This is the third of a series of tests of folding and separable cycles on longer rides in 2004 - see the introductory page for more background information. Strictly this ride is not really part of this series, as it was not a Brevet Populaire, and the required speed was rather brisker than the other rides in the series.
While looking through a copy of the CTC magazine I noticed a local ride organised by the Wombourn section of the CTC, which is quite local to me - a 50 mile ride to be done in 4 hours or less. While the distance was a bit shorter than some of this series of Brevet rides, the speed was also rather more challenging. Anyway, I made a late decision to have a go at it, despite serious misgivings about whether I could maintain such an average speed for that distance.
For a brisker ride of this kind I decided I would need all the help I could get from the bike, but, given also that it is all up hill back from the finish point into Dudley, it would be preferable to go to and from the start point using the car. Unfortunately I no longer have the bikes which would have been most suitable - the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, or Airnimal, or Moulton Jubilee L or New Series Moulton (listed in no particular order!). Of what I have left, either the new Moulton fx8 or the 20 year old Moulton AM7 seemed easily the most suitable - actually I had hoped to have a loan folder which looked very suitable, but this did not arrive in time. Although the fx8 is quite a bit lighter than the original APB, it is still heavier than the AM7, so the AM7 was the final choice. It has significantly less gears (8 indexed gears on mine after updating it some years ago, versus 18 on the fx8), but knowing the terrain, I I was aware that really low gears were not going to be necessary. Indeed, the problem was more at the other end - I tend to gear my bikes fairly low to cope with hills, and just not ride as fast, or even coast, in more favourable conditions. For this ride, some higher gears would really have been welcome - a mid-80s inch top gear is usually good enough for me, but looked as though it might be a constraint for this faster ride.
No real preparation of the bike was required, other than making sure everything was working, and pumping up the tyres - the AM7 hasn't been out for a couple of years! To minimise the weight, a Day Bag was substituted for the Weekend bag. I did think about fitting a map holder, but as I was fairly familiar with the area, I decided not to bother, and hope that I would be able to follow other riders for a lot of the time, and just refer to the route sheet if I got separated. Good weather also meant that cycling shorts and a couple of tops were all that was need - not extensive rain gear etc, so the small Day Bag was quite adequate.
The AM7 still has its original narrow drops, so it fitted into the car easily, and the drive down to the start only took 20 minutes. Unpacking and reassembling the bike was very straightforward, and I proceeded to sign on - much to my surprise, I had been allocated the number 1. I was pleased not to be the only one with a small wheeled folder/separable - there was also an Airnimal, the same one that I had seen at the start at Hartlebury recently. At 09:00 we were flagged away, the start being photographed and videoed by the organisers.
The route that had been chosen was quite flat, and although we were not going slowly, I was able to find a group I could keep up with without too much trouble. At various points on the ride members of the organising tem were photographing and videoing us, but fairly unobtrusively - they seemed to have it well planned, so that they drove to the filming points without having to overtake us as we rode. The AM7 rolled along very freely, but I was finding the top gear of only 86 inches was rather a limitation in the more favourable conditions - sun and almost no wind made riding very easy. On the few climbs we were making, there was no need to resort to the lowest gear, 28 inches, so, as I had anticipated, I was a bit under-geared. During the outward part of the ride, I did not see the Airnimal again - it was way ahead of me!
After riding through Gnosall, we continued on to Lynn, rather beyond the half way distance, before stopping to be signed in at a control, and pausing briefly for a drink. The return, via a different, and even more familiar route, seemed slightly more hilly, but that was probably partly due to getting more tired. I had more problems keeping up with the main groups as well during this phase - soon after the start back the lack of higher gears became a serious handicap, though in the final stages, as I got more tired, this became irrelevant. In the first part of the return trip, I saw more of the Airnimal, but eventually I dropped back, unable to keep up. Rather strangely, the ride finished not at the start point in Wombourn, but at Trysull (3 miles or so away). I finally rolled in there well within the allowed time, in fact in around 3.5 hours. By then I needed some refreshment, and then set off to find my way back to Wombourn, getting slightly off course a couple of times, as Wombourn itself is not a place I visit at all frequently.
The bike went back into the easily again for the return journey, and then it was a short drive home, followed by unpacking everything from the car.
Apart from the fact that this was a faster and slightly shorter ride than most in this series of reports, I feel embarrassed at including it as for the third time running I used a Moulton - separable rather than a true folder! Had it been available in time, I would have probably used the loan high-performance folder which I'm expecting soon, but in its absence I really did not have anything else suitable other than a Moulton again. At least I was able to use a different Moulton, in the form of the AM7. I've had this bike from new since January 1984, the only major changes to the original specification being the fitting of an 8-speed indexed gear system.
The separable frame of the AM7 is fine for use with a car, even one as small as the Smart, and the narrower dropped bars made it very easy to fit in the back, just folding down to luggage space cover. Although a special bike rack is available for the Smart, it is much easier and safer to be able to put a bike inside the car, so a folder/separable is a big advantage over a conventional large-wheeled non-folder.
The 9-28 standard cluster of the AM (the smaller cogs are Moulton specials, and very expensive, as this pre-dates the Shimano Capreo cluster) and 46 tooth front rings gave me gears from 86 to 28 inches, which normally suits me quite well. The lack of the really low gears (nearly 20 inches) of the fx8 was not an issue on this route, and the top gear is set almost identical to the fx8 and most of my other bikes, though lower than the APB. The down-tube changer seemed a bit strange after using bar-mounted changers for so long, but was not really a problem, and the changer and Shimano 105 rear mechanism worked faultlessly. I was defintely short of gears at the top end of the range for this faster ride in fairly flat country. Short of changing the chainring just for the ride, or using the much heavier APB, I didn't really have any way of avoiding this with the bikes available to me.
The brakes did not have a great deal to do on this ride. This is the other area of the bike I have upgraded, the original CLBs fitted to early AMs like mine having been replaced with Shimano 105 deep drop dual pivot brakes (no longer available). With these, the bike now stops properly, without any problems, and the brakes are both powerful and progressive - excellent, as compared with the dreadful performance with the original brakes. Modern Ams have been fitted with good dual pivot brakes like this for many years of course.
Ride and Handling
The bike still has a set of the original Wolber tyres fitted - these are no longer available, and the Continental tyre which was available in this 17 inch size, and which I rather liked, has also gone out of production. I have a set of Bridgestone tyres to fit at some stage, but I didn't bother for this ride, and there is apparently also a Schwalbe Stelvio now in this unusual 17 inch size - I'd very much like to try these if I can get hold of some. I ran the tyres at slightly over the original recommended pressure - 80 psi instead of 70, something that is widely accepted as safe and preferable, some users even going to higher pressures still. Rolling resistance felt low, and the grip was excellent on this dry ride - from much experience, I find the Wolbers also perform well in less favourable riding conditions. The Moulton suspension naturally proved a very comfortable ride, although actually I personally prefer the very slightly harder ride of the fx8 to the soft suspension (especially on the front) of this AM. The saddle proved much less comfortable - I did not bother to change from the Flite Titanium saddle already on the bike - light, but quite hard. AT one time I got on quite well with these saddles, but over the last couple of years I have found them less comfortable, and on my regularly used bikes (which the AM is not) I have reverted to Brooks B17s. The problem was compounded by the fact that I had the saddle just a fraction too high - I corrected this at the control stop, but I will still rather saddle sore by the time the ride finished.
The handling of the bike was excellent - very stable in all conditions, though the handling is a bit wuicker than the 20 inch wheeled bikes, and the unfamiliarity of the down tube gear shift was a bit of a handicap until I got used to it.
The standard AM Day Bag and associated rack was ideal - light, adequate capacity and no effect at all on the handling. Had the weather been less certain, I might have found it a bit limiting in capacity for additional clothing, though the marginally larger Weekend bag would probably have been used in that case. As it was, tools, tubes, emergency rations and, later in the ride, one of the tops, fitted reasonably comfortably. I also substituted a better pump than is usually on the bike, this too going in the bag, rather than bothering to replace the mountings. The AM has a single set of bottle cage bosses - adequate usually for my needs, and though less than on conventional bikes, more than are available on a lot of folders (Bike Fridays being an honourable exception, and fitted with a good number of bosses).
The good weather made clothing a simple issue - cycling shorts, pus a short and long sleeved jersey, the latter going in the bag at the half-way stop. Shoes were cheap Shimano ones with SPDs - more comfortable than the heavier, but more waterproof Shimano boots I had to use on the Long Mynd ride.
As mentioned previously, I did not bother to fit a map holder this time, as I was familiar with the route, and I was glad to be spared the rattling, though usually I would put up with that for the sake of easy visibility of the route sheet.
It was disappointing in a way to use a very similar bike again for this third ride - it performed excellently, but I would have liked to have been able to report on something other than a Moulton! I certainly had no regrets about using it in terms of performance, though top gear was really not high enough for this particular ride as I have the bike set up. Lack of alternatives at present is limiting the options for using different bikes for these tests - the Meriden BP in a couple of days time is going to present the same problem, and for that reason a Moulton may have to be used again (certainly no hardship for me, but it does probably reduce the intrest of the reports for the readers!).
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Last updated: 20 May 2004