WHY DOES THE BROMPTON GO WILD?

A Brompton would not be everyone's choice for big tours, major events and as a beast to carry the camping gear around, so why does Mark Jacobson go folding into wild country?

After considerable thought I purchased my first Brompton, a T5 with reduced gearing, specifically because of its ease for combining with public transport. In 2000 my first camping trip was a real test: National Express overnight to Inverness, then the better part of what is now the renowned NC500 route that takes in the wilds of Northern Scotland. Talk about tough! 

 

However, never to be discouraged, my first Brompton tour abroad was in 2001, to Cape Town, for a major cycling event. Before modern day security reared its ugly head, I was able to put the Brompton in a large suitcase and, to keep it under the 20 kg allowance, put all the heavy stuff went into my cabin bag! Most efficient and no dismantling.

Now the Cape Argus Pick 'n' Pay ride in South Africa is a massive event; up to 35000 entrants! Like a London Marathon, the professionals go first, then amateur racers, then club entrants and final newcomers, like me. The starts are in batches of 500, using alternate sides of the (closed) dual carriageway out of the city centre, which then leads on to the (closed) Freeway.

 

In 2001 the route had been changed owing to a spread of fires along the sides of Table Mountain, leading to unstable slopes and the closure of Chapman's Peak Drive, so, for that year, the ride was called the DeTour. What fun that was, particularly as mine appeared to be the only Brompton, the only other small-wheeled bike being a Moulton. Nipping through the masses of slower bikes was so easy.

An early Spring tour to Wales in 2002 saw me crossing the “Wayfarers' Pass” in snow. Frozen hands had to be thawed by tea mugs in Corwen. For that trip I had taken the National Express to Shrewsbury.

 

In 2002, after an overnight coach to Inverness, came the bus/ferry/bus journey to Orkney, a journey that could only have been made with a folding bike, although trains could have taken a non-folder to either Wick or Thurso, but only two per train from Inverness.

This was followed by a French trip, using Eurostar to Lille, then TGV through to Quimper. The Semaine Federale events are week-long fixed base rides organised by the French Cycling Federation (FFCT). These run Sunday to Sunday (but campers can arrive from the preceding Friday) and attract up to 15000 cycling holiday makers. Rides are arranged for each of six days, each day offering a choice of distances, with refreshment stops laid on. A route pack is issued, so the rides are self-led. This allows cyclists to leave at any time, so, in reality, the roads are not often crowded, just streams of bicycles lined out along them. These I repeated in 2004 (Cernay) and 2011 (Flers). For the first two I travelled from Ashford in Kent by Eurostar and onward train, but for 2011 I went by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, after using trains through London for Portsmouth. Needless to say, travelling with the folder made rail travel a piece of cake.

The big 2003 journey was quite long: overnight coach to Aberdeen, a recovery night camping at Aboyne, followed by overnight ferry to Shetland, about 35 hours in all. By comparison with Orkney, Shetland is far more spread out with much greater distances between the few cafés, and far windier. South of Lerwick you can cross the 60th parallel, it is so far north.

Not long after my return it was Eurostar again, this time for Brussels, and onward train to Amsterdam, from where I cycled to meet my friend Rinus at Outdam, arriving merely 10 minutes late. Good for the Brompton. We enjoyed a tour around the Netherlands, finishing for a couple of nights luxury in Tiel, not camping, before my returning by train from Rotterdam. For the station interchange I had a suitcase trolley for walking the Brompton, but this proved quite difficult as the trolley kept trying to upend. Nowadays I rely on a tall bag which has rucksack straps, and I carry the front bag and the bagged bike in each hand.

In subsequent years I have taken train to Inverness, then coaches to Portree in Skye, with a ferry crossing to Harris and Lewis, after a few days sojourn on Skye; coach to Corsham and narrow boat along the Kennet and Avon; train to Crewe and then narrow boat across the Pontcysyllte Viaduct; a return visit to Shetland and Orkney, as well as numerous English and Welsh tours aided by train journeys, not to mention those already published in Seven Day Cyclist.

Then there is an alternative way to 'go wild': participate in the annual Brompton World Championship race. This began in Barcelona and transferred to Blenheim Palace grounds for the third event. It was then held on the Goodwood Motor Circuit in 2014, before becoming part of the Ride London weekend, racing the closed circuit based on the Mall.

 

As far as cycling is concerned, I have no problems with the laden Brompton. Yes, it may take a bit longer on the road, the riding position being less efficient than a non-folding bike, and it has fewer gears. I have always purchased the reduced gear option as there is no problem in descending, only in ascending! The laden cycle is very stable, probably more so than one with four panniers, and the lack of panniers makes it much easy when pushing uphill becomes necessary. For use on public transport, there is no equal.

 

It really comes into its own, versatility making it a perfect touring machine.

PUBLISHED MARCH 2017

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