Basil, En-Scène My Brompton

Impatience, in a Peaceful Place

We’re still doing catch-up here, and I’m still fiddling with Basil’s geometry.  I may have it now, but I’m testing the theory with a series of short rides.


I’m as bored as Basil is with this namby-pamby approach to cycling, but even a short ride can offer some unexpected pleasures.  We wandered into the cemetery above because I needed a wall to lean Basil against while I did yet another few-millimeters of adjustment to his saddle.

My Brompton

Basil Runs for Office!

Saul made an unexpected discovery when we were all out on a recent group ride:


We had no idea; Saul’s supporting him, as you can see.

Saul’s own steed seems to be part of the informed electorate, too, and is obviously regarding the situation with the solemnity that enfranchisement requires.  Or is is that the look of a potential competitor?

5 Boro Tour My Brompton

En Route to the 5 Boro Tour 2014

Last Thursday, Basil and I caught a train to New York City, on our way to participating in the 5 Boro Tour, the largest bicycling event in the USA.  On Sunday, we’d be joining 32,000 other riders and cycling through all five New York City boroughs:  Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.


I stuffed nearly a week’s worth of clothing and cycling gear into Basil’s T bag, and we were off. Only a Brompton can carry this amount of stuff with such panache!


Last week’s trip was with Argyll, and I’d missed seeing Basil in the luggage compartment in front of my seat.  Our early train was uncrowded, and, this year, unlike last, we saw no other bicycles.  Dr. Diarist had a couple of commitments he couldn’t switch, so he and Argyll followed on Friday, on a different train.


Like most of the northeastern USA, we had experienced torrential rains earlier in the week.  We’d had some major flooding and consequent major road closings where we live and the aftermath of the devastation was obvious all along the route to NYC.  That’s the Schuylkill River above, in Philadelphia, days later, waters still threatening the banks.


We traveled under mostly blue skies, but that was an active cloud system.  It looked untrustworthy.

p5-brPhiladelphia itself looked as if it might float away on the Schuylkill, and things didn’t seem any better the farther we went.

p5-rvWe were well outside of the city here — I don’t know where, but, as a frequent traveler on this route, I can state with confidence that these trees are usually standing on dry ground.  Not today they weren’t; the river bank had entirely disappeared.


New Jersey, too, was a wet and soggy place.

Though the worst of the rains were only just past, our rail trip was uneventful, and Basil and I arrived in the gritty city after a dry and comfortable sojourn. (That’s my rain cape bunched on top of Basil’s T bag; there was no need for it in the city.)


We dumped my T bag at the Manhattanites’, where we stay in NYC, and immediately headed across town to NYCeWheels.  I’d been meaning to make a small adjustment to Basil’s handlebars; after I read that Cathy, of Unfolded NYC, had changed hers, I finally decided to stop procrastinating and do it.

Basil sidled up next to the “bike test space” in the shop:  the smaller space, outlined in blue tape, shows the size a folded Brompton takes against a wall; the larger shows that required for a Dahon.  (Heh, heh.  I’m not saying Dahons aren’t fine bikes . . . but they’re not Bromptons!)


Jack welcomed us, and quickly made the change, assuring me that the distance required wouldn’t affect Basil’s cables at all.  I took a quick spin down the street, and was really surprised: though I’d had no complaints about the reach, this slight decrease in the distance between my torso and the handlebars felt perfectly customized to me.

On very long rides of 55 miles/88.5 km or more, I’d occasionally felt numbness in my hands.  I’d been lazy about doing anything about it, partly because I don’t ride that far in one go very often.  But I’m  glad Cathy’s post gave me the nudge; I’m expecting that this change will shift the pressure enough that this isn’t a problem any longer.

Then we headed back across town, and began the countdown to the 5 Boro Tour.  Friday was packet pick-up for the tour, and also when we’d see Dr. Diarist and Argyll again.

My Brompton

A Screw Loose (and lost)

Dr. Diarist and I, and our Brompton bicycles, Basil and Argyll, took a jaunt on the newly opened section of the Chester Valley Trail on a blustery day.

a8cvWinds were about 16 mph/25.7 km, with gusts to 25 mph/40.2 km, but you’d never know it from looking at this photo.

a8-cpThe trail wends next to corporate parks and next to a major highway.  Someday, once it is completed, this may make a good commuting option for the vast number of employees who work in the valley.

a8-sbHuge ugly concrete walls line portions of the trail.  They function as sound barriers, blocking the noise from speeding (or gridlocked) vehicles on the roadway.

Along some stretches of the trail, they also block other things.  That’s the back of a Barnes and Noble bookstore (and coffee shop) below.

Books and coffee: so near, and yet so far.  There’s no way to get to them from the trail!

Basil considers the issue:

a8-ctlIt is perfectly obvious that a small Brompton (or two) can easily slip through the rails of this fence and make its way down the short hillside to the parking lot below, and, from thence, across to refreshment of various kinds.

Basil and Argyll were all for it, but more responsible assessments prevailed.  It’s not nice to destroy the new turf alongside a new trail. But gosh, all that’s needed for access is a relatively small set of steps.  Barnes and Noble, you’re missing a trick here!

Nobody had any qualms about crossing a construction lot at the end of the trail so that Argyll and Basil could pose with a conglomeration of enormous metal spools.


Then it was back to the trail, where I happened to snap Dr. Diarist just as he rode along an uncharacteristically empty stretch of the highway.

a8-hwWhere there no sound barriers, highway is all too evident.  I’m not sure which is worse, visually.

This particular highway is a pet peeve of mine.  Every few years it is rebuilt (and regularly enlarged).  It’s a critical commuting corridor for suburban dwellers, but a far better solution to the continual re-vamping would be to put a light-rail system down the middle.  (Or beside the road; I’m not particular.)

Thousands of commuters would be grateful to be spared the hell that is this roadway during commute hours (and the endless construction), and the consequent reduction in pollution and gas consumption would be huge.  But nooooo . . .

a8-clFortunately, there are other things to observe on the trail.  That green sign above says “Contention Ln”:  it’s naturally appealing, especially after mentally ranting about the highway.  I don’t know which I like more:  the decaying bridge or the name of the lane.

a8-pdWe were just about three-fourths of the way through our ride when disaster struck.  I lost a screw from one of my Zefal toe cages.  They’re recently installed; I haven’t had a chance to post about them yet.

a8-tlRemoving the disabled cage required the second use of our lovely, elegant Brompton tool kit in as many days. That’s probably the most beautiful ratchet wrench I’ve ever seen.  Or used.

I went looking for the missing screw, but the wind was high and the bit very, very small, so had no luck.  a8-gr

While waiting for me, Dr. Diarist made an interesting discovery at the intersection we’d just crossed.  The grimy grid above is a plate laid between a sidewalk and street; apparently it’s meant to warn pedestrians that they are about to enter an alternative travel area.

Dr. Diarist hates these plates because they are used between trail and roadway, too, and are awful to navigate on roller blades.


We had both thought they were concrete, but we learned on this day that they’re actually some kind of vinyl.  A really poor quality vinyl, apparently, which is disintegrating messily.  I’m guessing this is post-consumer waste, but maybe making infrastructure of such rapidly degrading material isn’t a very practical use, even of waste products, after all.

We stuck the now-useless toe cage into Basil’s saddle bag and headed onward.


We hadn’t noticed previously that this underpass was lit; a lot of work has been done at this point on the trail so the lights may be truly new, not just new to us.

The trip from the Exton commerce park parking lot to King of Prussia and back is just over 22 miles; a perfect mid-week exercise run.  I made a note to pick up some thread-locker before the next outing; it’s possible to ride using just one toe cage, but the experience is a bit odd.

My Brompton

Spring (Grocery) Shopping

Spring may happen!  Basil and I celebrated this cheery thought by running a few errands in a (mostly) ice-free world.

a4-shWe always gravitate toward the granny smith apples for an indoor shot.  Wonder why? (Something about that wonderful color .  .  .  )

a4-chBasil’s T bag was roughly half-full when I’d finished shopping:  giant carton of lettuce mix (about a pound’s worth in weight); bananas; cheese; five pounds of bread flour; yeast; a pound of almond flour and a couple of other things I can’t remember.

Altogether, the groceries added up to 12 pounds/5.4 kilograms.  I weighed it all when I got home, since I was curious to know what the weight was, compared to riding without any appreciable cargo.  Also, this was the first time I’d hauled six pounds of various flours.

a4-tbHere’s the thing about a Brompton bicycle, though: because the luggage is attached to a block on the frame of the bike, all the weight is carried there.  Steering is unaffected:  Move those handlebars, and the luggage has no effect at all on balance.  Brilliant!

I’m not well-coordinated, nor particularly strong.  If my bike used a traditional handlebar basket, I’d be lucky to be able to wrangle two pounds of cargo (less than a kg!).

a4-bgEven a partially-full T bag looks ungainly — but looks are deceptive.  Basil and I breezed home.

a4-gnNot without stopping, however, to admire the slight hints of green which are now appearing everywhere.

Brompton Duo My Brompton

Spring: Skunk Cabbage Edition

In the waters and on the marshy banks of creeks in the area greenery is sprouting.


We think this stuff is Skunk Cabbage, but we won’t know for sure until we get a closer look.

This was a tough winter; the evidence is everywhere.  Recently uprooted trees are lying across the streams, and broken branches, small and very large, are scattered across the landscape.

uw-piAlmost exactly a year ago, I took pictures of Basil and Dr. Diarist’s mountain bike in this same area (and next to this very tree); the ground was clear then, and we had to lean both bikes next to a tree for the picture.  This year, there was enough debris to keep Argyll and Basil upright even on a slope.

Argyll fell over, though, when posing for his solo shot, and his mirror buried itself in the mud and muck — loosening quite a bit in the process.  I thought I had the right size allen wrench in Basil’s saddle bag, but was quite wrong.


Happily, Argyll was covertly transporting the elegant Brompton tool kit, which turns out to be as functional as it is beautiful.  (More on that later; I’m a bit behind on writing about Brompton paraphernalia.)

Winter isn’t entirely over.  We took the Uwlchlan Trail the other day, and greenery wasn’t all we saw.  (It’s pronounced with an “ooch” as in “mooch” and then “lan”:  “ooch-lan”.  Or should it be “ooulch-lan”? Is it Welsh? Somehow I think it should be.)


There are still mounds of grubby snow around, looking, at this point, rather like permanent fixtures.  This is residual from a parking lot near a train station. It’s going nowhere fast, in spite of the 60 F/15.5 C temperatures.


Dr. Diarist spotted a solid block of ice under the tracks.  Closer inspection revealed that it was melting from within, thanks to a drain pipe located in the track bed above, from which a few desultory drops of water slowly fell.


Water can be soooo destructive.  And messy; is that swath of black due to a high mineral content in the local water?


The ice pyramid doesn’t look as impressive from a slight distance; as we rode by I thought I’d see a crumpled piece of plastic out of the corner of my eye.  Those fluffy white bits didn’t register as snow, either, probably because I’d long before shed my light jacket.

The trail goes past a park, then alongside a country club, and into a neighborhood, where a slightly less organic display of flora — not skunk cabbage — testifies to someone’s belief that freezing temperatures are gone for now.


It’s kind of rural-urbia in this area; Basil is checking out a field, here, that is next to a pretty ordinary suburban development.


There’s an old grist mill along the trail.  Basil introduced Argyll to the pleasures of posing on top of things; they’re nicely framed in what once was either a window or an opening for a loading chute.


The ruins date from 1811.  That’s antiquity for those of us here in North America.  (Well, “antiquity” for a purpose-built structure that’s managed to survive.)

Southeastern Pennsylvania is dotted with similar ruins; one of the pleasures of the area is running across them unexpectedly.  How better to find them than on a Brompton?  (Or two!)

My Brompton

Basil’s First Anniversary

One year ago today, Basil was delivered into my awed arms under the aegis  of NYCeWheels.  This is the first picture I ever took of him:

I was thrilled and terrified in equal measures:  Basil was beautiful and beautifully-engineered. Would I ever be worthy of such a marvelously-designed creature?

I’d spent the months waiting for his arrival by feathering his nest; that’s a custom flap on his S bag, one of many bags or luggage modifications I’ d made as I waited for his arrival, and after.

Below is the second photo, taken once I realized that a face-forward picture was all well and good, but didn’t really feature Basil’s Brompton-ness at all adequately.  Lost in admiration — how was it that he was even more marvelous in actuality than in imagination? — I still hadn’t ridden him.

We didn’t know each other yet — all of that was still ahead of us.  These photos still evoke the those first, tentative moments, as we began to take each other’s measure.

This first year didn’t end as I expected it would.  Between October 4, 2012 and  late June, 2013, Basil and I logged well over 1100 miles/770 km in what turned out to be just about eight months of cycling.  (Not too  bad tally for a brand-new Brompton, and a human who hadn’t ridden on two wheels in decades!  But still . . . )

Then I had a small surgery on my leg which turned into a nearly three-month-long medical debacle, followed by a dreadfully long ban on cycling. Basil and I won’t ride together again until next spring — a fact that gives me considerable pain when I allow myself to consider it.

Here he is today, one year later; it was wonderful taking Basil out today for his anniversary portrait.  Pumping his tires felt so right — just as if I’d done it only last week. Every time I see him, I still pause in wonder, just as I did on that first day.

I don’t still don’t know the answer to question:  Am I worthy?  But Basil and I have had a wonderful history together, and we have a fine future ahead of us.  Early next spring, we’ll get about the business of finishing that first year.  I can’t wait.

My Brompton

Basil Goes to PT

It wasn’t much of an outing, but Basil went to physical therapy with me the other day.  The idea was to make sure that the geometry of cycling on my Brompton coincided appropriately with the geometry my body needs to function well.

Basil checked in with me at the front desk, and then fit neatly under a table in the office until it was time for his turn.

His seat angle needs a bit of tweaking to optimize the configuration, and there may be an H handlebar in our future, but, for now — or, more accurately, for when I can ride again in six months or so — this small change should prove effective.

It made me unreasonably happy just to see Basil out of his closet and into the wide world once again — even though we weren’t going to be taking off together.  The resumption of our former, wonderful, life can’t happen soon enough . . .

My Brompton

Vaccuum Cleaner

See that device way in the back of Basil’s closet?  I think it’s called a “vacuum cleaner”.

On a group ride last winter, one of the cyclists said that she was going to have to turn back after we’d gone an hour and a half or so.

She said that she had to clean house.  I murmured something, and then she mentioned that she could never figure out how people had time to take hours-long rides on weekends.

So she asked some other cyclists how they managed.  They said “We don’t clean house”.

That sounded about right to me. Cycling? Cleaning?  It’s no contest.  Besides, this is Basil’s closet, after all.  I can never remember what else is in there, so obviously it’s irrelevant!

Luggage My Brompton

New T Frame Mod

Basil can never have too many bags, right?  I own a slew of Brompton bicycle bags (well, three, and the Brompton “basket”), and have made quite a few, too.  Each has its place, but no one is perfect, and there’s always a new idea to play with.

I started with a T bag frame.

This time around, I wanted bag that was as tall as a Brompton T bag, but smaller, narrower, and closed all around with a zipper. So I took the T bag frame apart, leaving only the center section (which I promptly forgot to photograph just after the destruction).

Then I bent 1/2 inch copper tubing into a more-or-less pear-like shape (well, half a pear, anyway).

Once one side was done, I traced the shape onto cardboard, so that I had a fighting chance of replicating it for the other side of the frame.

This sort of thing is much better done in a workshop rather than on a kitchen floor. I managed to pull a muscle in the process of bracing the tubing, and didn’t get the sides perfectly symmetrical. “Hand made” has its flaws.

Then I stuffed each newly-bent side into the T frame.  The resulting bag frame is not perfect, but it will do.   The frame is not substantially less wide at the top than the original T frame, which is what I had in mind, but it is so at the bottom.  Without tools, I wasn’t able to bend both ends as drastically as I would have preferred.

It will do, though. Now all I need is the bag.

(For those new to Brompton bags, each clips to a luggage block on the Brompton bicycle frame.  In most cases, the luggage slips onto a removable inner frame, like the ones above, which have the mate to the luggage block built into the back side of the lower frame.  This allows one frame to support a variety of bags — and also allows for a a lot of amateur experimentation.)