This is the first of a series of tests of folding and separable cycles on longer rides in 2004 - see the introductory page for more background information.
The Long Mynd is located near Church Stretton, not far from Shrewsbury, and if you have ever been there, you will know that there are some very steep ascents to the top. It is actually possible to cycle in the area and avoid any serious climbing, but to get to the top is hard work, and the description of the ride certainly suggested that there would be no attempt to avoid the climbs - indeed, they might even be deliberately looking for the hilliest route! It was with this in mind that I opted for the version of the ride which was advertised as 59Km, rather than the 103Km version. Rather to my consternation, when the route sheet arrived it turned out that due to an enforced change of staring point (the local village hall was being renovated), the distance had increased to 71Km. Getting to the start using trains would not have been impossible, but the additional distance cycling from Shrewsbury or Church Stretton would probably have decided me against the ride, so the car was to have its second outing in 5 months - and to almost the same location as its previous journey, which was to collect a 2-speed Moulton Stowaway, but that's another story.
For this ride I had hoped to use the new Moulton fx8, but unfortunately it did not arrive in time, so I had to modify my plans. For what I expected to be a hilly ride, both the single and 2-speed Moulton Stowaways were ruled out, and neither the old Mercian nor the Marin mountain bike would fit in the Smart (at least, not without major dismantling), and would have presented problems of having to make reservations even if I had felt inclined to go by train. The old T5 Brompton was not really a contender either - if I were to use a Brompton, then the SP version would be far more appropriate. The old AM7 is roadworthy, but does really need some work done on it, and I really felt that for this ride flat bars, rather than drops, would be more comfortable, especially as my neck had been a bit painful recently. So this left the SP, Bike Friday New World Tourist (The Newt) and the old Moulton APB (serial number 32). The weight of the APB was against it, but the range of gears (Sachs 3 x 7) and suspension made it the choice ... until, 4 days before the ride, a check up showed that one brake block was down to the metal. Murphy's Law then came into effect - I had lots of spare V-brake blocks, lots of calliper blocks, but no cantilever ones in my store! A ride down to Fred Williams in Wolverhampton the next day should have solved this, but it turned out they were closed for stock taking! Mail order seemed the next solution, but despite an assurance that they would be despatched that day, they still had not arrived the next day, so alternatives had to be considered. The SP had run so well on my trip to Wolverhampton that it became the favourite, the absence of suspension on The Newt making it rather unattractive for what I knew would be very badly surfaced lanes. However, I then remembered that I had replaced the cantilevers on the APB some years before, and it was possible that I might still have the old ones, and perhaps blocks, somewhere. A surprisingly short search through various bags in the garage unearthed them and indeed they still had some Aztec blocks in excellent condition fitted, so I used these on the APB. Of course, having done this, the new blocks which I had mail ordered then arrived the next day, but I stayed with the Aztecs.
For some reason I had much more difficulty getting the APB in the back of the Smart than last time I used it - I can only think that a change of stem has made a critical difference here. Nevertheless I was able to fit it in with just a simple frame split - no need to lower the saddle or turn the bars, both of which I hate doing as it is such a job getting them back in exactly the right position.
The weather forecast for the day was not very promising, but conditions were not too bad when I set out, and the 47 mile drive to the start at Church Pulverbatch was accomplished without any problems. On arrival the bike came out of the car without difficulty, and was very quickly re-assembled and ready to go. A separable Moulton works very well with a car, even one as small as a Smart, as splitting the frame only takes 1-2 minutes, and you only need to lift one part at a time, so less effort is involved in lifting it in and out of a car, and you could even stow the two parts in different parts of the car if for some reason that is necessary. Travelling by train is, of course, a different matter: our local trains have no restrictions on cycles, but on longer journeys it is either a case of a more major dismantling and bagging (allow 10 minutes), or booking the bike, which commits you to a specific time of travel.
Just as I finished assembling the APB and locked the car, I had my biggest surprise of the day, as a Bike Friday emerged from the back of a nearby car! I had quite expected to be the only rider of a small wheeler at the event, and I've rarely encountered any others at BPs in the past. This was a Pocket Rocket Pro, the Petite version, belonging to Marion Guy, and was brand new, having just been brought back from the USA. The 16-spoke wheels caused some doubtful comments from other riders, given the terrain. I also felt from personal experience that the small wheels and lack of any suspension would be painful on this route - one of the main reasons why I had not chosen to use The Newt. On the other hand, I was very jealous of the weight - Marion tells me it is only 20 pounds fully equipped, whereas my APB was probably about 32 pounds.
A relatively small group of riders left on the 71Km ride at 10:00, the larger group on the 102Km ride having left at 9:00. Organiser Ken Knight had provided an excellent route sheet and coloured map of the area, but one usually hopes to be able to follow the bunch, and not have to do too much navigating. A number of BPs I have been to in the past have made this difficult, as the main group has gone much too fast for me, and I simply could not keep up. This was less of an issue on this occasion, though I did ride a bit faster at the start than I would have probably done otherwise. One of the problems with trying to navigate yourself is having to keep pulling out a map, and stopping to consult it (or any written instructions). To obviate this problem, I had fitted for the first time a Rixen and Kaul mini map holder on the handlebars. This consists of a quick release mount for the bars, or stem, which bands on, and a small transparent clip to hold the map - it is exactly the size of the route sheets used on Audax rides (A6). It is light, and the clip part can be taken off the QR very easily. The only real problem is finding space for all the paraphernalia on the handlebars - I think that when the fx8 arrives, I shall have to leave the bars wider than I would ideally like them just to make room for all the gadgets! This map holder proved very useful and effective, but it did suffer a dreadful vibration which produced a most irritating 'thrumming' noise.
From Church Pulverbatch we rode to Picklescott, which is where the ride would have started had the village hall there not been under repair, and then on to our first control at The Bog Car Park. The ride had already proved to be quite hilly, and I had resorted to pushing on a couple of occasions - even a bottom gear of 23 inches was not low enough for me. Of course the weight of the APB was also a handicap, and a quite strong wind, even if not a full head wind, did not help either. Soon after this control we encountered a really poor stretch of road surface for about 1.5Km, and I was very glad of the suspension of the Moulton here, and I was certainly glad here that I was not on The Newt (or a Pocket Rocket!). My Schwalbe City Marathon tyres coped fairly well with the rutted and potholed surface - the Bike Friday was on Schwalbe Stelvios, so it must have been a real handful, though I did not see it on this stretch of the ride, so I'm not sure how it coped. Although the suspension gave quite a comfortable ride, the larger wheeled bikes did seem to handle the conditions better in other respects, being less thrown of course by the ruts and the loose surface.
As I approached Bishops Castle (riding on my own at this stage), the rain came down quite heavily. I was wearing a very elderly Goretex jacket, which is no longer very waterproof, but it managed to keep me reasonably dry up to the control. The track suit bottoms worn over padded cycling shorts did nothing to keep out the rain, and the lack of a front mud flap (something I had meant to address after my last ride on the APB in wet conditions) meant that my boots, legs and the back part of the bike were getting a lot of dirty water thrown on them from the road. I find wet feet make for particularly unpleasant cycling, and the Shimano boots which I use, despite many coatings of waterproofing substances, are not very effective at keeping out water, especially when the APB's front wheel seems to be directing water straight at them. I have some waterproof socks, but these have not worked very well in the past, but this time, these, with some fairly thick woollen socks over them, and then the boots, did work quite well. I was carrying some additional waterproofs (leggings and another jacket), but I was reluctant to don these, both because of the effort involved in putting them on and the discomfort of riding in such cumbersome gear. The control at Bishops Castle provided some respite, and by the time I emerged the rain had more or less stopped.
I find long rides of this kind quite a problem, as some food and drink is required to keep one's energy levels up, but my digestion does not seem to cope very well with eating and drinking while exercising, and any energy gain is at least partly counterbalanced by a leaden feeling. Thus my stop at Bishops Castle was fairly brief, and certainly did not include beans and toast!
Leaving Bishops Castle I encountered a rider who had the misfortune to suffer a saddle/seatpost failure, and was having to abandon the ride. After the hilly section leading up to Bishops Castle, the next stage was very easy riding, through Lydbury North, and on towards Plowden. Some fairly gentle climbing followed, until we reached the point where we turned up towards the Gliding Field at the top of the Long Mynd. To say that this section was steep is a major understatement, and not only is it steep, it is a long climb too. I dismounted at the foot of this section, and pushed the whole way up, as did most people. I did see one rider who managed to ride about half way up here (with great difficulty), but even he dismounted and pushed from there on. I don't think anyone on either the short or long ride would have been able to ride up here - despite the fact that (mercifully) we had a tail wind at this stage. Even pushing the bike was hard work, and I had to stop frequently to get my breath back - the weight of the APB was a significant handicap here, and the extra gears were no help either as the gradient was well beyond what I could ride. Once we finally reached the top, conditions changed dramatically, with a fairly flat section and the tail wind making for some very pleasant riding - though the weather meant visibility was disappointingly limited, even though it was not raining where we were.
The next control was in open country just before we began the steep descent - cake and cold drinks were available to sustain us, though again I was sparing in what I consumed. As with a number of other long, steep descents that we were to make during this ride, the blustery wind made riding a bit nerve wracking, and this, plus the frequent cattle grids, meant that some care was needed. By the final control at All Stretton I was feeling quite weary, and inquired anxiously whether the remaining 12Km was very hilly. The answer was not very encouraging, and indeed there were a few steep (but short) climbs to be made, a couple of which reduced me to pushing again briefly.
It was just after 4:00pm when a group of about 6 of us (including the Pocket Rocket) finally turned back into the entrance to the village hall at Church Pulverbatch to get the final stamp on our cards, and relax over a cup of coffee, sandwiches and cake. The drive back home was accompanied by more rain, and at one point on a corner a large tanker had apparently gone straight on and then overturned, where it was being attended by the emergency services.
This was a much hillier ride than I would ever normally undertake just for my own pleasure (well, it was a pleasure ride, or I would not have done it, but 'my' route would have avoided some of the hills!). The location and description provided ample warning, so I'm not complaining, it's just that I don't really enjoy hills (at least, not riding up them). I found it very hard work, and was really struggling at times, even making very heavy weather of pushing up the steep parts. That's down to my lack of strength and fitness, and it makes no difference what bike I ride.
The APB generally proved a good bike for this ride. It went into the car reasonably easily, though of course it would not have been at all convenient if I had need to use a train.
The wide range of gears was useful - I used the whole range, though bottom gear got a lot more use than it has ever had before. The need to change gear frequently also meant that the quality of the gear change was important - it was excellent throughout, and the ability to change gear when stationary using the hub of the Sachs 3 x 7 was an advantage a few times. Bottom gear was not low enough for some of the hills (even at 23 inches), but I think it is fair to say that in at least one of these situation no gear would have been low enough to allow me to cycle the hill. The weight of the APB was also a significant handicap when climbing, and made pushing up the hills hard work too.
Not only did the legs and gears get well used on the hills, but the hands and brakes also came in for some severe testing as well. I was very glad I was not using a Mark 2 Brompton with Saccon brakes!! The APB is one of the earlier models, with cantilever rather than V brakes. I had no trouble controlling speed even on the steep descents, although actually bringing the bike to a halt, or slowing down quickly, was much more problematic on the very steepest descents - I overshot one turning, despite seeing it well in advance, as a result. There was no sign of fading of the brakes, though I was rather worried about heating of the rims and possible tyre problems on the very long steep descents. Quite a lot of effort was required with the cantilevers to apply the brakes. The Aztec blocks which I resurrected and fitted on the back significantly improved the braking performance compared with the old blocks, and braking was also much quieter with these blocks fitted - no squealing and less rubbing noises. I will be interested to see how the V brakes of the fx8 compare.
Ride and Handling
The Schwalbe City Marathons were quite a good choice for this ride - less free running than some, but better for the rougher lanes, especially the very poor surface after the first control. They were inflated to just over 100psi to reduce rolling resistance, and this may have made them slightly more skittish on the rough surface, but with the suspension it did not make the bike uncomfortable. In fact the ride was outstanding - although I became very tired during this hilly ride, I suffered no discomfort. Hands, arms, shoulders and neck all felt fine, and the legs were weak rather than painful. The other part of the anatomy which can become a concern on a longer ride caused no pain at all - in fact, I did not even think about it until after the ride. The combination of the Moulton suspension and a Brooks B17 titanium saddle were outstanding. Even in the titanium form, the B17 is a heavy saddle, but I think that on this occasion it was certainly worth the extra weight. The bike felt very stable on the descents, and inspired confidence throughout.
The luggage handling of Moultons is one of their strengths. I used the SP rear day bag rack and an old Moulton AM day bag. This bag was barely big enough for the tools, 2 tubes, pump, additional waterproofs, lock and a small camera, but it was exceptionally light. The weekend bag might have been better, but as I am rather short, it is a very tight fit to get either bag between the top of this rack and the bottom of the saddle. No other luggage combination on this or any other bike I have tried is as light and effective for this sort of ride. The Rixen and Kaul mini map holder was exceptionally useful for this sort of ride, though finding space for it and a computer, bell and lamp bracket on the handlebars is a problem, and the noise it created as it vibrated was unacceptable. If I can find a way of eliminating the noise then I think it rates highly. A cycle computer is quite useful on a ride like this, as the route instructions quote distances (in Km) of the various turnings. My very old Cateye Mity 2 worked fine, although I was reading quite a lot higher distance than the route sheet, with 75Km rather than 71Km by the end - I will have to check the calibration. Clothing for these conditions proved less satisfactory, as always. None of the waterproof gear I had with me is truely waterprofo, even in only moderately wet conditions, and it is uncomfortable into the bargain, which is why I settled for not stopping to put it on, and the boots and jacket were not very waterproof either, though tolerable in these not very severe conditions.
Of the bikes I had available, I think the APB was the best choice for this ride - the weight was a disadvantage, but this was probably outweighed (sorry) by the range of gears, and certainly in all other respects there was nothing lacking in its performance, and its handling and comfort were excellent. My plans for the Moulton fx8 which I expect to use on some of the other long rides had been to convert it to a 9 speed with Shimano Megarange gearing, and a single chainring - a set up that I favour, and which suits most of my riding. However, the experience of this ride has made me revise the plan, and I'm already thinking of putting a second sprocket on it when it arrives, especially as the next BP that I am scheduled to do involves even more climbing and is longer!
Would I do it again, and if so, what would I change? Well, I find flat country boring, but there is a happy medium between that and this amount of hill climbing as far as I am concerned, so I'm not sure that I would do it again, though that's just a personal viewpoint and no criticism of an excellent event. If I did tackle it again, the thing I would want most is a new body; in terms of the bike, I'd want at least as low a bottom gear, preferably without sacrificing too much at the top end, and a reduction in weight (of the cycle) of about 7 pounds (not impossible if you consider the weight of the Bike Friday which was on the ride, which was apparently over 10 pounds lighter, though of course without suspension).
Finally I'd like to express my most sincere thanks to Ken Knight, the organiser, and his team, and to the others who took part in the ride and made this such an enjoyable day.
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Last updated: 5 April 2004