The Folding Society

West London 4/5 Brevet Populaire, 12 August 1999, on a Bike Friday Pocket Rocket

This was the fifth and final one of a series of Brevet Populaires which I have been riding to test a number of folding an separable cycles on 100km day rides, an average speed of 15-30kph being required (including any time stopped).  A friend (well I thought he was a friend) recently commented that I never use one word when I could use ten, so I will try to keep this short.

Choice of cycle

The original idea was to use 5 different folders for the rides (and a conventional bike for a recce). On the previous rides I used a Bike Friday Pocket Rocket, Birdy Red, Moulton AM7 and Brompton SP. Although I had intended to include a standard Brompton, a previous ride with the group at Denham – location for this final ride – had shown that they ride fast, and the route this time was billed as hilly. Although I felt the standard Brompton could do the ride in the required time, it would hardly be enjoyable, so, needing a bike which could be folded on the train, I opted to use the Pocket Rocket again.


As described previously, the gearing on the Pocket Rocket had undergone another modification, with the 12-28 sprocket now matched to a 53/39 chainwheel in place of the 52/42 used for the Redditch Ramble. The only other concern was luggage – I try to travel light for this sort of event, but make sure that I have everything I might need. This time I opted for the elderly Pakit Wedge bag of about 5 litre capacity, plus a small bum bag.

Getting to the event

The route to Denham was described in a previous report. I cycled 4 miles to Smethwick Galton Bridge, and caught a train (early) to Birmingham Snow Hill. The train left on time, but the first 10 minutes was occupied by trying to fold the Rocket – I had checked that the bars were free the previous day, but I had not checked the rear folding; after some months of not folding, it was very stiff, and in the end I had to remove the rear mudguard and give the rear wheel a hefty kick (dislodging the chain in the process). At least I made the journey more entertaining for other travellers, who must have been less than impressed by the virtues of folding bicycles. Very soon the train slowed to near walking pace, stopped for several minutes, and then proceeded slowly before stopping yet again. An announcement was made, but I was initially far from sure whether the conductor said there was a car or a cow on the line. The conductor was unable to offer any advice on the impact of this on my connections, but a later, clearer, announcement by a different conductor made it clear that the problem had been caused by a cow on the line (dead or alive unspecified), and he stated that an extra stop would be made at High Wycombe. I therefore got off there rather than at Bicester North as originally planned, as my connection at Bicester had been missed. A very helpful member of station staff directed me to a local train with instructions to change at Gerards Cross for a train stopping at Denham. A happy benefit was that I met Brompton owner while waiting at Gerards Cross for the local train. Fortunately I had plenty of spare time in my schedule, and I finally arrived at the start point 30 minutes before the start, and before the event organiser.

The ride

As usual, most people arrived by car

As at the previous Denham ride, most people went off at a speed well beyond my capabilities – the Pocket Rocket certainly was a bit faster than the Birdy I used on the previous Denham ride, but as before the main limitation was my own capabilities or lack of them. In the end I rode nearly all the way round with a chap on a beautiful, but elderly, Hetchins, chrome finished, and largely original equipment apart from a triple chainwheel. I fear I held him back a little. Two navigational errors added 8 miles to the route – over 10% - but I these do not excuse the fact that I was last of the finishers, although still well inside the permitted time for the ride. As before, this is not reflection on folders in general or the Pocket Rocket, but just my feebleness compared with the other participants.

After the event

As on the outward journey, the Rocket was folded with difficulty and covered (with an A to B cover) for the return journey, although the indications seem to be that a conventional unfolded bicycle may be accepted on these journeys at these times. Mercifully we arrived at Snow Hill on time, which gave me an adequate 1 minute to get on a train to Smethwick Galton Bridge, where I was able to get a connection to the local station at Tipton. Then began the most dangerous and stressful part of the day’s travels – the last half mile through Priory Estate, where I was subjected to verbal abuse and nearly knocked of the bike (quite deliberately) at various times by teen (and sub-teen) -agers.


As I had used the Rocket on the first BP, and had been to Denham before (on the Birdy) there is not a lot to add here. The route had some similarities to the previous Denham ride, though it was not identical. The Rocket certainly felt more lively and seemed to roll along significantly more freely than the Birdy, but the absence of suspension certainly made itself felt (mainly through the saddle) in the final stages. Despite the fact that the mileage was higher this time (even before the extra distance resulting from the navigation errors) I seemed to get a second wind at about ¾ distance, and felt quite fresh over the final stages of the ride, which was not the case on the previous occasion.

At the end of the day I had clocked 94 miles (after correction – the Vetta cordless computer on the Rocket reset itself, losing even the calibration factor, on both the outward and return train journeys, due presumably to electrical interference from the power lines on the railway, something that has happened regularly in the past). This is my second highest daily mileage ever, the highest being just over 100 miles on the Bike Friday New World Tourist last year. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that I felt very tired the next day, and even went to sleep again in the middle of the morning.

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Last updated: 2 September 1999