Tag Archives: Brompton

Six years on my Brompton and I’m still riding along

Brompton on wallSix years ago this month I made the switch from hiring Boris Bikes to my very own Brompton (Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience).

And after quite literally a shaky start (any bike with such small wheels is going to be wobbly), I have come to love my navy blue Brompton. The fact that I can cycle to almost any part of London within an hour is incredibly liberating. No longer do I have to crowd onto the underground or buses to get around town. But what about when it’s raining I hear you ask. With relatively a small expense on decent waterproof, but breathable kit, I can cycle in all but the heaviest downpour without getting wet. The latest clothing is surprisingly light and compact whilst still maintaining effective weather-proofing. So I always have a full set of water-proofs neatly folded in my backpack.

To be honest, when I first started riding in London I felt unsafe quite a lot of the time. The main cause was having to share the road with larger forms of transport such as four, six, eight and sixteen wheeled vehicles. Taxis, buses and lorries were the most worrying. Either not noticing me, and and squeezing me into the kerb, or in the case of several taxis I encountered, appearing to deliberately cut in front of me.

Bicycle traffic lightsBut these last six years have seen a big change, with two main causes:
One, the development of safer routes for cycles. These include dedicated cycle lanes that completely separate bikes from other forms of transport, plus cycle boxes at junctions, and even special traffic lights giving riders a precious few seconds lead on the rest of the traffic.
Two, there has been a massive increase in the number of cyclists commuting to work in London. On some days my route can actually get quite congested, just with other two-wheelers. And what a range of cyclists, from hard-core MAMIL’s (middle aged men in lycra) on their £8,000 racers, to whole families on riding to school and work (sometimes with toddlers strapped to the front and rear of the same bike). There are even few people dressed for work in smart suits and shiny shoes – that’s where I come in 😉

The proliferation of bikes has forced those hostile tin box owners to adapt their driving habits. They can no longer pretend they aren’t sharing the road with us pedaling commuters. In the past they would only come across the occasional cyclist, now we are everywhere they are. When cycles are literally filling up those cycle boxes the cars and lorries behind have no choice but to wait and follow.
cycle juntion box

Source: The Evening Standard Amazing new maps show huge demand for cycle lanes across London

Over the past couple of years the sheer number of riders have increased so much that the majority of my few near-misses have been with other cyclists, not cars.

Early on in my Brompton ownership I joined the London Brompton Club and Brompton Hacks groups on Facebook. I rapidly discovered there are many people out there with a serious addiction to these engineering wonders. Some have as many as 10 different models, often shown off in Ikea Kallax storage walls, which are the perfect size to fit a folded Brompton.

Bike Gang on Instagram_ “My #brompton wall. IKEA Kallax

Bike Gang on Instagram_ “My #brompton wall. IKEA Kallax

Fortunately I have a garage at home, so although I do fold my bike and tuck it neatly under my desk at work, I can leave it unfolded and ready to go at home.

As well as providing excellent advice for Brompton owners, these groups exposed me to the wide range of accessories available. There are endless debates on the pros and cons of replacing the factory fitted saddle with a Brooks. I admit they look beautiful with their polished leather and brass, but my bottom has been quite happy to save the £100 or so they cost.
Brooks saddle

I must confess to having made a few changes to my bike over the years. In particular a mirror so I can see who is coming up behind me (The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle). I also installed an ingenious device to improve the fiddly latches (Speeding up my Brompton folding with SpedDial). And I replaced the soft foam handle bar grips with Ergons which really helped on my London to Brighton charity ride.
Ergon grips

One issue I have become slightly obsessed with is visibility, both at night and in the day. I always wear a bright orange gilet, which I can see pedestrians notice when they are about to step out in front of me. For the night time I have a very bright rear light (My new Blazing Saddle ignited by my Burner light ), and two front lights (one to be seen, and one to show the way). I have also spent / wasted many hours experimenting with range of ideas, including luminescent paint on my tires, which literally glows in the dark.
luminous wheels

Although they looked great, sadly they just weren’t bright enough, and the paint didn’t last. So I switched to reflective stickers instead. I think you will agree they are really much brighter.
Brompton at night

So everything about my Brompton is great… except that for the last seven weeks it has been languishing in my garage due to coronavirus lock-down.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can start riding it again. But I heard on the news today I’m likely to have a lot of company on the roads for my daily commute. According to the BBC, fear of catching coronavirus on public transport has helped lead to a boom in cycle-to-work schemes. With a 200% increase in bicycle orders from people working for emergency services.   Coronavirus: Boom time for bikes as virus changes lifestyles.

If this means less cars on the roads and more cycle-ways, I will be quite happy wobbling along on my Brompton together with these new converts to the joy of two wheeled transport.

Update:
Just a couple of days after publishing this post the Observer newspaper had the headline, Coronavirus cycling boom makes a good bike hard to find – Would-be cyclists keen to exercise during the lockdown have cleared stores of their stock.

London cyclists

SpedDial

Speeding up my Brompton folding with SpedDial

Brompton from aboveI have been commuting to work on my Brompton for over three years now. Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience. I have written a few blog posts about my experience (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London), and little ways I have tried to improve the bike (The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle).

This time I am experimenting with an improved Hinge Clamp Kit from SpedDial. I had already created something of a bodge solution using springs and plastic metal.

I came across the invention after recently joining the Brompton Hacks Group on Facebook. A post from SpedDial creator Stephan Bianchi piqued my interest. The link to his website included a video demonstrating a much improved version of the Brompton clamp.

SpēdDial Folds Fast from Stephan Bianchi on Vimeo.

The key is the dimpled handle which allows you spin it around really quickly.

SpedDial

I expressed my interest to Stephan and he explained he had sent a batch to Brilliant Bikes in Chobham. I rang them to order a set, but they hadn’t arrived. Soon after I received an email asking if I would like to test out SpedDial for them. I jumped at the chance, and a couple of days later received the little package below in the post.

Below is my amateur attempt at improving the clamp.

And here is the shiny new SpedDial replacement

So now for the big question… is it any good? And the answer is an emphatic yes. Actually it is brilliant.

It solves several problems:

  • It stops the metal bracket from twisting and blocking the fold
  • Using the finger dimple makes turning the knob much less fiddly
  • It saves time. I have set mine to just four turns from closed to open.
  • It prevents the bolt from falling out
  • The same lock nut gives you a predictable fold, so the handlebars no-longer fall on my leg.

The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle

mirrycle_logoDuring my year of cycle commuting across the capital (15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London) I have become increasingly safety conscious.

My first step was to buy a cheap and cheerful cycle helmet, mostly to placate my concerned partner. At that point I was still doubtful about its value as there was some evidence to the contrary (Cycle helmets are useless, says brain surgeon). However, after a few months mingling with cars, buses, lorries and other cyclists, I started to appreciate the fragility of the human head. Especially when it has the potential of coming into contact with any of these solid metal vehicles, or even just a patch of hard tarmacadam road. So recently I upgraded my helmet to an ‘urban’ model with more protection, and hopefully a tad more style.

giro-sutton-helmet

My Giro Sutton bash hat

Next came a choice that drops me off the bottom of the fashion scale. My fluorescent orange and yellow safety vest may be a faux-pas from a style perspective, but it certainly gets me noticed – which is the point of wearing it. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen car drivers and pedestrians glance in my direction, then doing a double-take and stopping their imminent move into my path, as the bright colours of my vest hit their brain receptors.

I spent my formative years riding a motorbike on London roads, so I know that anything on two wheels is effectively invisible to most other road users. I still remember the “I’m sorry – I didn’t see you” from when I was knocked down by a car in the Walworth Road in 1989. And I really want to avoid hearing it again.

In those days it was the engine driving the wheels rather than my legs, and the two rear-view mirrors were something of an irrelevance. The acceleration of my motorbike meant I needed to focus on what was in front of me, not behind me.

Mirrycle-Barend-Mirror-MTB-2

I can see behind with my Mirrycle mirror

On a pedal powered bike it is more of a fifty-fifty front and rear. I still need to concentrate on the road ahead for rogue pedestrians and cars pulling out in front of me. But I also need to be aware of what is coming up behind me. Is it a taxi who is going to squeeze me into the kerb, or a bus desperately trying to get the stop in front of me, or a monster truck who’s air draft is going to blow me over.

I am even at risk from young Lycra clad cyclists, who I’m sure see an old codger like me riding a Brompton in a suit, as someone they can whiz past. So the ability to see them bearing down on me at speed, and so give them space to pass, is very helpful to both of us.

I still look round behind me quite a bit too, using what the Police call the lifesaver. This tends be before a manoeuvre, or to make eye contact with a driver who is about to cut me up.

Knowing what is going on behind me gives me choices and avoids dangerous surprises. So that makes my Mirrycle perhaps my most valuable investment in terms of safety on my trusty Brompton. In fact based on my experience I would recommend that every bike should be fitted with at least one mirror as a standard safety feature.

Update November 2015

Interesting to see Garmin have now come out with a radar system for detecting vehicles sneaking up behind you. I still think my mirror will do for now.

15 learnings from a year of Brompton cycle commuting in London

It’s been over a year since I bought my Brompton folding bicycle to help cope with my long-distance commute from Eastbourne. I have to admit there was a steep learning curve to get the complex folding system (there is only one way to do it right – but lots of ways to do it wrong). And adapting to the hyper-sensitive steering (which does become something of an advantage once mastered), took much longer. But apart from these early niggles, the bike has been a joy to own and use.

Brompton_Fold

So let’s start with a list of negatives from a year in the saddle:

  1. The almost daily stories of death and injury, often appearing on the cover of Evening Standard, make me question the risks I am taking.
    London_Evening_Standard_23_6_2015
  2. Having to share the road with tipper trucks, articulated lorries, and buses. They are noisy, big and scary for a cyclist.
  3. Fellow cyclists who blatantly ignore red lights. I can see the temptation to get going, but they give all of us such a bad name.
  4. Taxi drivers who squeeze you into the curb. I wonder if it is deliberate, or perhaps they just didn’t they see me? On reflection I would say a combination of their skill and experience, probably means it is a conscious action.
  5. Teenage scooter drivers with some kind of ‘death-wish’ who cut through the smallest of gaps and swerve across multiple lanes of traffic.
  6. Pot-holes, which seem to multiply nearer the edge of the road (where I want to cycle), forcing me out into the path of cars and vans.
  7. Pedestrians with headphones and tunnel vision, determined to cross their patch of road, often right in front of me. They seem entirely oblivious to the world around them.
    Southwark Bridge blue cycle lane
  8. Badly thought out and implemented cycle lanes. For instance my daily route takes me over Southwark Bridge with its blue cycle highway. On the bridge I feel nice and safe with a concrete bollard between me and the heavy construction lorries. But coming off the bridge, I have to filter through three lanes of those monsters, praying the lights don’t chance until I get to the safe haven of the cycle box at the front. It is genuinely scary.
  9. Cobbled back streets. I love the fact that London is steeped in history, but my bottom would appreciate some smoother tarmac please.

That was a bit depressing, so let’s end with some positives from the year of the Brompton:

  1. Mental health. According to an Evening Standard, one of the best ways of helping to develop a Mindfulness approach to live is to cycle regularly.Brompton from above
  2. Exercise. I can feel my legs getting stronger and my stomach getting a bit smaller every time I swing my leg over the Brompton’s saddle.
  3. Surprising pedestrians. My favourite trick is to stop for pedestrians as they step onto a zebra crossing. I usually have to wave them on, as they think it is some kind of trick, having become accustomed to cyclists cutting in front of them.
  4. Getting to work on time. I can usually get to work five minutes earlier than if I changed trains and relied on Thameslink to get me across central London.
  5. Knowing I can fold my bike up and get on the tube if necessary. So far I have only been ‘rained off’ once.
  6. Being able to get from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus in 15 minutes. It’s even quicker than the tube.