By John Burgess
My favourite Brompton shop is Bigfoot Bikes in Hayes, Kent run by a very nice man called Roger. Last autumn, Roger suggested a London to Paris ride this summer. I had never done anything like this, but it seemed like an adventure and a stimulus to keep me riding through the winter months. I had a well used but well loved Brompton L5 and a Bike Friday "Newt". Which should I take?
Everyone's advice pointed to the Friday. It's certainly much faster than the Brompton, but I feel so much more relaxed on the Brompton. But nearly 300 miles in 3 days includes a lot of hills, and anything over 20% on an L5 is very hard work. In the end, I decided that it was time to treat myself to a new L6 Brompton, but with some "tweaks". Three were crucial. A Brooks saddle, a Pantour Suspension Hub and a Schlumpf Speed Drive. None is cheap, but all are dramatic improvements.
For the first 3 or 4 years I had the L5, I used soft, gel saddles. Result, a pain in the a*** after 50 miles or so. Since borrowing then buying Brooks saddles, I've never even felt sore. Some people swear at hard saddles, but I couldn't do without them. I don't even find that you need to "run them in", the Paris trip was on saddle that had only done a little over a hundred miles.
I bought the Pantour because my wrists start to hurt at about 60 miles (even less on the Bike Friday). It has aided comfort as I hoped, but it also provided two unexpected bonuses. Rubber stays on tarmac better over rough surfaces so safety is improved, and less effort is lost in "bouncing" than with a standard hub. I am 12 stone, but I don't find any of the problems with brakes and so on that people claim. Trouble is, I now want one now on the L5!
To my perception, the L5 lacks a "crawler" and a "cruiser" gear. The new 8-speed Sturmey-Archer is just what I wanted on paper, and I investigated it thoroughly. But it certainly wasn't a viable option on a Brompton in the spring. Roger fitted a Schlumpf Speed Drive for me, and I now have 12 gears, albeit with some overlap in the middle range. Top gear is still not high enough for me, but the "crawler" would go up the North Face of the Eiger if I asked it to. I can get up hills with the L5, but it is a real strain; now I just twiddle away until I get to the top with no strain. It's difficult to recommend such an expensive solution, and the combination of three types of gear on one bike seems "messy". But it does all work, and it does transform the usability of the Brompton in hilly country.
So, what about the actual trip. Marvellous! There were a dozen or so riders, plus Roger and three other support crew in two people carriers; one in front, and one behind. All the routes were planned along minor roads, fully mapped and mostly marked. The other riders all had "proper" bikes and were mostly less than half my age. I was worried that the Brompton would be slow in this company, but it proved to be one of the faster bikes. On the Friday, which ended in Portsmouth, it actually arrived first and changed a few minds about the performance of a "Brommie". Overnight, we slept on the ferry to Caen, then set out along really gorgeous Normandy D roads with Rouen in our sites. That day was truly magic! Sunday was another 90 miles plus to Paris, where the splendid Roger was waiting under the Eiffel Tower with champers for all. Monday was home via EuroStar as the bikes returned on the support vehicles. During the ride, Roger and Co had sorted all the failed wheels, punctures, broken gears and so while the Brompton sailed on serenely with nary a fettle needed.
Bromptons are good commuter bikes. True. But longer rides are a different matter. Untrue. With a few "tweaks" and sensible adaption of rider style, a Brompton can be a relaxing long distance cruiser. It won't win many races, but it can keep up a good pace without strain. I've already got my name down for next year's ride, although I haven't decided on which bike. I keep wanting an Airnimal, but they're not cheap either! If anyone else fancies a bit of an adventure next year, or a tweaked Brompton to go on, e-mail me on email@example.com or just contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Those four days were hugely enjoyable and I made some real friends as well as a decent stack of sponsorship cash. Go on, just do it!
You can find more information on the Pantour hub on their web site at www.pantourhub.com - Ed.
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Last updated: 17 August 2004