Sunday 3 June 2018

Riding Iceland - my ride

A folding touring bike?
Current model Birdy. Mine, about 10 years old, is substantially the same but without the disc brakes
The Birdy, by German firm Riese & Muller, is a full-suspension folding bike. It has no fold in the frame, which apparently, rather than the small wheels as I had always thought, is what contributes most to the mechanical inefficiency of most folding bikes.  Instead, the rear frame triangle pivots under just as it does in the Brompton, and the front wheel similarly pivots under and back below the top tube. It is this fold style, and the bulkier folded package, which led me quickly to abandon the Birdy as a daily multi-modal commuting bike and buy another Brompton, but I have to admit that it has much longer legs than the Brompton when it is unfolded.

The wheels are a slightly unusual 18”, 40-355, a smidge larger than the 16” on a Brompton. My technical reading on the efficiency of small wheels, slightly surprisingly, informed me that they are actually more efficient than larger ones. 
Both front and rear wheels have suspension, but I would still distrust them on stony or potholed roads so sticking to well-paved roads (as most of Iceland’s coastal routes are) seems sensible. Anyone who has ridden a Brompton or Birdy however will also be aware of how sensitive their steering is compared with full-sized bikes – the wobble while climbing steeper gradients is quite noticeable. 

But, the coastal routes are relatively flat, with only occasional gradients above 6%, and I think the only one to exceed 10% is my second day, over the 700m Oddsskarð  pass to Neskaupstadur. I think I will be getting off and pushing for a fair proportion of the 7km to the pass, especially on the 3km of gravel road at the top, and I'll be carrying spare brake blocks, in case I wear out a set on the descent. The return leg back to Reydarfjordur will be at low level, through the new, 7.6km long, Nordfjordur Tunnel.

Certainly a fair bit of googling produced forum threads cautiously endorsing the Birdy as a touring bike, as long as you weren’t planning a lot of off road or exotic locations where the unusual sized tyres could be difficult to find. The R-M webpage on the Birdy pitches it as a tourer, and they supply a folding rear rack and a “Lowrider” bolt-on for the front fork to hold rear and front panniers.
The rear rack folds neatly under when the bike is folded. My Birdy came with this as standard. The bit of bent tube at the front set me back an eye-watering £60.
The big advantage though, if you aren’t planning a wild transcontinental trek, is that it packs down into a cordura bag the size of a large duffel, which when not in use folds up into a small backpack. This makes it more practical to transport on flights (as regular hold baggage) or on regular bus services. While the principal bus operators in Iceland all carry standard bicycles, some make a hefty charge for them and there is always the risk that you won’t be able to get your bike on if the allotted space is already full. I want the reassurance of being able to call it a day and finish my day’s segment in comfort if I get too tired.

In terms of touring accessories, I got Ortlieb Cityroller front and rear panniers, as my daughter’s experience this year tells me waterproofing is important. I'm going in mid-June, Iceland’s driest month of the year, which overall is still drier than where I live in Surrey, but I gather that the weather is always changeable and unpredictable, with almost every month having about 20 days with some rain (or snow)fall, and most of the rain seems to fall as drizzle which is the wettest kind.

In the bags or on top of the rack I will have an ultralight one man tent, a down sleeping bag certified to 3oC comfort (max daytime temps in June average 10oC and night-time temps average 5-6oC), an inflatable mat and pillow, and specialised travel clothes, mainly Rohan. I’ve weighed everything, and it adds up to 28kg, of which 13kg for the bike with racks, 1.25kg for the bike bag and 13.5kg for everything else. For transport the bike bag will have two of the panniers, a pair of shoes and some soft stuff like fleeces etc to cushion the protruding bits of the frame, and anything which might not get past airport security in hand baggage. I can go up to 20kg maximum, as the regional flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstadir is indifferent to the dimensions of the bag, but very firm on weight limit. As they also impose a 6kg limit on hand baggage I’ll just have to stuff my phone, iPad, chargers etc in my coat pockets and hope they don’t weigh me too!


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