On Saturday morning, a large group assembled for the Brompton Urban Challenge, or, in Twitter-speak, the #BUCDC. The first stop for Basil and Argyll was a local Radio Shack, where we picked up a Garmin cord, since I had uncharacteristically forgotten mine.
I love running errands on a Brompton. No parking issues, among other things.
Then we headed off to BicycleSPACE, host shop for the weekend. We weren’t the only Bromptons on the road; I think the rider in the front of our little pack is Emily, third-place women’s finisher at the Championship race. Fortunately for the rest of us, the pace to the shop was much slower.
Things were relatively quiet outside the shop at first. We parked against the curb, since the sidewalk was pretty well occluded.
Things may have been chaotic outside, but at the back of the shop, it was business as usual, with patient staff members carrying on perfectly calmly.
BicycleSPACE has a water bowl for canines outside the shop, and also a public workstand — a rather neat feature. Buy your part and install it yourself! (Or tweak your brakes without having to break your cadence!)
There was lots to see, and many Brompton features to share and discuss.
No two Bromptons are truly alike; there are an incredible number of variations on the theme, all worthy of note. (And a separate blog post, later.)
John, Brompton’s man in Oregon, flew to Pittsburgh and then rode from that fair city to Washington, DC in three days — a journey of approximately 335 miles — on his B. They both appeared to be in amazingly good shape after their long journey; leading the fold to the nearby park where we assembled for the Urban Challenge was a trivial task for these two.
The Brompton line-up was impressive, and grew and grew as more and more people and Bromptons gathered.
Beautiful Bromptons, alert and ready to go!
Basil and Argyll were in the line-up, too. There’s something about a parked Brompton that makes it clear that these little guys just live to ride!
We couldn’t help admire the incredible colors of Brompton — what an array!
The organizers did a great job of keeping us all hydrated during the incredibly hot Washington weekend. Naturally, water delivery to the park was accomplished by bicycle — in this case, via a Christiania cargo trike.
The Brompton Urban Challenge is essentially a scavenger hunt, with some twists. The idea was that each team would tweet or email photo evidence of having resolved each clue. In practice, I’m not so sure that social media is exactly this demographic’s strongest point: There were 36 clues and six or seven teams, but only about 45 photos made it to the #bucdc tagboard where the images were collected. Two teams never got photos up at all, and one had only two in evidence.
As marketing, social media is supposed to be where its at, but, for what it’s worth, my limited experience would suggest that the people who are attracted to Bromptons aren’t really spending most of their time on tweeting and the like — they seem mostly to be riding, and loving, their Bromptons instead. Social media is so mainstream; Bromptons are so inherently an individual passion, and I’m not sure that could, or should, change.
(We think the best way to sell a Brompton is to offer test rides; once people realize a Brompton rides like a bicycle, the sale is mostly made. Then, when they see that slick rear wheel swing — either folding or unfolding — their jaws fall in amazement, and it’s all over. But I digress.)
That’s Team 5 above, who proved to be adept at everything — they killed the BUC on all points. We didn’t know this at the start, of course, but you’ll note that they are heading out here, while Team 6 — ours — was still strategizing!
Once we’d all assembled, we were given the list of clues and charged with the goal of completing as many as possible. All team members were required to be present for at each clue destination: Our team may have taken the latter injunction too seriously — we made sure our Bromptons were in the photos, too. This may have cost us precious moments, but it sure gave us some great Brompton memory shots!
We set off after we’d done some geographic research using a map. Here are Dr. D, Ken, and Micki checking the clue manifest. (Ken was not riding a Brompton, but we were lucky to have him — he was the one who provided much needed reality checks as the afternoon zipped past — and the one who local knowledge was indispensable! We knew we had to be finished by 4 PM, but had some difficulty tracking the time.)
The clues were quite amusing and sometimes slightly obscure; we didn’t quite get them all, but that’s not surprising — and there’s no way anyone could work their way through the entire list in a few hours. We got to pick and choose; here’s a sampling of a few we completed:
Clue 25 — Plenty of faces are on display at this museum. Take a portrait in the beautiful glass-enclosed courtyard.
That’s Basil’s Diarist, Micki, Dr. Diarist, and Lionel — portrait with Bromptons! The staff at the National Portrait Gallery took the Brompton invasion in stride. “They’re in there” said one of the guards, pointing to the inner courtyard.
Clue 2 — Teach a stranger how to fold. This was a lot of fun — we accosted a visiting family and asked for a volunteer. This young person bravely stepped up; she was terrific, and a very good student!
I wasn’t half as competent when I folded up Basil — I tossed his open water bottle on the sidewalk, slopping a good deal of liquid over the bricks. As we were preparing to ride on, the family returned and handed me a fresh bottle of water. It was a great encounter, all around!
Clue 12 — A lot of people think this fountain is one of the ugliest monuments in the city: It was given to the city by someone who believed that providing clean drinking water would keep people from drinking alcoholic beverages.
It’s the Temperance Fountain. I don’t know — it seems to have worked for Dr. D, who is chugging water in the background.
Ugliest? Well, it’s no marvel of grace, but somehow I suspect there are other contenders. Fish out of water, though: It’s not a good image!
Then we headed for the Capitol. That’s Ken, taking off under a perfect blue sky — in 90 F/32.2 C heat.
Clue 7 — The 4 quadrants of DC meet at our equivalent of Parliament. Position 4 Bromptons in the cardinal directions and make a Capitol Compass.
We were beginning to run short of time, but Micki pointed out that we really needed to take our Bromptons to the Capitol Building, since they had never been there. and we’re glad she did! Did we orient the cardinal points correctly? Only the organizers know for sure!
Clue 9 — The monument recently reopened after a prolonged rehab, just in time to celebrate our Independence which was won with the help of our first president. Kick over the tallest monument in DC.
Ken patiently orchestrated the shot he sent, in which Micki was giving the Washington Monument a not-so-swift kick. That required a serious balancing act while our photographer managed the perspective. Micki accomplished the feat with aplomb and a nice athleticism.
There were more; the clues were entertaining, and would make a great road map for touring DC. We were running late, though, and later still after we encountered a common impediment in Washington: The motorcade.
Call me crazy, but those bloated SUVs just look silly. Where is the elegance of yesteryear? Where are the flags on the fenders?
I noted with amusement that the Secret Service is now recruiting via a URL on police cars. (The text splashed across the bumper reads “www.secretservice.gov/join”.)
Streets regularly close in the District when our leaders (and presumably others who may not strictly qualify) move about.
There were several Compulsory Challenges required for successful completion of the day’s capers: Each team had to buy the tackiest souvenir it could fine (cost around five dollars); we all had to show up at Lafayette Square so that at least one team member could complete a one-handed (!) unfolding test; we had to tow or push a Brompton through an obstacle course in front of the statue of Winston Churchill at the Embassy; and we were meant to identify Brompton parts masked inside a box.
The concept of a one-handed fold was quite daunting. Micki considered her options, and did a brilliant job, keeping her other hand behind her so she wasn’t tempted to use it.
Dr. Diarist gave it a whirl, too, and did something I wouldn’t have thought of: he used a foot to brace the Brompton. Hmmm . . . it wasn’t a hand, after all, so it was clearly perfectly legitimate. That was clever, but Micki definitely took the win, with no extraneous limbs involved in her success!
We were running quite late and made a mad dash back to the British Embassy. Micki towed her beautiful Merlot Brompton through the obstacle course, which required us to first navigate a slalom by towing or pushing our B; to circle the Winston Churchill statue; to fold and unfold our Bs; to ride back around behind Churchill, and then ride through another small slalom course. Whew.
That’s Jordan, from BicycleSPACE, keeping records; this was a timed challenge, and his colleague is out of view, stopwatch in hand.
Micki rode the slalom with panache, and made it look easy.
Dr. Diarist engaged in some fiendish folding under Churchill’s watchful eye.
He stood to ride the slalom. He was the first to go, and hadn’t realized he could have taken Argyll on the challenge. The extended seatpost on the provided Brompton was a surprise!
Then Ken took one last Team 6 photo. Did this qualify for Clue 6 — “Take a picture of the biggest union jack you can find“? That’s the Embassy’s Union Jack behind us.
We were Team Last, I fear, but we had a lot of fun, and covered a lot of ground — with more to come, as we were due at Brixton for what was allegedly the final compulsory challenge. We mounted up, charged over, and joined the mayhem.
The Bromptons gathered upstairs at Brixton’s, and so did the humans — hot, sweaty, hungry, happy humans. (The samosas with tamarind sauce were to die for! No pictures; they disappeared too quickly.)
Tasty things were flying. We never found out what was inside this tiffin, but I’ll bet it was delicious.
The final challenge was “identify Brompton parts hidden in boxes”. In theory, it was required, but the system fell apart, perhaps due in part to the presence of lots of good food and plentiful libations.
I loved this! Three items in each box, touch only permitted. I’m sure I got them all correct but one, and was extremely annoyed to miss the one. Jordan did point out, as a sort of consolation, that I’d correctly identified a part that only a very few had gotten right. But I was still miffed — the one I missed is a nifty bit of kit, and one I like very much.
Alas, we never did discover which team scored best here. Not that it mattered; the day was full and wondrous enough as it was!
Lastly, the tacky souvenirs were distributed among the teams. One team failed to return with the item, so a BUSC cap was awarded to Team 6, and, by unanimous consent, awarded in turn to Ken who as a “Brompton spouse” had shepherded us through the day, and done the heavy mapping-photo-and-tweeting work.
Team 5 won the hard-fought Washington Brompton Urban Challenge. Getting a photo in the crowded pub was out of the question, but I can report that both Tucsonians Fernando, of The Dirty Brompton, and Todd, of Metro Gnome were on the winning slate.
A fine time was had by all — along with a few fine beers. However, the weekend was far from over, and the next day brought the Championship race — we couldn’t wait!