Where am I?:^mistymornings-->Cycletouring-->Equipment.-->Bikes and bags.-->The Brompton as a touring bike.

Pros and cons of a Brompton as 'long distance' touring bike.

A while back an email dropped into my inbox asking for my thoughts/opinions of the Brompton as a 'long distance touring bike'. I started thinking about this and my first question was 'Well what do you mean by long distance touring?'. This means different things to different people, so I decided to start there by highlighting the different usage patterns our touring bikes and Bromptons. Thus here are some vaguely ordered thoughts on the subject of Bromptons and touring.

Our touring bikes are generally used for trips such as our Scandinavian summer sojourns. Here we carry four or five full bike bags plus handlebar bags and loads of around 20kg including water and camping stove fuel. Our routes take us for the most part on asphalt roads but with significant sections on tracks. These are of variable quality, some are atrocious whilst others are fast. Terrain is usually hilly and we expect to encounter significant head winds several times in three weeks. Our bikes have lots of gears and we make use of the full range. In the case of our old bikes 19-95". Distance travelled per day is anything up to 120km.

Our Bromptons are used for day trips or long weekends, often where we combine cycling with a train journey. This gives us the flexibility to explore areas further away from home and expands our choice of start and end points.

Usually these trips are in relatively flat areas, and on asphalt roads or well made unmetalled roads. The biggest challenge is likely to be a headwind, and the 6-speed Bromptons have a wide enough gear range for pretty much all hills. For example the trip last year to be found here. We don't need to take much baggage with us, and can manage with a Brompton touring bag and Ortlieb rolls (or our Brompto-lieb system still in development) and carry no more than about 10-12 kg of baggage. We expect to do 60 to 80 km with a maximum of 100km/day depending on conditions.

What are the plus and minus points of the Brompton when used as described above? Well Brompton is surprisingly comfortable for these trips despite the limited options for changing ones seating position. They are also very light and we tend to take less stuff with us. This combined with the low rolling resistance of the tyres makes us a bit faster despite the lack of a good range of gears. Our average speeds were around 1-2 km/h more than we would expect from our (OLD) touring bikes.

Recently I cycled the 25km from Amersfoort train station back to our home in Utrecht. The route runs through the undulating Utrechtseheuvelrug, about half of the way through forest. The cycle track is good quality all the way. The Brompton felt light and responsive and just fun to cycle in a setting other than dodging other cyclists throught town. The small scale switchbacks were great fun. In these sorts of situations the gear and tyre limitations are not apparent, although more gears is always better in my experience. With a long weekend away durability issues are also not relevent.

If we were to try and use the Bromptons in the same way as our touring bikes we'd start to hit the two main 'functional' limitations of the bikes.

1) Lack of a true low gear range and (relatively) big gaps between gears.
2) Very small choice of tyres particularly in terms of width.

1) Yes you can add a mountain drive, which does not increase weight. Apparently it is a wonderful device and very reliable. However checking Brompton and Schlumpf gear ratio charts it is clear that on a Brompton this either gives you a couple of low gears you are unlikely to use or a couple of unusually high ones. The relatively wide gap between gears remains a problem. I very nearly fitted Mountain Drives to our Bromptons but now realise that this would not have been a good solution for us.

The inconvenience of having three controls to provide 12 gears is brought into sharp focus now that we have touring bikes with Rohloff hubs in them. I find it irritating enough to have six gears spread over two controls on my Brompton, but the Rohloff's simplicity has convinced me that Brompton should bite the bullet and modify their product, so that it can take modern hub gears. The ones that spring to minde are the Rohloff, SRAM i-Motion 9 and/or at least offer the new SA 8-speed as an option given that one version just fits between the Brompton rear forks.

Given the weight of the SRAM and SA hubs it seems to me to be better to hack your rear forks around and fit a Rohloff which is lighter than the SRAM and only 100g more than the SA. This is something I will start investigating in earnest in the autumn with a Rohloff enthusiast who runs his own bike shop.

2) We've both broken several spokes particularly in the first year of usage, my count is around ten at the moment. This in part is due to the Dutch habit of using small paving stones or sets/cobbles as road and cycle path surfaces and partly due to high tyre pressures and cycling fast. In fact many road surfaces on my daily commute are worse than what we generally encounter in the long distance cycle paths here and during our summer holidays. I'm now running lower tyre pressures in the hope that this will stop the problem occurring in the future.

I'd like to have an option to use tyres like Schwalbe's Big Apples, which would provide primary suspension to protect the Brompton rims better. This means using different rims and whilst the smallest Big Apple might just fit between the front forks it we mean doing some major surgery on the Brompton rear fork. The other advantage of wider tyres is better performance off road. Not just the issue of protecting the bike and making it more durable but also to be able to cope better with loose and soft surfaces. On a recent trip near Maastricht we encountered soft sandy tracks. Our new touring bikes, then shod with 54-622 tyres coped easily with these loose surfaces. We would have struggled on our Bromptons.

Durability issue besides the above mentioned rear wheel spoke problems, are the rear pivot hinge. Mine has started to show significant play after around 2500km of usage and has now been replaced. You could probably fix this in the field although it would be much easier in a well equipped workshop. Having said that play in the pivot is not actually a show stopper. Having the pivot axle break, a much less likely scenario would be a bit of a bigger problem. I suspect though though that running the Bromptons more often as touring bikes would put much greater demands on the back pivot. Chances are that we will fork out for the Brompton reaming tool and learn how to do it ourselves.

We have solved the luggage problem and could carry enough although we would not realistically be able to take a tent bigger than our 3kg Helsport or the 2.6kg Moonshadow Duo with us. The seating position does not seem to be such a problem, but Damae would need a higher handlebar if we were to use the bikes on longer trips.

In conclusion, we're likely to continue using our Bromptons for shorter tours as they are just fun to cycle on and make surprisingly comfortable travelling companions. The portability is a great asset and we could make use of it on our longer Scandinavian tours, as we often take a train and occasionally a boat. However bearing in mind the significantly greater demands placed on our bikes during longer tours, we're not going to try to use the Bromptons in these situations. Unless of course we get round to modifying the gears as described above. Bromptons certainly have a place in our current arsenal of bicycles, it would be nice to extend their usability.

When considering which bike suits you for the trip you are going to make it is useful to remember a couple of points. These are that you should enjoy your bike, whatever it is and learn the safe limits of your bike before you trash it and possibly yourself.

A bike that you enjoy using should be used to take you places you might not otherwise go and get you there in one piece. There is little point to high tech gizmos on an indestructable titanium framed tourer if your bike stays sitting in the garage, shed or lock up whilst you sit comfortably in your car.

I am sure that you could successfully use a standard Brompton for longer tours. However we've now got used to lots of gears and being able to carry lots of stuff. Thus for us a good touring bike has significant advantages over a Brompton, but if the only bike we owned was a Brompton, then we'd happily go touring on it.

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