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

How to be seen on the dark streets of London town

monkey-light-pro
winter sun
Source LibreStock.com

The shortest day of the year is rapidly approaching. Winter Solstice is on 21 December to be precise. That means both my morning and evening cycle rides are in darkness or gloom.

I have taken several measures to improve my visibility to other road users, particularly car and lorry drivers, and of course those suicidal pedestrians with eyes glued to their smartphone screens.

altura-night-vision-safety-vest-cycling-giletI have recently replaced my Altura Night Vision Safety Vest Cycling Gilet, after leaving one behind on a cancelled train. And I’m confident it takes less time to be noticed than to say it’s name. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen people about to cross in front of me, stop, and do a double-take as the bright orange and yellow of my Gilet sears into their consciousness.

I have upgraded my rear visibility by adding a Blaze Burner light to the standard Brompton one. I’m still really happy with it despite some initial production problems. In fact I’m still running on my first battery charge after three months, which is pretty impressive.

 

fwe-20-lumen-front-tlight-black-ev244783-8500-2More recently I have added an additional front light which is designed for being seen, and not for showing the way ahead. In fact Evans describe the FWE 20 Lumen front light as the “definitive bright back-up safety light, taking up very little space on your bars but making sure you’re seen at night”. The 20 lumens is surprisingly bright, but the small form factor means it has run out of puff after just one week.

A couple of weeks ago I also replaced my reflective spoke clips, as the old ones were starting to lose their shine.

brompton-spokes-at-night

I think they look pretty good on my Brompton, and help when crossing T junctions.

Should I be doing more?

When I am out on the mean and dark streets of London, I wonder if I am doing enough to draw attention to myself. I have seen quite a few fellow cyclists who are outdoing my humble effort by a quite a margin.

Here are four examples:
The Lumos helmet means you carry all your lights on your head, instead of scattered around your bike. So you don’t have to worry about them being stolen or the hassle of taking them off to charge or the change the batteries. It also includes left and right indicators with a handlebar controller. Yours for just 179 US dollars.

Lumos helmet

And if you just want to let people where you are going next the the Cyndicate system is for you.

cyndicate

This realy can save lives

Posted by Cyndicate on Thursday, April 28, 2016

 

But by far the most impressive sight I have seen are Revolights.

revolights

They look pretty spectacular in the photo above, and even more so in the video below.

But when you actually see them on the road they are truly stunning. Sadly they don’t currently make a size to fit my bike, and they cost 199 US dollars. A tad more than my admittedly less awe inspiring reflector spokes above, but maybe I should start saving.

Monkey Light Pro Wheels

I haven’t actually seen any Monkey Light Pro wheels from Monkeylectric on my rides, but they do take attention seeking to the next level.

monkey-light-pro

Have you seen anything brighter on your travels?

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.

 

Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience

Brompton logo smallDuring my daily commute from Eastbourne to St Pancras and all the way back, I have been doing some ‘commuter observing’. And I have noticed most ‘hard-core’ travellers have two specialised devices in their possession. The first is a computer screen of some kind, to help distract from the long train journey by delivering various forms of entertainment.

This can vary from reading ebooks on a Kindle or similar, to watching the latest instalment of Game of Thrones on an iPad or Andriod tablet. Occasionally I have even spotted commuters actually doing work on the train.

Now that I have settled on my somewhat garish clementine orange Yoga Pro ‘laptop’, it is time to move on to the second of these devices.

And that takes us from new technology to an invention nearly 200 years old – the velocipede, more recently known as the bicycle.
Brompton Logos B&W on top

But for the serious commuter just any old bike won’t do. Or more specifically, won’t be allowed by the train operating companies. Having endured standing room only on trains for many years, I am sympathetic with banning of full-sized bicycles during the rush-hour times. Although, perhaps bringing back the guard’s van would be a way of accommodating conventional two-wheelers.

In the meantime, the only solution is a folding-bike, and this explains why they are such a common sight on my morning and evening journeys. With the rapid increase in cycling in London over the past few years has come an increasing choice of bikes, and folding-bikes in particular.

Using my information search skills I conducted thorough research into the subject, and came up with a shortlist of two manufacturers. Both had excellent reviews, and both cost just under £1,000. The first was of course the Brompton, which is by far-and-away the market leader. And a proud ‘made-in-Britain’ product exported around the world.

So being perverse I decided to go for the alternative brand. I found a shop near Eastbourne which stocked both makes, and explained my wishes to the salesman over the phone. He assured me that I would come out of the shop with a Brompton rather than the brand I wanted. And it turned out he was right. After a short discussion, the superiority its ingenious folding system and 25 percent smaller size when folded, won me over to the Brompton.Brompton folding bike

But why I hear you asking, have you abandoned the wonderful Barclays Bike Hire Scheme you blogged about in 2010? The answer – sadly, is that the Boris Bike service (which should really be called ‘Ken Bike’ in recognition of Boris’ predecessor Ken Livingston’s decision to implement the project) is not reliable enough for my needs.

A combination of glitchy technology and lack of bikes has always been something of a problem. But  since moving to Eastbourne, at least fifty percent of my attempts to hire a bike have failed. And doubling the annual subscription to £90 has only added insult to injury. The unreliability of the Barclay’s scheme added significantly to the stress of my morning journey. And as the secret to successful long distance commuting is to remove as many variables as possible, it had to be replaced with something more reliable.

Today is only day-one of my folding bike commute, so it is too early to say how effective this serious investment in improving my commuting experience will  turn out to be.

 

12 amazing reasons why In through the Outfield is back and better than ever

Neil InfieldApologies for the rather hyperbolic headline above, but according to social media experts a catchy headline is the number one way of getting visitors to your blog. And as I have been rather neglecting In through the Outfield in recent months, I think it needs a bit of a boost.

In fact according to , Alasdair Inglis from Grow, Your online content must be more like terrible journalism.

Use clever, attention catching headlines

Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of your post. You could write mind-blowing, world changing content but if you don’t write good headlines, no one’s going to click through and read them. Therefore they need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.

Here are some great tips to help create better headlines:

  • Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 sexist cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
  • Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
  • Make your headlines are intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.
  • Use keyword research. Make sure you know what the most searched terms are for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog post headline will show up on their search.

Right – now that we have got that important information out of the way, I can explain why I am back in the blogging saddle after my unplanned sabbatical. I am now commuting to work at the British Library from Eastbourne, which has extended my daily journey to over two hours each way. However this gives me plenty of time for reading, snoozing or even blogging, as I cruise through the beautiful Sussex countryside alongside the South Downs at the mercy of the Southern railway service.

Sunset over Fulking Escarpment
Sunset over Fulking Escarpment in the South Downs National Park, England (© Matt Gibson/Loop Images)

The other factor enabling me to revive my blog is of course technology. I spent many weeks researching the best computer to support my newly extended commute. I looked at getting a bigger and smarter phone than my current almost perfect Motorola Razr I (small in size, long in battery life). The new breed of smart phones are amazing, but unless you have fingers much smaller and more nimble than my clunking great ones, typing anything more than a short note is too painful. And although the recent ones have pocket-stretching sized screens, they are still too small to work on a blog post or effectively surf the web. But the real killer blow, is when you actually use any of their amazing features for more than a few minutes, their battery life disappears to almost nothing.

Next came a choice of tablets, of Apple or Android flavours. They have long battery life, bigger screens and are nice a light and compact to carry around. However, they don’t have keyboards, and as a touch-typer since my teens I can’t stand typing on a screen. It’s a bit like having to ride a moped once you have experienced a proper motorbike – there is just no going back. Admittedly you can buy a keyboard attachments, but the keys are incredibly cramped and obviously an after-thought, rather than designed-in. Also I need to run Word and Powerpoint from time to time, which meant the Microsoft Surface came closest to my rather demanding requirements. However their poor battery life put paid to that.

That left laptops, or Ultrabooks, as the small, thin and powerful ones are now known. However, when not typing or editing presentations I liked the idea of some light entertainment to help pass the time on train. And I have watched fellow commuters struggling to get a good viewing position on their laptops to watch the latest instalment of Game of Thrones. More research led to the new breed of ‘hybrid’ machines, and the appropriately named Yoga series from Lenovo.

I finally settled on the Yoga Pro 2, with its 3,200×1,800-pixel touch screen, claimed nine hour battery life, backlit full size keyboard, and flexible screen.

lenovo-laptop-convertible-yoga-2-pro-orange-front-1

I have already tested out what Lenovo call the Stand mode to view BBC shows downloaded from iPlayer. And it works really well, with the keyboard tucked behind out of the way. I’m not sure how often I would get to use the Tent mode, and I have to admit that it makes a pretty clunky tablet when folded flat. This isn’t helped by Windows 8, which still needs some work to compete with Android as a touch interface.

So there you have it, new technology combined with an something of an epically long commute (nothing compared to these hardy Scots) are the keys to getting this blog back on its feet again.