This is the second of a series of tests of folding and separable cycles on longer rides in 2004 - see the introductory page for more background information.
The composer Elgar was also a cyclist, and was born at Broadheath, not far from Worcester and the Malvern Hills. Starting from Hartlebury, between Kidderminster and Worcester, this ride was through countryside which Elgar probably cycled, and passed his birth place - hence the name. This ride was billed as 109Km long - further than on my Long Mynd Ride a month ago, and with 1400m of climbing, also theoretically hillier.
It had been my plan to use the Moulton fx8 for the previous ride, but it had not arrived in time, so the old Moulton APB had been pressed into service. The fx8 arrived soon after that ride, but I had a number of changes to make to it, primarily the fitting of a wider range of 9-speed gears at the back (11-34 Shimano Megarange), plus the associated long arm changer mechanism and new handlebar control. The handlebars also needed changing - the curvy 'moustache' bars fitted as standard did not appeal very much, and made the fitting of bar end extension impossible. The rather wide Schwalbe tyres were replaced with narrow, high-pressure Stelvios, and a Brooks B17 Titanium saddle was fitted. These were all part of my original plan, but following the Long Mynd, I decided a double chainring was also going to be necessary (52/38). This proved the most awkward item to get right, as a new bottom bracket bearing was also needed, and getting the right length, and finding a crankset with a suitably large bolt mounting diameter to clear the suspension pivot bolt also created problems. In the end I used an old Stronglight crankset which was fitted originally to my AM 7 I think.
A good deal of thought also went into the selection of a suitable luggage system - it is very easy to add quite a lot of weight to a bike just by the luggage carrying system, even when nothing is in the bags. The standard rack system for the Moulton fx/APB is very effective for luggage carrying, but is not especially light, and was something of an overkill for a long day ride. The small SP day-bag rack on the APB was a possibility, but the one I have for the APB has a strut to suit the cantilever brakes of the APB, rather than the V-brakes of the fx8. Probably the best bet would have been to use this rack and an AM day or weekend bag, but what I actually chose was a Rixen Kaul bag with a quick release mounting on the seatpost, and a capacity (including the two side pockets) similar to the AM weekend bag. A Rixen Kaul mini map mount was fitted to the bars to make it easier to follow the route sheet - acutally, despite cutting the bars to be longer than those on the APB, there was insufficient real estate to mount everything on the bars (computer, lamp bracket, bell and map bracket, as well as the brakes and gear changers), so I resorted to a Minoura adapter to squeeze everything on.
Prior to making the modifications to the bike I had only ridden about 50Km, and I only managed on further ride of about 50Km after making the modifications, so I was a little apprehensive about using the fx for this ride, in view of the fact that I had not really ridden it enough to be sure that I had everything properly sorted.
With the frame split and the seatpost removed, the bike fitted reasonably comfortably into the back of the Smart, though I did have to fold the mirror in and move the passenger seat forward a smidgen to fit the front part in.
The weather forecast over recent days had been very uncertain, but as the day of the ride approached, it seemed to be settling for a grey day, but with not too much rain. I rather misjudged the time it would take me to reach the start at Hartlebury, and ended up arriving very nearly an hour early - those on the 200Km were just riding out as I entered to Industrial Estate. All the bikes on that ride looked fairly conventional, but I was pleased to see that amongst those on the 150Km version of the ride which started at 8:30 there was an Airnimal. The bike came out of the car without any problems, although I had some difficulty persuading the main frame locating bolt to engage its thread. Signing in was quite straightforward, and by 9:00 everything was ready for the start. I didn't count the number of starters, but it was quite a sizeable group - over 30 I'd guess, and there looked to have been similar numbers on both the longer rides as well.
For the first stage, from Hartlebury to Cotheridge, navigation was fairly straightforward, as it was only a case of following others. The pace of those at the head of the ride was much faster than I would want to ride - or could ride, but there were plenty riding at what was a comfortable pace for me, and as this was a fairly flat stage, it was quite enjoyable riding. There were a couple of information controls (points at which a question on the Brevet Card has to be answered), and just before one of these a group just ahead missed the turning and shot off into the distance, despite much yelling from those following to warn them of their error. This stage also passed Elgar's birthplace in Broadheath. The first control at Cotheridge was reached well before 11:00, and as it was a bit early for me to start taking on refreshments, after collecting my sticker to show I had visited the control, I continued on to the second stage, to Bromyard.
The first stage had been 32.65Km - the second stage was to be much shorter, at 22.55Km. However, whereas navigation had been easy on the first stage, it was quite confusing in places on this second stage - comparing notes with other riders later, many people seem to have had problems. A few lines from the route sheet may help to show the problem:
|8.9||Shortly after Nature Reserve, R. fork|
|Shortly L. no sp|
|L. @ TJ & SO. no sp|
|1.75||Follow main lane & SO @ XRDS|
|3.0||L & Shortly R. no sp|
|1.0||R. @ TJ. (B4219) sp Bromyard|
A sequence like this of no signpost junctions is not easy to follow, and, unless I got it wrong, the "L & Shortly R." were actually bends in the road we were on, rather than turnings. Add to this that none of the maps I had with me showed a B4219 at all - I ended up on the B4220 at what seemed to be the right point for the route into Bromyard. I certainly didn't cut any corners, and indeed at one point, trying to follow the instructions I went down a side road, but as the next listed turning did not materialise, I went back. My problems were compounded at this stage by the fact that I found that my computer stopped recording on steep hills - not a question of the speed at which I was travelling, but the gradient. I still haven't worked out quite why this might happen, nor how to overcome it! This second stage included (if I remember the location correctly) a couple of very steep, though not excessively long, climbs. On these I engaged the small front ring for the first time - with some trepidation, as I had not really run the bike on this ring before. Fortunately the front changer operated very nicely, and the only problem with using the smaller ring was that I cannot use the 3 highest gears as the chain rubs on the larger ring - I would not want to use the highest gear anyway of course, but I guess the BB axle should really be just a fraction longer. I was in bottom gear for much of these two climbs, and was glad I had opted for a 52/38 rather than 53/39 combination (ie it was just on the limits of what I could manage without resorting to pushing).
The control in Bromyard had been moved to a very pleasant cafe, where I took a light lunch and a cup of coffee, before setting out for the shortest stage - 18.5Km to Tenbury Wells. This was a fairly uneventful section - lots of nice countryside to enjoy, and no problems with the weather. I really could not face anything in the way of a meal so soon after lunch, so after an orange juice I was soon back on the road.
The final stage from Tenbury Wells back to Hartlebury was the longest, at 35.3Km. There were some long, moderate climbs, especially around Stanford Bridge, and although these were not nearly as steep as the two ascents mentioned earlier, the combination of the length and the fact that the legs were beginning to tire made them hard work. I ground up both though, although I did need to use second gear for quite a lot of the way, and I admit to stopping for a breatehr when I got to the top of one of them. The section around Stourport made use of A roads, but traffic was very light, so this was not a problem.. I finally rolled into the HQ well inside the maximum allowed time, and got the final stamp on my Brevet Card before partaking of beans on toast (included in the entry fee) to replace some of the lost energy - it was an enormous helping, and I was only able to manage half of it!
Choice of clothing had been something of a problem at the start - it was rather grey and cold, with a light wind making it feel colder still. I was in some doubt as to whether to add an extra layer for warmth - in the end I decided not to, and was glad of this later, as I was never cold once riding, and indeed was rather too hot towards the end of the ride. There was a faint trace of drizzle a couple of times, but never enough to consider stopping to put on a waterproof jacket over the windproof top I was wearing, let alone don waterproof trousers.
The bike went back into the car slightly better for the return journey (not sure why), and then it was a short drive home, followed by unpacking everything from the car.
After the Long Mynd Ride, I was really quite worried about undertaking this ride, as it was over 30% longer and with 1400m of climbing as opposed to 1200m on the Long Mynd. Actually it was a much easier ride - the hills were not nearly as steep, and indeed, purely subjectively, we did not seem to climb anything like as much, despite the respective official billings. The weather was quite good for riding as well - a bit grey, and not especially warm, but this was in many respect more comfortable for riding than hot sun would have been, even if it did not show off the countryside as well. We certainly passed through some very pleasant country, and the pace was such that it was possible to enjoy this, and not have to ride head-down all the way. The route had been well chosen, and apart from the difficulties in stage 2, it was reasonably easy to follow the route sheet.
In a way it was a pity I had to use the fx8 for this ride, as I had used the generally rather similar APB on the previous ride in this series. However, my options were rather limited. In view of the 1400m of climbing, and my experience on the Long Mynd, I wanted plenty of low gears, , and that really ruled out the SP, the Bike Friday New World Tourist and the AM7 Moulton - all are lighter than the fx, but nowhere near as low geared at the bottom of the range. Even the older APB, with a Sachs 3x7, does not have quite such a low bottom gear, and is distinctly heavier. At one stage I had hoped to have a test bike on loan available in time for this ride, but it has not yet arrived, and anyway would have lacked the really low gears I expected to need for this ride. It would also have almost certainly lacked mudguards, and this ride was billed as "mudguards compulsory" (though I have never seen any scrutineering on this or other Brevets to make sure that riders are conforming when this requirement is specified).
Separability is now an option on the Pashley built Moultons (ie what used to be known as the APB). Personally I have always regarded the separability as one of the key benefits of a Moulton, and I can't imagine buying a non-separable version. In separable form, it went into the back of the Smart quite easily, just splitting the frame and removing the seat post. The luggage compartment cover on the car was folded back, and I did move the passenger seat forward a couple of centimetres, to make space for the mirror, but otherwise it was a very comfortable fit. Moultons are pretty hopeless if you need to use a train on which separation and bagging is required - I'd allow 10 minutes for the full bagging operation. However, with a car, even one as small as the Smart, the separability works fine, and the separation or re-assembly takes not much over a minute, and could probably be done in less with practice and dexterity.
The 11-34 Shimano Megarange cluster and 52/38 front rings gave me nicely spaced gears from 87 to 20.6 inches, which suits me well. The rear LX mechanism and front 105 worked very smoothly with XT Rapidfire changers, though setting up the front derailleur had been quite awkward, and operating two rings with a triple change lever does require fiddling a bit to get the movement right when initially fitting it. I used the larger ring most of the time, but on a number of the steeper ascents, particularly towards the end as I was tiring, the lower range was very useful, and I did make some use of the lowest two gears.
The brakes were not nearly as severely tested as those of the APB were on the Long Mynd. Certainly the V-brakes of the current Pashley-built Moultons such as the fx are vastly superior to the earlier cantilevers, as used on my very early APB. At the moment there is still a tiresome click as the brake passes over the not very smooth rim joint, but this is gradually improving with use and wear. The brakes are powerful, smooth in operation, and reasonably light, without being over-sensitive. It would be possible to lock the back wheel, but it is not so easy to do this as to be an embarrassment.
Ride and Handling
The Schwalbe Stelvios are a great success so far - they have low rolling resistance, but despite their narrow width and minimal tread, they seem to grip very well, although naturally with a tyre like this I am rather cautious on muddy roads or loose surfaces. It's much too early to be able to comment on puncture resistance and life, but I'm certainly please with them so far. As an aside, I also fitted a 16 inch version of this tyre to the back of my SP Brompton, and I find it very successful on that - it has resulted in increased mudguard clearance - normally a problem with Bromptons, but especially so in the case of my SP; on the SP I was previously only able to use a Primo at the back, but the Stelvio now gives me not only more clearance with the mudguard but also with the derailleur changer mechanism, and it also gives much more grip, which means that the problem of locking the back wheel when applying the V-brakes is no longer so serious.
The Moulton suspension made for a comfortable ride - compared with my old APB, the suspension is much quieter, none of the clunks I get on teh older bike. Like the APB, I have a Brooks B17 Titanium saddle, but this one has not been treated with Neatsfoot Oil, as this would turn it from an attractive Antique Brown colour to black. Both the newness and the lack of Neatsfoot Oil meant that this one was not quite as comfortable on this ride as the one on teh APB, but there was no serious discomfort, and no doubt it will improve with use.
The handling of the bike was excellent - very stable in all conditions.
As mentioned previously, I used the Rixen Kaul rear QR bag mounted on the seatpost, and this proved an effective combination. I was just about on the limits of its capacity, both volume and also weight, given the small mounting, with a waterproof top and trousers, 3 OS maps, tools, two spare tubes, small combination lock, and a few emergency rations. I might well use the small SP rack and Moulton day or weekend bag another time. All of these are quite adequate for a day ride, providing the weather is fairly certain. If the number of layers to be worn is in doubt, either for reasons of temperature or precipitation, then they are all a bit limited. However, fitting a large rear rack and bag, or front carrier and panniers, carries quite a weight penalty. The Carradice QR system is quite attractive, but unfortunately it is rather heavy. For me, the ideal would probably be a fractionally larger version of the SP day rack with a Carradice rack top bag.
The Rixen and Kaul mini map holder was again exceptionally useful for this sort of ride, though in order to get this and all the other paraphernalia on the bars necessitated fitting a Minoura handlebar extension bracket. As in the case of the one fitted on the APB, the map holder vibrated and rattled horribly, though judiciously placed lumps of Bluetack damped out most of the continuous vibration, and reduced the annoyance to the rattling on rough surfaces. The cycle computer is really almost essential as an aid to navigation (the route sheets make extensive use of distance information). I fitted a Cateye Cordless 7, which seemed to be working fine until I got to the first steep hill, when it stopped working until the gradient eased. This happened every time I was on a steep hill (going up, anyway, I didn't notice the problem on any descents, or maybe it was just that there weren't any very steep descents. I need to investigate this. I wore cycling shorts with tack suit bottoms over them, a thermal vest and a cycling top, with a very thin, windproof Pertex top over this. I was if anything slightly too hot, particularly later in the day, but I'd have been too cold with less layers. The Pertex top kept out the very faint and short lived drizzle experienced at one point. As it looked as though there would not be much, if any rain, I used some old Shimano cycling shoes (fitted with SPD cleats) - much lighter and more comfortable than my cycling boots, but much less waterproof.
Although it was in many respects a pity that I used such a similar bike for this ride to the one I used on the Long Mynd, it was undoubtedly the right choice for the event - at least in terms of what I had available to me. The range of gears, and especially the 20 inch bottom gear, were very welcome. The fx is significantly lighter than the older APB, especially with a two ring derailleur rather than a Sachs 3x7. At the end of the ride, I felt less tired than I have done on any of the other Brevets I have ridden, although I would not have wanted to have ridden very much further.
I may well use the fx again for some of the other longish rides I have planned for this year, although to make the reports more interesting I hope to use the SP, Bike Friday NWT, a Dahon Jetstream XP (if I can borrow one to test), and anything else that I get a chance to use.
Finally I'd like to express my most sincere thanks to the organisers and to the others who took part in the ride and made this such an enjoyable day. I'm still rather mystified by one aspect of this event and the previous one on the Long Mynd though - according to the data sheets, this ride involved more climbing (1400m instead of 1200m), but it felt like a lot less than on the Long Mynd!
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Last updated: 10 May 2004