The Folding Society

A Birdy in Scotland

Originally I only had one trip to Scotland planned for this year (2001) - this one in September. However, unexpected opportunities arose at short notice to go there twice earlier in the year, so this has become my third visit in a single year. The first visit was a combined photographic and cycling holiday in Skye, Lewis and Harris, and for that I used the New Series Moulton. No folding was planned for that visit, and the NS is the most comfortable and versatile of all my bikes for touring, or perhaps any form of cycling, if I can get all the luggage on it (only a rear carrier is currently available, though a prototype front carrier was shown at the Moulton Bicycle Club Weekend in September 2001). The second visit, only a couple of weeks later, was to Inversnaid, on the banks of Loch Lomond. This was primarily a photographic holiday, but with a ride from Glasgow and back again at the end, with probably a few short rides while I was there. Originally the NS was to have been used for that too, but as my train tickets did not arrive before my departure, I was concerned that there might be no cycle space reserved, so a folder became a priority so that I could get on even without a reservation if necessary. Of course I could have separated the NS, but its a tedious process, and carrying the bags around on the bike adds to the weight and bulk of the luggage. Thus I used the Airnimal and rear panniers on this second occasion. Like the NS on the earlier trip, it performed splendidly, though rather less comfortable on rough roads, and a bit over geared at the time - I have now fitted another rear cassette to give in effect one more gear at the bottom.

This visit in September was again to Inversnaid for a photographic workshop, but this time the theme was digital. Thus although the journey there and back was the same, I had to take a notebook computer as well as the photographic gear. The concern here was not that this greatly increased the weight or bulk of the luggage, but that I wanted to minimise the vibration etc which the relatively delicate computer equipment would suffer. For that reason I planned to use a train from Glasgow to Balloch, instead of cycling, and possibly to get collected by car from Aberfoyle. This reduced the amount of cycling at the ends of the trip by about half, with some scope needed for riding around during the stay, without the computer on the bike. With vibration in mind, I was keen to use a machine with suspension, and on which the luggage could take advantage of the suspension - some suspension bikes carry the luggage on unsuspended parts of the machine. Although the Airnimal had performed well last time, the lack of suspended luggage carrying capacity, apart from a bag on the saddle, rather ruled it out. The SP Brompton looked quite attractive if more folding on trains would be necessary, and to put it in the boot of a car if I asked for a lift from Aberfoyle, but in the end I decided that the lack of suspension for the luggage, plus slightly limited overall capacity and the limited gear range, ruled it out. The Moulton NS, Jubilee L and even the APB became the most likely choices, with the NS the natural favourite if everything could be fitted into the rear bag, or the Jubilee L if the additional front luggage capacity were needed. A bike space was booked on the train to Glasgow, though I was a bit uncertain of the arrangements on the local to Balloch, and a Moulton would certainly need splitting, though not bagging, if I did need car assistance for the last leg at the far end.

In the end, plans were modified somewhat, as both the APB and the NS were not available. Having some concerns over the hassle of splitting the Jubilee L if the need arose, I opted instead to use a newly acquired Birdy Red. The Birdy provides a comfortable ride for this type of journey, folding and separating are reasonable, if not to Brompton standards, and the seating position etc make it quite well suited to medium length rides. I found the current Birdy tyres rather sluggish on the road on my previous Birdy, but as the new Schwalbes were not available in time, and I was unable to get the Vredesteins either, I was forced to settle for these again on the new machine. Luggage capacity used to be a problem on the Birdy, but the current models have mountings for a low rider front rack, which will take standard universal panniers. My Karrimor ones fitted well, and I was able to get my notebook computer, accessories, all my clothes and some cycle tools and spares in these without anywhere near filling them, or approaching the load limit of 10Kg (total weight of the loaded front bags was about 5.5Kg). I'm not all that happy with the folding rear carrier, even though it ensures the load is on the suspended part of the bike. The mounting looks a bit insubstantial, and if heavily loaded panniers were fitted I suspect the there would be a tail wagging the dog effect on the handling. I opted instead for the small rear carrier, but due to lack of suspension for the luggage, and heel clearance problems, I decided to limit it to carrying waterproofs or other clothes removed during rides. Instead I fitted a large Karrimor saddlebag, made of light Silvaguard material, mounted using the new Carradice SQR system. This allowed me to carry all the camera gear in here, with the benefit of suspension to give it a less rough ride, with maps and a few other things for rides, such as a second spare tube, a cover for the bike when folded etc. Weight of the rear bag and contents was about 6 Kg.

As I had a cycle space booked, I didn't fold at Wolverhampton, but just loaded the bike in the luggage van and found a seat for the journey to Glasgow. We arrived at Glasgow on time, where the bike was unloaded and the luggage was quickly re-mounted for the short journey to Glasgow Queen Street. I had no problem putting the bike on the train to Balloch, even without folding, and I got there in time to catch an earlier train than I had originally planned. From there my route was via the A811 and the A81 to Aberfoyle. There is an alternative route posted for cyclists, but it is very circuitous and hilly, so I prefer to stick to the main roads, which are not particularly busy, at least at this time of year. Although the main road route is not flat, there are no serious hills, and even with the luggage and the Birdy's rather high bottom gear, it was reasonably easy going.

For the last couple of miles into Aberfoyle, there is a well-surfaced cycle track running close to the main road, so I chose to use this. The photograph shows the Birdy just at the start of this track, complete with two small front panniers, large saddlebag and a waterproof on the small rear carrier.

AberfoyleI had tentatively arranged that I might be collected by car when I got to Aberfoyle, but I arrived so early that I decided that I should ride on to Inversnaid. I stopped briefly in Aberfoyle (well provided with cycle racks, as the picture shows) for refreshment, and then pressed on.

The road from Aberfoyle to Inversnaid has some superb views, and as far as Kinlochard it is quite easy cycling, but after that there is a section with some short, sharp, undulations, followed by a long steady climb up to Lock Arklet. Just before I began this long climb I encountered a chap from the Photographic Centre in a Land Rover, and although he was going the other way, I was able to give him most of my luggage to bring on later, which immediately made riding much easier. Although the Birdy had handled the load well - the front carriers and the saddlebag had no adverse effect on handling - it certainly felt more responsive without the extra weight. The undulating section, while carrying my full load, had reduced me to bottom gear several times, but for the remainder of the ride, without the luggage, I didn't need anything less than second gear.

Loch KatrineThe workshops at Inversnaid were on the use of Photoshop, so there was not a lot of opportunity to go out and take photographs, let alone ride the bike. We had a couple of hours free in the afternoons, but most days I chose to go out on foot to take photographs rather than ride. However, I did manage a couple of short rides, one including a visit to Loch Katrine, though unlike previous years, I did not ride the cycle route alongside the loch and back through Aberfoyle. I did use the one free day between the workshops for a ride, but the wonderful reflections on an absolutely still Loch Arklet meant that I spent quite a lot of time taking photographs there, and so did not cycle as far as I originally intended - just back through Aberfoyle and along the cycle track, and then back to Lake of Menteith. 

Sunset at InversnaidThe weather during the first week had been rather dull, but as most of the time was spent indoors using computers, this was not too disappointing. However, for the second workshop it improved a lot, but again I mainly opted to walk rather than ride during the free time. All too soon the workshops were over, and it was time to load up for the return journey on 21st September. If anything, I had slightly less to take back (having used up some paper I had taken with me), and the front panniers were relatively empty, with just the computer equipment and clothes in them, while the saddlebag was fairly full, with all the camera gear and cycle tools. Unfortunately it was very wet when I set out for the return journey, and it rained quite hard and steadily until I had passed through Aberfoyle. However, it then dried up, and when I reached Balloch, I decided not to catch the train, but to cycle all the way into Glasgow. Unlike last time, I reverted to following the cycle route, most of which is not on the road. It is fairly easy riding, but I must admit that I found the whole ride rather tedious - I've done it five times now, so that it is really just a long ride to get from one place to another.
Photograph: A spectacular sunset at Inversnaid..

Much to my surprise, there were lots of Bromptons at Glasgow station, and the train I took back to Wolverhampton started out with no less than 8 cycles in the luggage van - the Birdy, 3 Bromptons and 4 conventional machines. I later discovered that there had been a cycling event in Glasgow. Rather unusually the very amiable senior conductor seemed to take a pleasure in having so many cycles on board, and even asked the Brompton owners to use the luggage van rather than folding and carrying them as hand luggage. Talking at Wolverhampton to the owner of one of the conventional bikes which was on the train, I discovered that he owns a Birdy as well, so folder owners were certainly well represented on this train.

As usual with my visits to the Inversnaid Photography Centre, I had a wonderful time - superb scenery, excellent workshops, great hospitality and wonderful food. I didn't ride very much apart from getting there and back - a total of about 250Km. The Birdy handled the load very well - about 12 pounds evenly distributed between the two front panniers, and slightly more in the saddlebag. The panniers on the low-rider front rack had hardly any effect on the steering, and the quite well loaded saddlebag at the rear did not make its presence felt in any unpleasant way. Using a saddlebag on my earlier Birdy seemed to give a sensation of the tail wagging the dog, but there was no sign of this this time, so I think that the later machines have been stiffened up at the rear end. Although the Birdy is not really suited to carrying large loads in enormous panniers at the rear - the starting point for loading conventional bikes - its luggage capacity is quite respectable if the load is spread between front panniers, under frame bag, saddlebag and rear carrier. I didn't need the under frame bag, my front panniers were nowhere near the maximum permitted weight (10Kg), and the rear rack was barely used. I chose to retain my usual yellow (soft) rear suspension elastomer, and did not regret this, although the brochures suggest that the medium (red) elastomer might be more suitable for my weight plus this amount of luggage. It is my impression that the ride of this Birdy is slightly harsher than my previous one, but it is still very comfortable, both on and off road. It seems particularly at home in light off-road conditions, partly because the Birdy tyres handle these conditions well. Unfortunately on road I still find these tyres rather sluggish, and I eagerly await delivery of the Schwalbe tyre, which I hope will prove better for road use. However, though these Birdy tyres may still suffer rather high rolling resistance on the road, they look as though they will give good life, so far I have not had any punctures (500Km), and they are good for light off-road riding (except wet grass). In all other respects too, the Birdy performed faultlessly, but it is definitely over geared for me, especially when carrying a load in hilly country. I would like to see an option of a 50-tooth chain ring in place of the 56 - the various chain retention equipment (plastic discs either side of the chainring and a small post on the frame) mean that it is difficult for an owner to make this change without some engineering. If r&m would offer an alternative ring, side plates and a modified post for the frame, we could easily have a low gear option. With a 50 tooth ring, this would reduce the standard gears of 30-87 inches to around 27-80, which would suit me better, and I know from talking to other owners that I am not alone in wanting such an option.

Although I did not fold the Birdy in anger for travelling, I did make use of the facility to keep it indoors at the centre during my stay, and it was certainly reassuring to have the ability to fold should I have needed it while travelling. On the rather rough roads, and some cycle track riding, the suspension of the Birdy was welcome, and made for more comfortable riding than on the Airnimal earlier this year, though not up to the standard of the New Series Moulton I used a couple of years ago. It did not roll along on the road as freely as either of these other machines, but off-road it felt more sure-footed (not least due to the tyres), and rather to my surprise it handled the volume and weight of luggage at least as well, and perhaps better.

As I have commented in other recent reports, I think the latest Birdy is much improved over earlier models - the changes may appear quite small, but the overall effect is significant. I am hoping the Schwalbe tyres will give freer running on the road without sacrificing good off-road handling - if so, all that leaves for me to complain about is the absence of a low-gear option - perhaps r&m will address that too in due course.

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Last updated: 24 December 2001