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.