Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bikes On or In Cars

From my frequent but unadventurous bike rides, I am beginning to feel I know every inch of the local back-roads & cycle tracks.
And I usually regret, at the end of each ride, that our village is at the top of lots of more-or-less-steep hills.

So, for some time, I have been thinking of using the car to move my biking start/finish points to other places.
Partly for variety & partly to avoid the last uphill grind.

I see most people manage to hang a bike or two on the back of their car easily enough.
The simplest racks strap on to the boot or hatch door & support bikes under a horizontal(ish) cross-bar.
My bike has a very sloping cross-bar but no rack of this type is recommended for my (1999 Suzuki) car anyway.
Probably the hatch door & plastic bumper are too flimsy.
More elaborate racks support bikes under the wheels but then become too big & heavy to strap on & usually end up needing a tow-bar & ball-hitch to stand on.
Suzuki didn't recommend tow-bars when the car was new, so now it is a rusty 10-year-old…

Another approach to this problem is via folding bikes.
We have had a couple of cheap second-hand folders but they have been shaky, creaky, inefficient devices, not attractive for more than very short, flat, smooth trips.
And not that small when folded either.

Of course, there has been progress since those old bikes & you can now find all manner of folders from pocket-size to 28" wheeled, from single-speed to 27-speed, with advanced suspension, disc brakes & even recumbent 3-wheelers.

One manufacturer alone – Dahon – makes a bigger range of folders than you would think possible, including a couple of very neat jobs with 8-speed Shimano hub gears (Dahon Mu XL Sport & Curve XL).
I have not seen any locally & they don't fold that small.
They do look good on the websites though.

In the end, I let myself be influenced by numerous articles, forums & blogs suggesting that Brompton folders are a class above the others.
I have heard them described as the Rolls-Royce of folders, but the ones I have seen have looked more like the Morgan of folders.
I would never have considered one based on a visual inspection.
The first thing you notice is the front forks are just pinched together at the wheel spindle, like a very cheap kid's bike.
And all the brakes & fittings look anything but Rolls Royce.
OK, they do fold very neatly.
Stupidly, I have ordered one, without even a test-drive.

Brompton only do one model, though with some minor variations.
The biggest option is a £420 Titanium frame, but even I am reasonable enough to avoid that one.
And you can specify mudguards, carriers, bags & lights, which I don't want.
And lots of bright expensive colours, but I am having cheap black.

Then there is a choice of 1/2/3/6/12 gears, but none of those choices is any good really.
Even the 1-gear has a derailleur-like chain tensioner, because the folding mechanism alters the chain-wheel spacing..
The 2-speed uses this tensioner like a normal derailleur but with only 2 cogs.
The 3-speed has a hub gear, like an old Sturmey-Archer, but by SRAM.
The 6-speed uses a special very wide ratio Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub as well as the 2-speed derailleur, with one shifter for each hand.
The 12-speed is the 6-speed plus an expensive Swiss 2-speed hub gear in the bottom bracket, operated by kicking the pedal spindle with one foot for up & the other foot for down.
Not sure how you pedal & steer while using both hands & both feet to change gear - should be interesting to watch.

I am getting the 6-speed, against my better judgement.
It does offer a reasonable 3:1 ratio range, like an 8-speed hub, but sounds anything but convenient to use.
I wrote to Brompton & asked why they don't just fit an 8-speed hub, which is the obvious answer & which lots of forums & even the Wikipedia article suggest.
They say the Shimano hub is too wide for their frame & sent me the address of somebody in Scotland
who installs 8-speed Sturmey Archer hubs for £200 or sends kits for £300.
I gave up a ordered the 6-speed.

Actually I have ordered it from Brussels as they sell at about UK prices, whereas French & German dealers have more than 200€ extra mark-up.
Fortunately we have kind friends who work in Brussels & have a house in Strasbourg & are willing to do the delivery.
Otherwise it would still have been worth collecting it ourselves from Brussels.

Need to wait a couple of months for delivery, so no comments until then.

Some Brompton-ish sites:

Parting thot: "A bicycle for the mind (Apple computer)" – Steve Jobs

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