Sunday 12 April 2020

Riding the Canal Entre Deux Mers, Episode 1(a) - change of plan re bikes.

So, that puts paid to the Birdy, which by now is presumably in the hands of a proud but oblivious and unsuspecting new owner and some little toe-rag has a wad of cash for it. My first thought was that probably killed the scheme, because it relies on being able to bag up a folder and take it in the hold of an airliner. But, a little more thought and I reckon it can be done on a Brompton.

Years ago, before our children were born, we used to tour the wine regions of France on vintage 1988 Bromptons (which I still have, to give to my kids as heirlooms). I think the most we ever did in one day was about 70km, around the Monbazillac/Bergerac region on the Loire, and that is slightly more than I plan for any one day on this occasion, but we didn’t carry luggage with us as we travelled from town to town with the folded bikes on the back seat of our vehicle. We did however have small pannier bags which permitted us to collect 6 bottles of wine per bike to bring back to base camp, the boot of our vehicle, so not entirely luggage free.

Since then I have a new Brompton, which is a story in itself - one of the vintage Bromptons got damaged in an accident at Hyde Park Corner and was considered probably beyond repair, I bought the Birdy as a replacement, because it folded and was really nice to ride, but quickly discovered that it doesn’t fold easily or neatly enough to do three times a day in my home-bike-train-bike-office-bike-train-bike-home commuting routine. So I bought a new Brompton and kept the Birdy. 

(Curiously, several months later FW Evans called to say “aren’t you going to collect your Brompton?” so I went to get it. The bent pedal crank and seat post had been replaced, the frame it turned out was undamaged, and Brompton, to whom it had been sent for evaluation by Evans, refused to charge anything for the repair)

Anyway, the new Brompton, which I’ve had since 2007, is this one.

According to this Youtube video, it fits the bill for touring: an M6 with the reduced ratio on gearing (by fitting 12% larger rear sprockets). It goes part way towards this video in that it has the Titanium seatpost, rear triangle and front forks, but I’ll dispense with the rest of his suggestions. I won’t be able to use my Ortleib panniers on it, but the standard Brompton handlebar stem-mount bag and a rear rack-top bag should suffice - I'll travel light, and I’m not expecting Aquitaine in summer to require much waterproofing.

In comparison, the Brompton is certainly easier to fold than the Birdy, it folds more compactly, and the more delicate components are better protected inside a carapace of mainframe ironmongery - being thrown around by airport baggage handlers always required a certain amount of straightening out and resetting gears and brakes etc on the Birdy where more delicate stuff found itself near the surface of the folded package. On the other hand, the Birdy rides like a full size bike and has full suspension. It could handle the gradients on Iceland’s roads, and the very coarse chippings used in the surface dressing of their road tarmac, in a way I suspect the Brompton wouldn’t. But this trip involves asphalt-dressed off-road cycle paths, mainly dead flat canal towpaths, with an old railway track at the start. About 360km, of which barely 20km is on roads, and only 10 of those on undulating ground.

So, hopefully this virtual trip will still become real, eventually.