I have now completed the series of Brevet Populaire rides which I have been doing to compare the performance of some folders and separables on longer and faster day rides. I appreciate that many people go longer and faster on folders than these rides involved, but I think the term 'longer and faster' is relevant as some people do regard folders as only being suitable for quite short journeys.
These tests did not produce any really unexpected results. They certainly confirmed that, even with a rather weak and ageing rider like myself, a good folding or separating bicycle is capable of completing these longer rides without any difficulty.
As always, tests of this kind do tend to be influenced by the rider's personal preferences, so please take this into account when reading the comments which follow.
Audax UK, which organises Audaxes and Brevet Populaires in this country, has about double the membership of The Folding Society, A to B and The Moulton Bicycle Club all put together, so it is a well supported group. They run a few hundred events each year in all parts of the country, and the events I rode on had a very good turn out of riders - more than we see at any Folding Society event other than the old Folder Forums. Audax events are certainly popular. I have enjoyed taking part, but personally I prefer to be able to vary my route and pace as I am riding, to suit conditions, scenery, and my feelings, and these events don't allow this. On the events I attended the riders go quite a bit faster than I like to (or can!), and although they are not intended as group rides, it can be a bit discouraging if one cannot keep up and is left trailing around at the end, even though finishing well within the allowed time. Although 100km Brevet Populaires are short in comparison with Audaxes (the shortest of which are 200km), I find that they are rather longer than I am comfortable with for a day ride - I completed them all without any real difficulty, but I was very tired for a few days afterwards, and after the 60 mile mark the riding did start to become rather a chore. Still, this is very much a case of individual preference, and lack of strength and stamina on my part, and I although I can't imagine myself getting heavily involved in the Audax scene, I think I will probably do one or two more rides next year.
There are people who do full length Audaxes riding fixed wheel, but personally I find that on longer rides having well spaced gears with a suitable range is particularly important. I always prefer to pedal at a reasonably high cadence rather than slog along in a high gear, and this seems particularly important for longer rides such as these. All the bikes I used had gearing modified to suit my personal preferences, and in the case of the Moulton AM7 and the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket these rides prompted me to make some overdue modifications. Generally the ratios were very similar on all the bikes, ranging from about 28 inches to the mid 80's, (about 26 to 76 on the Brompton SP). Usually I regard my bottom gear as for emergencies only, and as a psychological boost (it's very reassuring to know that there is still one more gear left), but on all these rides the full range of gears was used. On several of the rides the bottom gear was only just low enough (particularly on the hills at Arley and Coalport rising from the River Severn on the Double Severn event). I could have used a higher top gear at times on all the events, but I'm quite happy to forgo this and coast for a bit in order to have the low gears when I need them. All the bikes I used had pure derailleur gears (no hubs or Sachs 3x7s), but there is no real reason not to use hub gears, though there is a small weight penalty and except in the case of the 3x7 system I find that pure hub gears usually have at least one rather wide gap in the range which does my knees no good. Only the Pocket Rocket had a double chainwheel (Campagnolo gearing), and it offered no wider overall gear range, and made gear changes more awkward, plus the extra weight of the second chainwheel and changer mechanism. The single chainwheel system of the other bikes - 7-speed for the Brompton SP, 8-speed for the Moulton AM7 and 9-speed for the Birdy Red) were simple and reliable, provided an adequate range and were well spaced. The conventional Thorn used for a recce had a triple chainwheel, and although this did give a considerably wider spread of gears, I personally still like the singe chainwheel systems.
Tyres make a big difference to the riding qualities of a bike, and over these distances, all on-road, a low rolling resistance high pressure tyre makes life a lot easier. In fact with all the folders and separables there was very little if any choice available anyway. The Thorn was run on its standard 28mm Panaracer Pasella tyres, which performed at least as well as anything, but there may be other even more suitable tyres for these 700c rims - the choice is enormous. The Bike Friday's IRC 451 sized tyres were also excellent for this road riding - they are also surprisingly good off road in an emergency, though the narrow width and almost smooth tread makes them less than ideal under such conditions, particularly on stones. The Primos also performed well, and the AM Wolbers were also good performers. As always the Birdy was slightly let down (figuratively) by its tyres - they did not feel as free rolling as the others, though they are quite adequate, and are probably happier than any of the others off road. Oddly none of the bikes I used had the 20 inch 406 wheels and tyres - one of the most popular sizes, and with a good choice of tyres, unlike the other smaller wheels. Continental Grand Prix or Schwalbe City Jet (Reportedly no longer in production, but still listed by St Jon Street Cycles in the latest issue of A to B) or Primo tyres would probably be a good choice in this size for this sort of riding.
I only had one puncture in the 6 rides (including the recce on the Thorn) of a total of just under 500 miles. The puncture was in a Primo on the front of the Brompton-SP, and was caused by glass. I wouldn't regard it as being of any significance that it was the Brompton which had this misfortune - I reckon on getting a puncture at least once every 500 miles on average, regardless of what bike I am riding. The Birdy originally did nearly 1000 miles without a puncture, but then more than made up for this in the next 500 miles (half of which was on new tyres)!
I was lucky in that the weather was warm for all these rides, so there was no uncertainty about how much clothing to take to regulate temperature. A rain jacket was taken as a precaution on most rides, though even this was unnecessary for the Double Severn ride. I rode in cycling shorts and a cycling jersey on all the events - I am a late convert to cycling shorts, but I find they are much more comfortable than conventional clothing, even if I do look silly in them at my age and with my physique. I wore Rohan Bags over the shorts on the long train journeys to Denham, which had the significant drawback that I had to carry the Bags as luggage on the ride itself.
Normally on my day rides (usually 40-50 miles) I find I need very little to drink, but I quickly found on these longer and faster rides that I was becoming alarmingly dehydrated. For the later rides I took 2 water bottles, one containing plain water and the other one containing one of these fancy sports drinks, and I usually got through one and a half of these during the ride (plus drinks at the control stops). Folders and separables are unfortunately not well provided with bottle cage mountings, the Bike Fridays being an honourable exception here, with three sets. The conventional Thorn Audax used for the recce ride also had three sets of bosses. The Moulton had a single set, but the Brompton SP and Birdy have no mounting points.
On rides of this kind, one is not carrying much in the way of luggage, but some items are necessary, and one wants to carry these necessities without adding too much to the weight, and without impeding performance. Saddle bags or bar bags are ideal in terms of capacity, but most makes are relatively heavy, and don't improve stability (in the case of bar bags) or can impede leg movement in the case of saddle bags. Quite a popular solution is a rack top bag (such as the Carradice Prima), but this means putting a rear rack on the bike, so that the added weight is about 2 pounds. I experimented with various bags on these rides. The large bum bag I used was extremely uncomfortable on longer rides (I used it partly because it had water bottle space, but water is heavy, so this made it even more uncomfortable), and even a small bum bag seemed to get heavier and more of an obstruction as the ride went on. The Moulton Day Bag and its associated carrier proved by far the best solution on the bikes I tested - very light and completely unobtrusive, but with plenty of capacity. Usually I comment unfavourably on the luggage carrying capabilities of the Birdy, but in fact the small rear rack, with a small bag mounted on top of it, proved rather effective in this instance.
The bikes were for the most part used on different routes under different conditions, so direct comparisons present some problems. However, I would rate the conventional Thorn (used to recce one of the rides, and also available with S&S couplings, making it a separable), the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket and the Moulton AM7 as near equals in terms of suitability for these rides. The AM7 was best in terms of comfort and luggage carrying, while the Pocket Rocket probably offered the most encouragement for riding a little bit harder, and the conventional Thorn had the best range of gearing. Of course, of these bikes only the Pocket Rocket was easily transportable on long distance train services, as it is the only true folder, but as the individual ride report indicate, quite a number of these rides could be reached by train without the need to fold. The Brompton-SP and Birdy certainly folded much better, but for a ride of this length I would be prepared to sacrifice something in ease of folding for an easier ride. In fact both the Birdy and Brompton-SP proved more than adequate for the task, though not surprisingly they did feel rather slower and had slightly less suitable riding positions. I would rate the Brompton in this SP form as better of the two bikes for this kind of ride, although the Birdy would be better than a standard Brompton due to its more suitable gearing and better braking.
The ones that got away
Originally I had it in mind to use 5 different folders and separables, but in the end I used four, the Pocket Rocket going out twice, and an additional recce ride was done on a conventional Thorn Audax (also available with S&S couplings, making it a separable). I had intended to use a standard Brompton 5-speed for one of the rides, but in the end I decided that I need the extra, more evenly spaced gears if the ride was not to become a chore, so the Brompton was omitted. This is the result of my weakness, rather than anything else. With hindsight, the Redditch Ramble in particular would not have presented any problems with the standard Brompton, though the faster Denham events would certainly have been hard work.
The fact that it was the Pocket Rocket which got two outings was something of an accident rather than indicating that it was significantly better: the Moulton AM7 would have been used on the first ride but for the fact that I needed an article for the Bike Friday User Group UK Newsletter, and when it came to the final ride at Denham I needed a bike which was reasonably easy to get on the trains, and which would go fast.
The 19 year old 3-speed Micro and single speed 35 year old Moulton Stowaway were never considered, for obvious reasons. The Moulton APB and Bike Friday New World Tourist could have been included, but were heavier than their brethren (Moulton AM7 and Pocket Rocket) and not likely to be radically different in performance, so that is why they were not included. Other bikes which I would have particularly liked to have tried, but which I did not have access to, were a New Series Moulton (of course!), Bernds (perhaps) and the new Strutt.
After this experience, I probably will ride an occasional further BP, but I do find the distance and speed are rather greater than I am comfortable with, and I definitely prefer rides on which I can do what I feel like, rather than having to follow a set route.
With a free choice of which bike to use, the Thorn, Moulton AM7 or Bike Friday Pocket Rocket would be the most likely choices. The Brompton SP acquitted itself very well indeed, and I might well opt for this for ease of transport - I probably felt less tired after the ride on the SP than on any of the other bikes. The Birdy is probably the least likely choice, but it handled the conditions perfectly adequately. Of the three leaders, I would probably use different bikes on different occasions just for a change, and depending on whether there were any difficult train journeys. The Moulton would be the most comfortable, and if I were tackling a longer Audax this might well be a consideration, but over a 100km distance and at these speeds, coupled with the ability to get the bike on trains relatively easily, the overall vote would probably go to the Bike Friday, at least in Pocket Rocket form. However, if I hadn't sold it last year, perhaps the Moulton Jubilee L would have emerged as the clear favourite, given the comfort and excellent luggage carrying capacity.
Folding Society home page | Return to tests page | Brevet Populaire tests
Copyright ©1999 Ferrets Anonymous
Last updated: 20 August 1999