This is the fourth of a series of tests of folding and separable cycles on longer rides in 2004 - see the introductory page for more background information.
Although this was the fourth of the longer/faster (by my very modest standards) rides that I am doing this year, it was only the second which actually counts towards my target of four 100Km Brevet Populaires (BPs), which will bring my all time total of such rides to just 10. The first of the series was only 70Km or so (though VERY hard work due to the hills) and the previous ride (Wombourn) was not a BP, and under the required distance, though done at a faster pace than I usually achieve on a 100Km BP.
Once again my choice of bike was influenced by some factors which in a way should have been irrelevant - the loan folder I had hoped/planned to use for this event was unfortunately not available, so I had to choose from my own (rather large) stable. The real choice should have been between the old Moulton AM7 and the new Moulton fx8, but as I had used Moultons for all the three previous rides, I felt compelled to introduce something different, and a folder rather than a separable, this time. Thus with Moultons ruled out and big wheeled non-folders ineligible I was left with a choice of the Airframe, 12 year-old Brompton T5, SP-Brompton or Bike Friday New World Tourist (The Newt). I have to say that the Airframe was a complete non-starter for this ride - though, as a forthcoming report will show, I do find it has merits, but not for this type of ride - and the old T5 would have been much less suitable than the SP. The SP has a lot to be said in its favour, and rolls very freely, but it is rather low geared, so I decided to use The Newt.
The Newt is about 6 years old, and began life with dropped bars and a Sachs 3x7 gear system. It also had the diabolical Big Dog caliper brakes, which I had replaced with V-brakes, since when it will stop properly. The 3x7 has much to be said in its favour, especially for a small-wheeled bike, where it is possible to get a wide gear range, and some quite high gears without resorting to an enormous chainring. Nevertheless, to my mind (and I know there are many readers who won't agree, just as there are some who will agree!), I find it heavy and inclined to make the bike feel stodgy and unexciting to ride. I therefore modified it some while back to use a single (50 tooth) ring and Shimano Megarange 11-34 rear cluster, which makes it feel a bit more lively and lighter. The main problem in doing this, however, was that the chain then kept coming off - typically at least once every 4Km. As the bike lacked a front derailleur mount (having been a 3 x 7 originally) I fitted a DMR gadget to hold the chain in place - awkward in view of the frame configuration of The Newt, as the device is intended for a conventional diamond frame. Positioning the DMR device so that it does not rub on the chain at the top and bottom end of the range is awkward, and it is very easily knocked out of position resulting in more rubbing.
Preparation of the bike involved adjusting the chain retainer (about an hour's work!), and also fitting a Brooks B17 narrow saddle in place of the existing Flite Titanium - my recent experience of the latter persuaded me to switch back to the Brooks for this long ride. Although the saddle is not particularly new, it hadn't had much use, so I gave it a good treatment with Neatsfoot Oil to make it a bit more comfortable. I also fitted a small RK rear bag - the same one I had used on the fx8 for the Hartelbury Ride a couple of weeks ago, though with a different mount to suit the smaller diameter seatpost. As parts of the route were fairly familiar, and the route sheet seemed fairly straightforward, I decided not to fit a map holder, especially as the rather narrow straight bars I now have on the bike leave little space for fitting other equipment on them. The bike has been fitted with Schwalbe City Marathons for a considerable time now - the same tyre fitted to the old APB, which I used for the Long Mynd ride. Though not the most free-running tyre, I've generally found them not too bad in that respect, and quite robust, with plenty of grip. I did contemplate a change to Schwalbe Stelvios for this ride, but it seemed a lot of trouble to go to to fit these, and then revert to the City Marathons after, so I stayed with the City Marathons.
A quick check of all the other functions of the bike was favourable - the Rollamajig helping to give very smooth and reliable gear changes.
Good weather during the preceding week, and a good forecast for the day of the ride and several days ahead, encouraged me to pack no more clothing than I really needed - a cool morning persuaded me to modify the clothing a bit at the last minute - more of which later - so that I had cycling shorts with track suit bottoms over them (planning to remove the track suit bottoms for the main ride), a long-sleeved cycling top and a very light Karrimor windproof over it.
I was in two minds about whether to drive to the start or use the train to Hampton-in-Arden, and then cycle the short distance from Hampton to Meriden. I decided to let the train take the strain (after carefully checking the web to make sure that there was no mention of engineering work and bustitiution) - a mistake, as we shall see...
When I arrived at Tipton station, I realised that the change of clothing at the last minute had been a major error on my part, as my wallet was still in the original cycling top, so I only had a small amount of loose change with me - enough for the train fare, but not for much refreshment on the ride! As it happened, this would not prove a problem, but it was an unsettling feeling to have almost no money for food or emergencies with me. The very helpful young lady at the station did offer to raid the tea/coffee fund for a loan for me (I am a regular user of the station), but I didn't feel this was warranted. I bought my ticket for Hampton-in Arden (actually, a day tripper ticket proved cheaper), and got on the train, which had arrived on time. All seemed going well, until we approached Birmingham New Street, when the conductor announced (for the first time) that this train was going to Birmingham International - no explanation of why it was not going on the Coventry. The train did indeed terminate at Birmingham International, where an announcement was made about buses - but on exiting the station, the bus was not yet there, and it seemed probable that it would object to the Bike Friday, unless I folded it, and I had not bothered with a bag for once. An enquiry confirmed that this was an all-day situation, so not only would I have to ride an extra 5Km to the event, but I'd have to repeat the process at the end as well. Now an extra 10Km on most rides isn't really a major issue, but for me on a longer, faster, ride, on which I had already had some doubts about adding 12Km of cycling by using the train instead of the car, I was extremely displeased, and of course it also meant that I had rather less time to get to the start than I had expected.
Lovely weather meant the ride from International to the start at Meriden was quite pleasant, and I fortunately had allowed plenty of time, so I was able to do it at a very leisurely pace, conserving energy for later. Riding through Meriden and arriving at the start, it became clear that at least by taking the train I had avoided one problem - parking at the start was totally inadequate, and a lot of people were having to park on the main road by the green. When I came to sign in, I found I was down to do the 150Km version of the ride, rather than the 100Km - the people on the desk said something along the lines of -"oh, another one", so it seemed that the system had not worked very well at registering rider details. This meant a new Brevet Card had to be prepared - not a big deal, but still a minor irritation (fortunately I'd made a note of my AUK number on the route sheet). In looking at the route sheet before the event, I'd noticed what seemed to me a very odd instruction to turn right in Balsall Common - I was able to confirm at the start that this was wrong - it should be a left turn. This rather lowers one faith in the instructions for less familiar parts of the ride ...
I'd arrived after the 150Km ride starters had left, so I don't know if anyone on that ride was using anything interesting - amongst the 100Km group, there was one conventional tandem, but all the rest were normal diamond frames.
At 9:00, after a brief pep-talk, we were sent on our way. The leaders set off at what I considered a rather brisk pace, so I settled down towards the back of the pack, at a more comfortable pace. Within a few Km we were quite spread out, and not long after the LEFT turn in Balsall Common, the route became less familiar to me. Fortunately I was able to stay with a few people who were relatively local, and who did the navigating, up to the first control at Wellesbourne, at 35Km. Here I was rather surprised to find that the process of logging in involved finding a stamp hanging on a piece of string, which you used to stamp your own card. You could also pay 10p for a glass of squash/tea/coffee.
After a brief stop, I set out with a chap who I had ridden with for part of
the first stage, and who seemed to be going at a pace which was within my
capabilities, plus some other riders. It was shortly after this, going through
Walton, that we all missed a turning. The route sheet was very economical with
distance information, and the instructions stated
In WALTON Village L over Bridge
(Rough Road) bear L
I didn't see any road to the left, and subsequent reference to the map suggests it was probably an unfenced track, not a road. Anyway, we eventually reached the Fosse Way, where after studying the map some decided to carry straight on and pick up the route later, while others went down the Fosse Way to almost where we should have emerged after the "Rough Road". The route back down the Fosse Way was moderately hilly, and added about 4 or 5Km to the official distance. Picking up the correct route again, we rode on to the Information Control, described as being approximately 12Km along the B4086, and after a level crossing - we had to find a stone commemorating the Battle of Edgehill and note the date. After our diversion, the distance information was of limited help, and the relation of the stone to the level crossing was not very precise - we thought it would be quite close to the level crossing, and perhaps partly obscured in the undergrowth. It turned out to be on the other side of the road, at least 100m beyond the crossing, but at least it was quite a large stone, but we lost some time here.
From here we rode on to Burton Dassett Country Park, which involved quite a steep climb before we reached the next Information Control - which involved identifying the century of All Saints Church. The church turned out to be down (and I mean down) a short dead-end road, and to find the date of the church we had to go inside and consult some information boards (we looked quite hard outside, and at the top of the road to the church, but could not spot the necessary information anywhere else). Then it was back up the slope to rejoin the route - the descent from the Country Park made up in part for the hard work getting there!
The second control at Ufton was eventually reached, though this involved turning onto the A425, which was not mentioned on the route sheet, and on arrival there we nearly inadvertently joined a long queue for food, as the logging in point was not especially visible, and was again a stamp hanging from a piece of string, this time on a sign by the road. In view of the queue for food, and my shortage of money, it seemed best to make do with the limited food I had with me, plus some of the rapidly dwindling fluid in my water bottle - the chap I had been riding with opted for a similar solution, and we were soon on our way again, though I warned my companion that I expected to have to slow down during this stage. Although I was able to follow him for about half of this section (he very nobly slowed down for me), I eventually dropped back, and continued at my own, reduced and rather more comfortable, pace. Fortunately he had lead me through most of the section that was not familiar to me, and by the time I had to do my own navigation, I knew where I was. Other riders that I saw were less fortunate ... At one point the route sheet instructed us to take a first left - I was lucky and stopped at this junction, where I encountered two riders coming back down this road, having found that it was not the right one - we rode on a considerable distance to the next (ie second) left, which was the road we were meant to follow. Not long after, another two riders overtook me, and in Balsall Common were mislead by the route sheet which instructed us to turn right at a T junction - it was actually a crossroad, and they must have gone straight on, as I saw them later coming down another road which they would have reached if they had made that mistake; here I was lucky in that I knew the road. A little later I encountered a couple of riders who had stopped and even started back towards me, obviously uncertain about the instructions. Again my local knowledge was a distinct advantage, and in fact these two faster riders followed me all the way to the finish, evidently deciding that riding at my slow pace was preferable to going faster but possibly going off the route!
The finish was reached well within the allocated time, and after a short stop to nearly drain my water bottle, I set off back to Birmingham International. With only local trains serving this station, the train that was at the station when I arrived was very full, and I could only find one lobby space into which to get my bike, and that became extremely cramped soon after when two push chairs also had to force their way in. As I loaded the bike onto the train, the RK rear carrier bracket broke off - mercifully a following passenger prevented it and the bag dropping down the gap between the train and platform. The chain also fell off the front ring, although not completely, due to the DMR device (which had performed its job admirable during the ride itself). This also caused the chain retainer to move, so that I would later find that it was out of position again, and rubbing the chain. I had to stand all the way back to Tipton, some variety being provided by the fact that I had to get off at most stations in order to let other passengers disembark, as the bike and push chairs were otherwise blocking the exit lobby.
The final ride back from Tipton station to home was fortunately uneventful, although the wind seemed against me - as indeed it had seemed for a disproportionate part of the ride; not a strong wind, but enough to make it slightly harder work than one would have liked.
The ride was billed as being 105Km, but with the combination of my choice of travelling there by train, the problems with the trains, and the extra off-route distance, I had completed 137Km by the time I got home. I think my feelings regarding the trains/railway companies have quite possibly emerged earlier - I did check a web site before choosing to use the train, the station staff did not mention that there was bustitution from International to Hampton when I bought my ticket, and the fact that the train was only going as far as International was not mentioned on the train until we were arriving at New Street, and then with no explanation of a reason or alternative travel arrangements.
Overall I enjoyed the day, and the route was a good one, but the route sheet did leave something to be desired, and quite a number of riders had problems at one time or another. This was a CTC Challenge Ride, and some of those taking part would not have been regular Audax riders, so I think rather more care and information might have been expected, though I know that organising events is not an easy task. This was also the most expensive 100Km event to enter that I'm riding - for less money, we got beans on toast at the end of the Hartlebury Ride!
So what about the bike?
As the local train services have no restrictions on bike carriage (assuming the train is actually going to run, and is not completely full) folding and portability was not an issue at all for this event, and The Newt was chosen over a couple of bikes I would actually have preferred to ride on the basis of providing some variety in this series of reports.
The11-34 Megarange was perfectly adequate for this ride, though I did use bottom gear on the ascent to Burton Dassett Country Park, and I could have used a higher gear at times ... I'll expand on this later. The long arm LX mechanism and changer worked beautifully - fitting a Rollamajig has certainly improved the change, which with a rather long and convoluted cable run had been a problem with The Newt in the past. The DMR chain retainer kept the chain from falling off, as it was very prone to do when I originally converted from the 3 x 7 system.
Nothing to say here - the V-brakes I have on the bike now (and standard equipment on current NWTs) performed admirably.
Ride and Handling
Small wheels and no suspension are not a happy combination on British roads. The ride was harsh, and although switching to a Brooks saddle may have helped, my posterior certainly knew which bike I had been riding, and was not happy - especially after the comfort of riding Moultons recently. At the other end (of the bike) the situation was not much better, and resulted in some neck and shoulder pain, which, three days later, is still a reminder of the ride.
The bike felt very stable and sure-footed throughout, but the down side of this is that it felt quite lethargic too. The Schwalbe City Marathons are not the free-est rolling tyres, but even so, the bike's performance was not very exciting. What was very noticeable was that on downhills I was left for dead by the chap I was riding with most of the time - and that is with me starting in a position to slipstream, and both coasting. I really needed to pedal hard on downhills to keep anywhere in range of him, and with fairly low gearing there was not hope of keeping up. The tyres were very fully inflated, and there are no obvious problems with bearings etc. This was not an entirely surprising finding, as I've always thought the Newt less responsive than I would have hoped - the Pocket Rocket that I owned for a while was entirely different, and a very free runner, and very exhilarating to ride.
Another problem I had was that several times as I pulled away from a standstill, the rear of the bike started folding under. Initially I could see no explanation and tried tightening the securing clamp, but without completely eliminating the problem. It was not until I got home that I found the explanation, which with a black frame, distance glasses on the ride and not particularly good eyesight was not so easy to spot: the rear forks were not fully hooked onto the mounting, and indeed I had quite a struggle to get them into place. I guess that after folding and unfolding on my recent visit to Shrewsbury, I had not quite pushed them into place. That is of course my own fault, but in my opinion it does demonstrate a problem with many types of folder, namely that not only do you need to follow a very specific sequence in folding and unfolding, but that even doing this it is not always easy to avoid something not being in quite the right position, which may interfere with the folding or unfolding or the ride. It is its strength in this respect that makes a Brompton so outstanding as a folder - you do need to follow a sequence, but it is pretty straightforward, and providing you do this there is not much to go wrong, and everything fits and locks together very effectively, whether folding or unfolding.
The RK rear bag was an ideal size, but the breakage of the mounting (the very first trip on which it had been used) was very bad news - fortunately it happened as I was getting on the train on the way home, as carrying the bag if it had failed during the ride would have been a nightmare. The load was within the quoted limits, but I must say that the mounting looks distinctly under-designed to me. For their SQR system which mounts on the seatpost, Carradice have a far more substantial mount, with two, rather than one, fixing band - Carradice kit tends to be heavy, which is why I don't always use it, but after this experience, I doubt that I'll use the RK system again, and I'll have to consider using the Carradice one instead - the weight may be a penalty worth paying for strength.
Although it was sunny throughout, it was surprisingly cool riding, especially when there was a bit of a head wind, and a long-sleeved top with a thin windproof jacket over it was quite comfortable - less and I would have been chilly. The track bottoms were put in the bag for the ride itself, and cycling shorts proved comfortable, as did the cheap Shimano trainer-style cycling shoes (and SPDs).
I must make it clear that I enjoyed this day out, but it has to be said that things did not go quite as smoothly on this occasion as on the previous rides in terms of the trains to get to and from the start, the route, the bicycle and the other equipment.
I have a number of further rides in this series planned, but there will be a gap of a few weeks before the next one.
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Last updated: 25 May 2004