Gear Luggage

Custom Flap for S Bag

My Brompton isn’t due for another week and a half (or maybe two), so I’m still anticipating. In the meantime, I thought I’d try to make a smaller bag, like Ortlieb’s Mini O, while I anticipate.  Folks on BromptonTalk had a bunch of good suggestions about cutting down an S frame, so, while out of town one day, I went looking for one.

Instead, I found this S bag and frame for a hugely discounted price, which changed my plans entirely, as I ended up with both the bag and the frame. Having both made me quite reluctant to saw down the frame. I’m going to try living with the S bag for a while, instead.

Based on the price, I assumed the bag was used, but, once I got it home, saw that the bag was in beautiful shape. The flap looked filthy in the shop, but it turns out that it comes that way:  It’s made from a decommissioned fire hose. Those black streaks aren’t dirt; it’s stain from an honorable life before-Brompton. My new S bag was apparently unused (and, it turned out, even had the rain cover tucked inside).

The hose story is kind of cool, but the look and feel are just too urban-gritty for me. (The flap looks asymmetrical here, but that’s due to my poor photography.)  However,  I was willing to buy this particular bag because I knew that the front flap on the S bag is removable, and I planned to make my own. Here’s my first effort:

That’s faux tooled leather, with a polyester binding around the edges.  It looks considerably better in real life than in this picture, but you can see that it needs a bit more substance to look truly right.  The synthetic leather is pretty thin (and it may not wear well — time will tell), so I made a “sandwich” of ripstop nylon/clear plastic sheeting/ripstop nylon behind it, and to provide strong anchorage for the various fasteners.

Here’s what the underside of the flap looks like:

I sewed the the hook-and-loop fasteners and the snap hook buckles to one side of the ripstop pieces, put the “tooled” material on top of the ripstop”sandwich”, and then bound the edges.  That’s all there was to it.

In my vast collection of buckles, I had only one that would mate successfully with the ones on the S bag, which worried me. An Internet search didn’t seem to turn up the correct buckles, so I headed out to stores where I’ve purchased such things in the past.  I struck gold at the first stop: EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports).  Here’s what the package looks like:

The buckles on the bag are stamped “National Molding” and “Stealth” (the “Stealth” is what’s really important), but the package is branded “Liberty Mountain” which may be why I couldn’t find them on the interwebs.

I used two-inch wide hook-and-loop tape, which is twenty-five percent wider than that on the S bag. I keep a supply of two-inch on hand; it worked perfectly well.

I’ve since acquired some far heavier vinyl to beef up the flap.  I’ve also got some outdoor canvas I want to experiment with, and some marine vinyl in chrome yellow.  If my Brompton takes more than another couple of weeks to arrive, I may have a whole new wardrobe for my S bag by the time the actual cycle shows up.

This is my fourth Brompton bag, counting the lightweight one I made myself.  Total number of square feet of the bags may now equal that of a folded Brompton.  Is it possible I’ve got a problem here?


My Present Folder

. . . was built in the late 1960s.  I’ve owned her for decades.

She’s Italian, made by Walter Precision Italiana. Her name is Arianna, and the model is “Week End”.  She’s a one-speed, coaster brake (with single hand brake), and quite heavy.  But she rolls like a dream, even after all these decades.

Note the “M” handle bars.  I think they’re broader than those on the Brompton; it will be interesting to compare the two bicycles, once my Brompton arrives.

Details, for those who are interested, are on this blog post.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Anticipaaationnn . . .

. . .  is making me crazy.  I hope both NYCeWheels and Brompton appreciate my restraint.  I am not bombarding them with emails every hour asking exactly where, and in what state, my future Brompton exists at any given time.

I was away for a week recently, and couldn’t help but fantasize about future travels with my Brompton.  I’m so used to being on wheels now that I feel a little captive when I’m without them.  Next time I drive far from home, I may very well have a Brompton in my trunk, and thus plenty of opportunities to slip in a little ride here and there, no matter what else I’m up to.

I felt my Brompton-less-ness acutely this trip, so I did the next best thing and rented a bike, and rode about 18 miles along the Erie Canal.

The bike’s a Trek Navigator (“City/Trekking bicycle”, said the sticker).  Big, fat, tires, straight handle bars, chubby, loopy frame.  Not my kind of bike, the way smaller-wheeled bikes are, but fun to ride, just the same.

It was a gorgeous day, and the Canal has its own kind of beauty, and much of interest to see.  Here’s Lock 32:

The Canal is flat, and the terrain not terribly varied, but it is lush and green at this time of year, and beautiful, just the same:

I tried taking a couple of shots without stopping the bike, with varying degrees of success (this one worked pretty well):

This one blurred.  We’ll call it a memory shot:

Here’s a lopsided look at a common structure on the Canal.  Are these technically locks? Or another kind of gate?

I took this “panda” shot on the fly, too.  Why do people take these shots?  I’ve no idea, but I felt obligated to try it:

There are many metal bridges, in various stages of appealing decay, along the Towpath Trail:

While visiting here, I often drive over these bridges.  It was thrilling to see them from a completely different perspective:

Cycling often offers a close-up view of interesting structures not observable by car:

Not just structures, either.  I saw this Blue Heron very early in the ride:

This small family was completely unconcerned by my presence (gotta love a quiet bike):

As were these guys, whose pals couldn’t even be bothered to move off the towpath as I rode by:

There’s a small stretch in the village of Pittsford where bikes must be walked.  I understood the need — the path here is well-developed for pedestrian and commercial usage — but I minded having to dismount just the same.  Crabby of me, and perhaps not very reasonable, especially since it’s a lovely stroll:

Mules no longer tote barges on the Erie, but there are still watercraft to see:

As this boat demonstrated, there’s  more than one way to “cycle” on the Erie Canal:

It’s difficult to see them in this small image, but there are three bicycles splayed across the roof of this sight-seeing craft.  Frankly, I think I’d be happier to have my Brompton inside the cabin.  Oh, wait — I’d be happier to have my Brompton, period!

How many  more weeks until the companion of my dreams arrives?  Two?  Three? More?  Anticipaaationnn . . .


BWC 2012

Here it is, the next day in North America, and all we can see is a list of BWC winners. No pictures, no video, nada!

I don’t blame the bloggers.  iCrazyBee and Mr. O are undoubtedly collapsed after their strenuous preparations and participation.

(Come to think of it, I won’t blame Brompton, either.  Maybe they’re too busy building bicycles — including mine — to fully populate the web site.  Ah, I feel better now!)

Where is the media when you need it, I ask you?  Dang, I guess I shoulda been at Blenheim, myself!

Gear Luggage

Lightweight Brompton Bag

So I’m anticipating my Brompton, and I’m getting antsy.  I bought the T bag, and the Brompton folding basket, but knew I’d want a light, closed, bag some of the time, instead of either of the two Brompton bags.  Inspired by a Brompton owner named Jane, and her write-up about her own roll-top bag, I made my own. Gotta pass the time somehow, right?

I read Jane’s pages carefully, examined my own T bag just as carefully, and made the bag up using my own pattern, and customizing it to my own anticipated needs and requirements.

Here’s my bag, lightly stuffed, mounted on the Brompton luggage frame.  It’s made of bright yellow nylon with black accents, black zippers, and black nylon fittings.  (Yeah, I would have loved Racing Green trim, but just try to find the color in the USA.  Go ahead, I dare you.)

My front pocket isn’t as nice as the one on the Brompton bag, which is elasticized, and much more stylish.  Mine is a plain mesh pocket, which I anticipate using exclusively for magazines and the like.  Stretchability wasn’t necessary on this light bag.

My bag closes just like the Brompton bag (and Jane’s bags), with nylon buckles, but I did change up one little thing.  My buckles aren’t symmetrical — they’re designed so that they can be snapped closed on the sides, like the other bags, but the snap side is attached at one top front, and the casing side to the other top front.

This means that I can roll the top down and close it across the top, by joining the buckles, as well as securing the top by buckling the rolled edge down on each side.  (Above, the buckles snapped across the top of the bag, crossing the center strap; below, a buckle snapped shut on the side.)

The T bag has an interior pocket for the rain cover; I added one to this bag for anything I didn’t want to be immediately accessible outside the bag:

I used the same nylon webbing as for the straps to reinforce and support this pocket.

Making my own bag allowed me to customized the panel facing me to exactly the way I wanted to.  You can see the handle of the Brompton frame up top in the picture below (the hole it slips through is outlined in lycra binding), and the block under the curve is the fitting that clips into the luggage block on the Brompton’s head tube (the lower edge of this panel is also bound in lycra):

From the left side:  a large, adjustable mesh pocket for any size water bottle; a zip pocket for power bars, gel, or Shot Roks (that’s human kibble for long rides); a cell phone pocket with a strap-and-lift-tab closure; and, below, a zip pocket for a pocket camera.

The mesh I used is extra-sturdy; I cut up a new laundry bag to make the pockets.  Careful cutting meant no hemming on all that holey  material, which my sewing machine appreciated.

The camera pocket is reinforced internally with a piece of plastic craft mesh, which allows it to keep its semi-circular shape, and lets me pull out my camera without fighting with the pocket.  My camera has a silicone sleeve, so it tends to stick unless the pocket material stands off a bit.  (You can see the pocket in side view in the buckle picture above.)

I added strap clips, and made a shoulder strap, too, though I still need a pad for it.  Like Jane, I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what I want to do about the necessary padding.

This bag was intended to be a lightweight version of the T bag for trips that require carrying light or small cargo, but not the heavier or bulkier items that the original Brompton T bag can handle well.  My version is a fair-weather friend; it’s not waterproof, and very light.  It will do for an extra water bottle or two, and for collecting small shopping or parcels, but not much more than that.  It’s simply meant to provide me with minimal carrying capacity when making strictly recreational rides.

I may still want a closed bag the size of the Ortlieb Mini O.  That might be my next project, as Ortleib hasn’t come out with a bag in either Brompton yellow or British Racing Green.  I’d consider buying a real Mini O if Ortlieb made it in my colors, but if Ortleib combines either color with white, as they’ve done with their current Mini-O bags, I won’t be buying them, anyway, as white strikes me as the worst possible color for a hard-working piece of vinyl.

For inspiration (and a pattern, if you don’t fancy  making your own), visit Jane’s page, and take a look at her fantastic gallery of photos here. (There’s a cowbag, a clear vinyl one, and Jane’s also made one in velvet snakeskin.  And more, lots more.)  As soon as I have a Brompton on which to hang my bag, I’ll be sending my own picture along to Jane, too.

9/3/2012:  Edited to insert a better photo of the bag bucked across the front.


Save the Date: 19th August

The Brompton World Championship 2012 has nearly arrived.  It’s a bit of a different cycling race.  For instance, there’s a dress code:  “sartorial elegance (not fancy dress)”.  Further explanation, from the Brompton site:

Back for the fifth time at Blenheim, its seventh showing ever, the Brompton World Championship has retained its midday slot. With nine national championships taking place across the globe, this year is set to be the most international event yet.

Despite its glittering alumni, including the likes of four-time Vuelta a Espa­ña winner Roberto Herras, and national time trial champions Julia Shaw and Michael Hutchinson, the race doesn’t take itself too seriously, however, there is a strict dress code and prizes for best-dressed; the rules state that “participants must wear a suit jacket, collared shirt and tie. Shorts and three-quarter length trousers may be worn if preferred but sports attire will not be tolerated.” [my emphasis]

Oh, and did I mention it’s on Blenheim Palace grounds?  And that there’s a “Marathon” tour through the Cotswolds?

Haven’t you always wanted to cycle through the Cotswolds?  I have!  There’s a video of the terrain on the Brompton site.  (What are those funny-looking cycles the lads are riding, anyway?)

Working hard, here, to get the Brompton events on the domestic agenda for 2013.  Mr. Diarist, while thrilled I’ve found a group of fellow nutters enthusiasts, doesn’t seem terribly keen on the idea of flitting across the pond for a few hours’ sport, for some reason.

Oh, there is something called A Festival of Cycling the weekend of 18th and 19th August at Blenheim, but, honestly, what events could compare with the Brompton Treble (the Championship, the Sprint, and the Marathon)?

My Brompton


I ordered a Brompton.  Of course I did.  Not without giving it a lot of thought, mind you.  I went over and over the specifications I wanted, thinking carefully about how I would use the bike, what accessories I’d need, and what additional gear (and gears, come to think of it).

And I spent hours on NYCEWheels’s configurator.  I’m not the only one, either.  The configurator lets you decide exactly what colors your Brompton should be.  There’s an extra fee for some colors, and I admit to paying it.  My Brompton is almost certainly the last bicycle I will ever own, and I wanted it to be exactly right.

His name is Basil, and he’s Team Lotus colors, owing to a vintage familial association with the old motor car firm.  He’s a six-speed (hilly terrain where I ride most frequently) with Eazy Wheels, to get me through train stations, and, who knows, possibly airports.

According to NYCEWheels, he’ll be built in London in August, and shipped in September.  I muttered something about “waiting”, once all the formalities were dispensed with, and David, the NYCEWheels employee who’d patiently walked me through the order, told me that he preferred to think of it as “anticipating”.  I liked that.  I’m anticipating.

Tours, Trails & Group Rides

Brompton Tour

Many bike shops will allow a customer to test-ride some models of bikes, but twenty minutes on a Brompton wasn’t going to give me enough time to learn if it was the right choice for me.  Obsessive research on the Internet turned up an interesting alternative:  NYCEWheels, in Manhattan, offers 1.5 to 2 hour free Brompton tours.

Free!  Two hours!  It was no joke  . . . naturally I signed up, showed up, and took the tour. Here’s the hearty band I joined, and our fearless leader, Jack, in his NYCEWheels t-shirt:

Isolated thunderstorms had been blasting Manhattan all day.  Just before the tour,  there was a particularly wet period on the Upper East Side, where NYCEWheels is located, but the event was rain or shine, and neither the others who’d signed up, nor our guide, were discouraged.

This is the way to test an unfamiliar bike!  I’d read that some people found the steering on a Brompton to be twitchy, and, I admit it, I was worried about those small wheels.  I wondered how the M handlebars would work for me; I’d ridden a Brompton with the S (for “sporty”) bars earlier in the day, and they were all wrong for my arms and wrists.  (I’d suspected that would be the case; I’ve never cared for straight-across, mountain bike style handlebars, and like sitting upright when pedaling.)

We rode over the East River, and onto Randall’s Island.  Our loaner Bromptons were three-speeds, and we got to test the gears on the inclines over the bridge.  There were a few tight turns, too, and somewhat varied terrain.  For the first third of the ride, I wasn’t sure if the bike was right for me, but by the time we were half-way through the tour, something clicked, and everything came together just the way it should, between human and bicycle.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures; I was busy riding the bike.  However, whether you are in the market for a Brompton or not, this is one cool way to see New York City.  (NYCEWheels is now offering paid tours, too, with profits going to Transportation Alternatives; check it out!)

I rode this Brompton (below), with the Brompton basket on the front.  I can’t wear a back pack while cycling, and I wanted to see how the Brompton handled weight in the front. I knew that I’d almost always be riding while carrying some weight, and wanted to see how that felt.  I’d read, too, that weight in the front tends to stabilize the bike.

Front luggage on the Brompton attaches to a mounting block on the head tube, which means that there is no weight shifting when turning the handlebars.  At first, even when standing still, that’s disorienting; when the handlebars turn, you just naturally expect the basket to do so, too.  Much to my surprise, I adapted to this odd sensation quite quickly; though the basket is huge, and my pack was not terribly light, I soon forgot that I was toting either.

The people who lead the free Brompton tours aren’t paid to do so.  I tipped our leader, and suggest you do, too, if you take NYCEWheels up on this terrific opportunity.  It’s not one you’re likely to encounter anywhere else, and it’s well worth encouraging.

When I returned from the tour, a family member was slightly incredulous at the “free” part of the description.  He said “sure, but you have to listen to the sales pitch”.  Uh, no.  No sales pitch, nada, not one bit.  Just a nice, low-key demo of the way the bike folds, and how to use the gears.

I don’t think NYCEWheels is too concerned about twisting anyone’s arm over buying a Brompton.  Go ride one, and you’ll see why.


Why Brompton?

Actually, why a folding bike at all?  Because I wanted to be able to go anywhere with a bike I could hide in the trunk of a small car or take on a train or a bus without inconveniencing others or requiring a bike rack, and one I didn’t have to worry about locking up when I was inside buildings.

I looked at Terns first.  The D8 is a terrific folding bike, and a joy to ride. At around 600 USD, it’s also reasonably-priced for a serious cyclist. The fold is compact, and the hinges are easy to use.

I almost bought a Tern.  The D8 is a fantastic bicycle, and hugely popular.  But I’m an older rider, and concerned about aging issues.  How much longer will I be able to cycle?  I’ve grown healthier and more fit over the past year (no accident, that), but I’m approaching those years when I can’t necessarily count on my body continuing to cooperate with whatever plans I have for it.

Instead of an adequate bike, maybe I needed a bicycle that was exactly right.  The Tern, though quite compact, has 20-inch wheels, making it larger than I preferred, and the sporty handlebars were not right for my hands.

Maybe I needed a lightweight folder that could be used for long rides of forty or more miles, but one that also folded as compactly as possible.  The perfect bicycle would let me grocery shop, run errands, take the train to new locations,  pop into my subcompact’s trunk so that I could get to distant trails with ease, and let me ride for forty or more miles in comfort.

Bromptons have tiny 16-inch wheels, and an extremely compact fold.  People commute on Bromptons, riding only a few miles a day, they’re taken on subways for “last mile” travel, and used for casual recreation, but people also tour on Bromptons, riding for hundreds of miles.

Brompton met all my qualifications, but Bromptons are quite pricey. They are manufactured and hand-assembled in the West End of London, not in China; if you buy one, you’re paying for skilled labor.

The argument against a Brompton was cost.  The argument “for” was everything else. My concern about cost was tempered by the realization that it’s very difficult to find a used Brompton for sale; mine was likely to hold its value if it didn’t work out. It seemed likely that I could recoup much of the cost, if my Brompton and I turned out to be incompatible.

Even so,  I didn’t want to commit to the whole process unless I was fairly certain that a Brompton was right for me.  I was concerned about handling, and about how it might fit my body:  I’m a considerably lighter-than-average woman, on the short side, with no length in my legs.  Vast amounts of reading on the Internet suggested that people of all sizes and shapes find a good fit on a Brompton, but would I?  And how would I find out before putting down a small fortune to own one?

The answer turned out to be easy.  Stay tuned. To find out more about Bromptons, see the website:  Brompton Bicycle.