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Can A Camel Outpace a Brompton? (Andrew Hague) PDF Printable Version E-mail


Can A Camel Outpace a Brompton?

Andrew Hague

Andrew Hague Brompton_Folding_Bike_(10)17.jpgdescribes the important place the Brompton folding bicycle plays in his life as a traveller. Andrew is well known for his success as a cyclist, a photographer, a former manufacturer of bicycle parts, an international designer and supplieBrompton_Folding_Bike_(10)05.jpgr of medical equipment, a self-taught but highly skilled bicycle mechanic, a writer, a traveller, a man of business. And still he finds time to share his cycling experiences!

The Brompton is his favourite folding bicycle (and he has tried them all) and he is always looking for new ways to challenge its versatility.

Travelling is one of life's greatest pleasures and cycling is the best way to travel. Unfortunately there is never enough time to go everywhere by bike so great scenery would flash by the car and the smell of the woods and the peaceful silence were lost; a diamond slipping through the fingers with the grains of sand. Then the answer appeared - a folding bike, a way of mixing cycling with the lazy, luxury of transport.

For forty years I have spent more hours on a touring bike than I have in bed, or so it feels, so I call myself a proper cyclist. I was never attracted to an unrideable mountain bike but when I saw the Brompton T5 with all its bags I knew I needed one. When it came in January '98 it was a few months before the right opportunity arose to put it to use.

The chance came when I had to go into Morocco from Gibraltar. It meant leaving a car at Luton and flying, then riding from Gibraltar to a ferry at Algeciras and cycling south about twenty five miles to Tetouan. From there it was a bus journey to Fez where I was collected by car. The Brompton not only made everything possible, it provided much needed exercise and relaxation after too much sitting down. It was my last journey into Morocco and on arriving back in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa, I had never been so relieved to get out of such an unpleasant and dangerous country. Nevertheless, the bike had proved itself.

Toe clips had to be fitted and I Brompton_Folding_Bike_(10)13.jpgdon't know why they are not offered as an extra; I can't ride without them. The handlebars needed to be angled further forward which meant that the retaining clip had to be extended which was done with a threaded length of plastic. It was only much later that I discovered that the hand pump was useless with the Schrader valves. I had always used a car foot pump. If I had punctured in Morocco I could have been at the mercy of countless villains. The tubes were changed for some with presta valves and now it is possible to get some air in at the roadside. The place to fit a bigger pump could be inside the seat tube.

The next serious opportunity to use the Brompton came when I had to go to Friedrichshafen in south Germany on Lake Constance. To fly via Frankfurt would have cost 700. To drive there and back would have been about 300 in petrol alone and I don't like autobahns. I sit there doing 100 mph on cruise control quietly overtaking a lorry and some Hun in a Golf flashes his headlights to move me over. I often drive on the continent and have started to go down through France rather than Germany; the autoroutes are quieter and safer than the derestricted German autobahns. Incidentally, the best channel crossing is with Sea France because they have the best restaurant. The tunnel is boring. I eventually booked a return flight to Zurich and arrived with some snow and minus 4 degrees.

I rode to Stein am Rhein along quiet roads, found a five star hotel and ate a meal that would have knocked a motorist off the weighing scales. The next day was mostly on cycle tracks around Lake Constance (Bodensee) and either last night's food was high on energy or my calculation that it takes longer on a Brompton was wronBrompton_Folding_Bike_(10)09.jpgg because I got to Freidrichshafen too early and spent an interesting two hours in the Zeppelin museum. Yes, you can put the folded bike behind their counter for safe keeping. The return journey a few days later was in a blizzard. At one stage I was following an uncleared cycle track through ten inches of snow and marvelled how well the bike handled. The Raleigh tyres have quite a deep tread. I got into Zurich airport with the bike caked in snow and ice and had to unclog it before packing it in its bag.

Somehow I had found myself suddenly in the main concourse without finding a place to deposit a few kilos of the melting stuff. Of all the world's airports, Zurich is probably the one where you have to be best behaved. I looked for a place where a folding bike could relieve itself. Maybe a baby changing facility would have done. I had to be quick. I was leaving a trail along the marble corridors. There was a staircase and underneath, a bit to the back, I tried to hide myself and poke at the Brompton's wheels and crevices and deposited a melting glacier. In the heat and dry air of the terminal it would have not taken more than a few hours to evaporate the pure water. I moved off fast.

A gnome must have seen me. He got the baggage handlers to bend one of the hinge's locking screws. The lesson learned was to always screw them back up tight after folding the bike so that they have less chance of being bent. Airport carousels scuff bags dreadfully. At least they didn't let the tyres down; don't see why they should with pressurised holds.

Another journey which had been complicated until the Brompton was introduced into the equation was going to Croatia with a Land Rover and flying back. It involved leaving a car at an airfield in Oxfordshire for my return, getting to the Land Rover depot by bike and bus and bike again and then, later, to the airfield in Croatia. Once again the bike broke the tedium of the idleness of travelling; it drew in fresh air, led me away from the queues and justified my appetite. If you have never driven down the cost road from Rijeka you should at least once in your life. It winds and climbs and dives with sheer drops to your right.

If it wasn't for the convoys of lorries with draw bar trailers if would be good for cycling given that your chainwheel is no bigger than the rear sprocket. Tourists, mostly German, are returning to the Adriatic. Slovenia has tremendous scenery and was untouched by the war. An easy way to get to Croatia with a folder is a cheap flight to Bologna or Venice, ride down to Ancona and get the ferry to Split. I have done it the other way with a touring bike and flown back from Rome. There are some serious climbs in the way.

The versatility of the Brompton is so great that I am finding myself wanting to design a rucksack frame so that it can be carried with its own pannier over mountains which would not have been feasible with a touring bike. As a young lad with the CTC, I did Striding Edge and about ten years later bruised my shoulder carrying across Lairig Gruh. If the bike had been a compact bundle supported by comfortable straps the crossings would have been quicker and safer. The prospect of riding quiet valleys and walking over mountains is realistic and if I don't get around to a prototype maybe someone will beat me to it and sell me one.

I liked the Brompton so much I got one for my wife and we were able to fit the two bikes and all our suite cases in the boot of the car for a two weeks tour of Spain. Again, some cycling counterbalanced the hotel meals. This year we have two tours planned: one to Heidelberg, where I am sure the cycling will be excellent, and the other to Jordan where the bikes could be less acceptable. I don't want to be stuck in a car all the time even if it is air conditioned. The only way to see a place is on a bike but if Jordan is an Arab country as dangerous as Morocco we might be restricted. We shall have military escorts, some in the cars with us, and I am waiting to see what they say when I ask them to accompany us on the bikes. Can a Brompton outpace a camel?