The Folding Society

A Moulton AM7 on the Double Severn Brevet Populaire, 12 July 1999

This was the third of a series of Brevet Populaires which I am 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). To put this ride in context, I would recommend that readers at least glance through the previous reports, particularly the one on a conventional Thorn Audax, which was a recce of the route of the Double Severn ride..

Above: The start of the Double Severn BP. Although most people seemed to have arrived by car, mercifully not all the cars in teh background belong to the entrants - there was a car boot sale going on as well!

Choice of cycle

It was while I was riding the AM7 earlier in the year that I decided to do a number of Brevet Populaires this year (1999). originally the intention was to use the AM7 for all of the rides, but it then occurred to me that these events would form a useful basis for comparing a number of different folding and separable bicycles, not just from the point of view of their riding characteristics, but also getting them to and from the event, and carrying the necessary luggage required for a day ride. The AM7 would have been used on the first ride in the series, the Redditch Ramble, but for the fact that at the time I needed an article for the Bike Friday newsletter, so a Pocket Rocket was used. The second event, at Denham, involved long distance train travel, so it seemed to make sense to use one of the more portable machines for that event, the Birdy Red. Hence it was only on this third ride that the AM7 was given a chance to have an outing. This was a local ride, starting in Wall Heath, a few miles outside Dudley. There are no nearby stations, and buses are not very convenient, but the start point was within easy riding distance for me, so that the question of portability did not arise. When the route sheet arrived, it became evident that this would be quite a hilly ride, which caused me some concern as I'm not very good on hills, and the AM7 currently has a 29 inch bottom gear, which is a little on the high side for me when riding in hilly areas, even with only a light load. This was one of the main reasons why I did a recce of the route the weekend before the event, using for that ride a conventional bicycle (Thorn Audax), both because of its wider gear range and as a means of establishing how a conventional large wheeled bike compares with folders and separables for this type of ride. Details of that recce are also available here (see the index to these rides), and since it followed the same route, I suggest that readers may care to look at that report, as I do not propose to repeat general route information here.

The recce confirmed that the ride was quite hilly, by my standards, and on it I used the 25 inch bottom gear on the ascents from the River Severn at Arley and Coalport. I did consider using the Moulton APB instead of the AM7, as its Sachs 3x7 gives a bottom gear of around 23 inches, but it is quite a heavy bike, and although I also seriously considered using the Bike Friday new World Tourist, with similar gearing, I also finally decided that the more responsive and comfortable ride of the AM7 outweighed its gearing disadvantage. other machines I considered while worrying over the hills were the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket - a fast, light bike, but with little advantage in terms of gearing - or the conventional bike on which I had ridden the recce. In the end, though, I decided that the AM should have its turn, not least because I reckoned that even with the higher gearing I could get up hills with it where I would need lower gears on other bikes.

{AM7} The AM7, pictured a few days before the Double Severn ride, at Badger, on one of my favourite rides. We went within a couple of miles of here during the Double Severn ride. The AM7 is in almost identical configuration to on the Double Severn ride. Keen eyed Moultoneers may note something unusual and of particular interest on the bike (no, not the Karrimor jacket!)- more news of this very soon!


This AM7 had its gears replaced a few years ago, and with its Shimano 8-speed system, with the Moulton 9/10/11 cluster, is in effect, at least from the point of view of gears, and AM8. However, as reported in FSN, a few weeks previously I had replaced some of the gear sprockets to eliminate a very large step in the gearing (a 13 to 17 tooth sprocket jump), which has provided a much more even spread of gears from about 29 inches to 90 inches. The only other preparation was to fit the day bag on the special day bag carrier. The carrier is very light, and the day bag itself is incredibly thin and light, but quite strong so long as you do not try to carry anything sharp in it, such as a screwdriver without a protector (eg cork) on the end. The bag is very capacious, and the whole system mounts very unobtrusively behind the seat pillar, where it is held very firmly and does not interfere with leg movement, nor does it in any way affect the handling of the bike. The day bag system was far better than anything else available for any of the other bikes for this type of ride. It very easily held everything needed for this ride, with plenty of space to spare had I needed to carry additional clothing - dry sunny weather was the order on the day, so additional clothing was the last thing I needed on this occasion. I would have welcomed a second set of bottle cage bosses for this longer day ride, but there was ample space for a second bottle in the day bag.

Getting to the event

As has been mentioned already, this event started within fairly easy cycling distance of my home. Actually the distance to the start on the route I used was 6 miles, rather more than I had expected, and it involved climbing up into Dudley and then making a longish quite steep descent - very bad news for the return journey later in the day! On a Sunday public transport to get to a 9.00 start would be a problem, and anyway thee are no stations in the immediate vicinity, so it was no surprise to find that as at other events I have attended a large proportion of people arrived by car.

The ride

There was a bigger turn out for this event that the two previous ones I had attended - I didn't get an official number, but there must have been over 50 riders. Everyone else was on conventional bikes, and as at the previous events, quite a number were using road bikes without mudguards, despite the event supposedly being one at which mudguards should be fitted.

The weather was sunny and quite hot for this ride, but with a breeze which provided some cooling, but also made it harder work riding at times when cycling into it. Due to the numbers, we were sent off from the start in groups of about 20, and I was the last of the second group to depart. The pace was generally higher than at the Redditch ramble, but rather more gentle than at the Denham ride. Most people were going just a little faster than I find comfortable, particularly on what is for me a long ride, and there were some who were going much faster. After about 1/4 distance I did not see much of other riders, apart from at the three control points and soon after them - I tend to stop only very briefly at the controls, so faster riders overtake me again if they take longer stops. The route ascended fairly gently - but with a few intervening sharp descents and ascents - as we approached Upper Arley, and then descended sharply to Arley, where the River Severn was crossed via a foot bridge. The sharp climb from Arley towards the Wyre Forest and Cleobury Mortimer was one of the sections I had not been looking forward to, but I climbed it without too much difficulty by engaging bottom gear and plugging away steadily. A short stretch of quiet B roads was followed by a return to beautiful country lanes with magnificent views - a feature of the whole ride - as we continued a generally gentle climb up towards Brown Clee. The first control stop was in Ditton Priors, just below the main Brown Clee hill, and I took a short stop here. In this hot weather I find I need to be careful to drink enough - normally on rides I need to drink very little - but I don't like drinking before or during up hill stretches, as the liquid seems to sit heavily on the stomach, and as we had been climbing nearly all the way to Ditton Priors this had made it particularly awkward to avoid risks of becoming rather dehydrated.

From Ditton Priors there were some exhilarating descents (and a few less exhilarating ascents) as we dropped down to the foot of Wenlock Edge, only to have to climb back up to the top of the Edge before descending again to the second control, at Much Wenlock, where I took a light lunch of a cheese sandwich plus more (non-intoxicating) liquid refreshment. The next section of the ride, to Brosely, was relatively flat, before a sharp descent to Coalport, where the Severn was crossed for the second time using the old bridge - only one vehicle allowed on it at a time. Then came the sharp climb which I had been dreading, and I was almost reduced to engaging my 'two feet' gear at one point, but not quite. Once the hill had been climbed, I was on quite familiar territory, and I knew that it would be reasonably flat back to Wall Heath. The final control stop was at Cosford, where one rider needed some repairs after apparently coming off at some stage - he later overtook me, riding strongly, so he can't have done too much damage.

By the time we returned to Wall Heath, I was certainly feeling quite weary, and I still had to face the 5 miles back into Dudley, nearly all up hill, and quite steep. Although I was one of the slower riders, I still completed the ride just within the time I had set for myself, and well within the time requirements for the ride (averaging 15-30 kph). And how did the bike perform? The fact that I have not mentioned it apart from passing references to gears, is actually high praise and I reserve my remarks for the comments section below.

Although this was a hilly and quite tiring ride, the beautiful countryside made up for this, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

After the event

The climb back into Dudley was very hard work after a ride of this length, and particularly in view of the heat. Normally I avoid this route back into Dudley as it is one of the steepest, but the alternatives all involve approaching from a different direction, and would have involved riding about another 10 miles. By the time I got home I had certainly had enough riding for the day, and I didn't really feel like sitting at a computer for several hours either, so issue 30 of Folding Society news was delayed for a day. The total distance I had ridden, including getting to and from the event, was 81 miles, and although this is not much more than on the previous two events, the much hillier terrain, the heat and the breeze certainly made it significantly more difficult than the previous rides. These conditions, plus the speed of riding, probably make this the hardest day ride I have done - the only significantly higher mileage I have done in a day was the 100 miles in June last year with the Henshaws, and that was over less hilly terrain, at a gentler pace, and of course I had the benefit on that occasion of excellent company.


Before this ride I was a little concerned as to whether the gearing on he AM7 was going to be low enough for the hills. In fact I need not have worried, although I was only just able to get up the steepest ascent out of Coalport in bottom gear. In view of the fact that I hardly used the top gear, I should probably consider reverting from a 48 tooth chainwheel to a 46 - something I had on the bike for a number of years. The suspension of the AM made this a very comfortable bike for a longer ride of this kind, and it should be no surprise that the AM gave me a better ride than any of the other 3 bikes I have used on BPs or the recce before this.

Another plus point for the AM was the excellent day bag, which is the perfect way of carrying what you need on a ride like this - light, very capacious, and not affecting the handling of the bike, nor impeding leg movement. I actually used this day bag plus a rather large bum bag for a 4 day outing when the NS Moulton was launched, and that included a jacket and tie for the official launch in London; it was a tight fit to get everything in then, but I managed it, and it was a very effective way of carrying things. If the bag had been a little larger, and I had not had the jacket and tie, I would probably have managed that long weekend with only that very light bag and carrier ...

I think I should also comment on the brakes of the AM - some years ago I was involved in a public 'discussion' with Dr Moulton on the performance of the brakes on AMs, back in the days before dual pivots, and when the AM was fitted with CLB brakes. My AM now has dual pivot Shimano 105s, and these not merely overcome what I considered a significant weakness in the early AMs (the performance of the CLBs at the back was on a par with the braking of a standard Brompton), but make the braking of this bike probably the best of any of my bikes. With the 105s, the braking is powerful, very progressive, and easy to control; V-brakes may have more bite, but they can be difficult to use progressively, and can all too easily result in a locked wheel, even when used with care.

The only way in which the AM let me down at all was to behave in true AM7 fashion in that the chain twice came off the chainwheel, both times while making a relatively unstressed upward change in the middle of the gear range. AM7s seem for some inexplicable reason to be prone to doing this, so I carry a tool clipped to the stem which allows me to quickly hook it back on again, usually without getting oily in the process. I think the answer might be to fit a catcher disc on the outside, rather like the one fitted to my Bike Friday New World Tourist (which has 3 x 7 gearing), and if I could get something suitable I would give it a try. See footnote *

As with the other folders and separables I have used on these rides so far, the AM proved well able to cope with the conditions, and performance was not much different from that of a conventional large wheeled bike intended specifically for this type of riding. I believe that any inferiority of this and other high performance small-wheeled folders/separables compared with conventional bikes is largely due to the limited availability/choice of components, particularly things like tyres and gears. From the point of view of riding, the AM was considerably more enjoyable than the Birdy, as one would expect. The Pocket Rocket is probably a more exciting bike to ride, but for longer day rides of this kind the AM is more comfortable, relaxing and in the end more enjoyable. What it does lack of course is the degree of portability of folders, including the fairly bulky pocket Rocket. For this ride this did not matter, nor would it have been important on the Redditch Ramble (where I used local trains, with no bicycle restrictions). Although the ability to fold was in theory significant for the Denham ride, it's worth noting that a number of cyclists with conventional bicycles were using the trains on that occasion without apparently incurring the wrath of the staff on the trains.

Photographs to follow (I took a small conventional camera rather than a digital camera).

Footnote - Errant Chains

To put the problem of the chain falling off on the AM7 in perspective, the Birdy managed to displace its chain during the Denham ride (although this is the first time it has happened on that bike), and my standard Brompton drops its chain sometimes when it is unfolded. I also make a habit of carrying the same chain hook when using the Pocket Rocket, as this too has a tendency to drop the chain when riding. Since mentioning the problem in FSN 30 on 12 July, I have had an email (by return) from Doug Milliken in the USA, who tells me that AM Bicycles now have a version of the NS (New Series) chainkeeper that will work on an AM7/8. I will be investigating this, and I hope to be able to report on its availability/performance in issue 31 of FSN.

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Last updated: 2 September 1999