - I thoroughly enjoyed it - if I do it next year, I might try the 'Sunrise Express' in the opposite direction for a change.
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Last updated: 10 February 2006