This was the fourth of a series of Brevet Populaires which I am riding to test a number of folding an separable cycles on 100km day rides, an average speed of 15-30kph being required (including any time stopped). To put this ride in context, I would recommend that readers at least glance through the previous reports.
To get to Nantwich, where this event was being held, involved using 3 trains (Tipton to Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton to Crewe and Crewe to Nantwich), so obviously one of the more portable bikes was most suitable. I had used the Moulton AM on the last of this series of rides, and I would not expect the Moulton APB to perform very differently from the AM, apart from being harder work due to the extra weight, so I had not really considered using them on this occasion anyway. The Bike Friday Pocket Rocket and the Birdy had already been used on previous rides, and the New World Tourist is quite similar to the Rocket, so there was no real need to test this. Since the Micro and elderly single-speed Moulton Stowaway aren't in my view suitable for this sort of event, that left a Brompton as the machine to use this time. While I wouldn't rule out a standard Brompton for an event of this kind, the gear range, and, more importantly, gear spacing, would make it rather hard work, so I opted for my new Brompton-SP, with its seven speed derailleur gearing, V-brakes and suspended handlebar stem, not to mention a saving of about 2 pounds in weight over a standard Brompton.
A study of the route showed that it was comparatively flat, apart from a short hilly stretch on the approach to Llangollen. The Sunday before this ride was extremely hot and humid, and thunder storms broke out in the afternoon. The Ledbury MBC ride the previous day had been very tiring due to the heat, and consequently on Sunday night I was quite doubtful about doing this ride. I had set up the BikeBrain computer on the SP, and programmed in the route, but due to the weather and the fact that it is not weatherproof, I removed it on the Sunday evening. Carrying luggage and water bottles was a subject for some soul searching - Bromptons can carry a lot of luggage, but my need was for a relatively small amount, and minimum weight. I nearly used a bar bag mounted on the front luggage block via one of Steve Parry's brackets, but in the end opted for a large Topeak wedge bag for tools, waterproof top etc, and a bum bag for camera, maps, food and two water bottles. This was the same system I used on the first of these rides, but which I had found uncomfortable then; as I was carrying rather less in it this time - notably a smaller camera - I hoped that it would be satisfactory. The decision not to use the bar bag system was influenced mainly by weight - the bar bag and bracket weighed about 1 pound more.
Although rain was to be expected I opted only to take a very light waterproof top - apart from the extra weight of more extensive rain gear, it would be too hot to wear it.
Due to the heat, I had almost decided not to go, and if it had been raining when I got up (at 5.30) I would probably have abandoned this outing, but as it was dry, if rather overcast, and I felt committed to doing the ride in order to be able to do this test report, I set off. As is usually the case, the trains proved reliable and ran on time all the way, with fairly short waits for connections at Wolverhampton and Crewe. I folded the Brompton at the start, although as far as Wolverhampton this was not strictly necessary as there are no restrictions on the carriage of bicycles on the Centro trains. In fact it was a class 323 electric in Centro livery which took me from Wolverhampton to Crewe (going on to Liverpool Lime Street), so I might well have been able to get a conventional or unfolded bike on this as well. It was a short and very straightforward ride from the station to Rease Heath, where the event was starting - one of many events forming part of the CTC Birthday Rides this year. I arrived in time to see those doing the full 200 km Audax start off, including a Moulton APB. There were around 100 people doing this longer ride, while about 75 had opted like myself for the shorter ride of 120 km. The numbers were of course a lot higher than the previous events I had attended as the event was at the location of the Birthday Rides.
As usual, mine was the only unconventional bike on the ride, although as mentioned earlier, there was a Moulton APB doing the longer event. Not unexpectedly, in view of the fact that most participants were taking part in the larger CTC Birthday Rides event, most people were using fairly conventional touring bikes.
Signing in at the start
Most of the riders set off at a pace just a little faster than I would choose, but one group was travelling at a speed which suited me, and I fell in with them. Although after a few miles this group split up, I stayed with one other rider for the rest of the day, our paces being very similar - and he was a Brompton owner too (though not riding it on this occasion). Our first control stop was at a garden centre in Holt, just as it started to rain. While we consumed some refreshments inside the centre, torrential rain fell for about 20 minutes, but as we emerged the rain stopped, and it was not to rain again during the whole ride. Although it was getting warmer by now, and it could certainly be described as a hot day, the conditions were not as uncomfortable as I had feared they might be.
The country remained reasonably flat until the 30 mile mark, when we began to climb more seriously, and bottom gear came into use several times. The climbing was well worth it, though, as we were on the Panorama road, and there were some superb views as we approached Llangollen . The descent into Llangollen was exhilarating, and proved a good test for the V-brakes on the SP. Llangollen itself was very busy with holidaymakers, so after a brief stop for a sandwich and drinks, it was time to start back - given the fact that there are time limits for the ride, you do not want to lose too much time at stops anyway. The return route avoided the steep hills, and although it used some A roads, these had little traffic on them. There were some steady climbs, but no really serious hills, although with tiring legs, bottom gear was pressed into service briefly a few times.
The ascent into the hills on the way to Llangollen rewarded us with some
splendid views; although they were marred slightly by the haze, conditions were
not as murky as this photograph might suggest.
As usual, I found that from about 60 miles onwards the riding became something of a chore - up to 50 miles I enjoy, 50-60 starts becoming hard work, and beyond that it seems that I have really had enough. I think the bike must have felt the same, because about 5 miles from the finish I realised that the front tyre was very soft. As it seemed to be a fairly slow puncture, and we were so near the finish, I decided to pump it up and see if I could get to the finish. The relatively upright riding position of the Brompton was an advantage in this situation, as there was little load on the front tyre, and I was able to get back with just one further stop to put some more air in the tyre.
This ride was billed as being 120 km, 75 miles, although by my computer it was actually 78 miles. The speeds set for it were slightly more relaxed than for some of the other events, at between 12.5 and 25 kph. I completed the ride in well inside the maximum allowed time - in fact just inside the time corresponding to the more usual 15 kph minimum. Although this was rather slower than I had done the other events, I felt much less tired at the end, perhaps partly because I had ridden at a more comfortable pace, despite the fact that it was the longest of these rides.
This was a very enjoyable day ride, and the views on the approach to Llangollen in particular were superb.
I had just missed one train, and the next one would have involved a very slow return, due to poor connections, so I decided to repair the puncture, have a drink and then return via the train after that, which gave a shorter overall journey time due to more convenient connections. The puncture proved to be due to a small piece of glass, and the tube was easily patched and the sliver of glass was removed from the tyre itself. The Primos are a bit vulnerable to this sort of thing with their relatively slick pattern - some other tyres may sometimes not be punctured if such a small piece of glass enters the tyre in an area where the tread is thicker, though if it goes in where the tread is thinner the result will be the same.
After a very leisurely ride to Nantwich station, I took cover while some heavy rain fell - a lucky day for me again! On the opposite platform two riders of conventional bikes, whom we had seen several times on the ride, were waiting, and boarded the next train, apparently without any problems. Another Brompton disembarked from that train, but the owner seemed to have not interest in The Folding Society, or indeed bicycles - which provides some material for musing in a future article!
My train to Crewe arrived 1 minute late, but I enjoyed a chat with another passenger about folding bicycles and their weight - less than the original Compaq portable computer, which it turned out we had both used.
At Crewe I accidentally turned the wrong way while looking for the platform for my train to Wolverhampton, but this turned out to be another piece of good luck, as it meant that I encountered an enthusiastic Bike Friday owner, with whom I had a brief chat before I had to rush off to catch the train. The train journey was accompanied by thunder and lightening, and a good deal of rain, but this stopped soon after I changed trains at Wolverhampton, and before I got off for the short ride back home.
When I reached home the computer read exactly 86 miles for the whole journey.
This was by far the longest ride I had done on the SP so far - my total mileage on this bike was only 150 miles before this event. Indeed, it was also substantially more than I had done in a day on my standard Brompton in the 9 years I have owned it. While I guess that I could have completed the ride on the standard Brompton, it would certainly have been much harder work, and would have taken longer, due mainly to the gearing. I was also very glad of the very powerful V-brakes during the descent into Llangollen - indeed, as remarked before, they are almost too powerful, as I accidentally locked the rear wheel momentarily on a couple of occasions. Although the rather upright riding position is not ideal, it was not uncomfortable, although perhaps a slightly wider saddle (I have a narrow Flite Titanium saddle on this and almost all my bikes) would be more suitable with this riding position.
This was the first of this series of test rides on which I had a puncture, but I would put this down to luck, for I do not think the Primos are significantly more susceptible to punctures than other tyres of similar riding characteristics. Apart from this puncture, I was extraordinarily lucky all day.
The decision not to use the bar bag mounted on the front luggage bracket was definitely a mistake. With two water bottles, the bum bag was heavy and uncomfortable, and the slight overall weight advantage did not outweigh the discomfort.
Overall the bike was very comfortable, and the sprung handlebars were very comfortable, and eliminated the flexing of the stem which occurs on a standard Brompton, which would have been disconcerting on a ride of this length. Not only did the range and spacing of the gears on the bike prove good, but the gear change via twist grip, worked perfectly at all times. Top gear was a little low at times, but overall the gearing was quite suitable.
All in all then the Brompton SP proved more than adequate for a ride of this length at these speeds, and although it would not be my first choice for riding such an event, I would have no qualms about using it again on a BP if the occasion arose. I believe that I could also have used a standard Brompton (5-speed, 18% reduction gearing) to complete the ride, though it would have been a good deal more tiring, and I would certainly be more reluctant to use it for a BP from choice.
Photographs to follow (I took a small conventional camera rather than a digital camera).
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Last updated: 2 September 1999