The Folding Society

Issue 30 - 12 July 1999

81 hilly miles on a hot summer's day

Yesterday - Sunday 11th July - I completed the Double Severn Brevet Populaire, the third of these events which I am using to compare the performance of various folders and separables. This was quite a hilly ride, and it was a very hot day, and I was sufficiently tired after it not to feel like sitting down at a computer for several hours to produce FSN 30 - hence this issue is appearing a day late. Although these events provide some interesting rides, and also something of a challenge, I am finding that they can be a bit of a chore, in that they have to be carried out at a specific time, regardless of how I feel, and over a specified route - I like to be able to choose my route as I ride. The distance is also rather more than I am really comfortable with, and the result is that it takes me a couple of days to recover from it - I lost 6 pounds in weight during this last one, and at under 9 stone I really don't need to do this.

A study of the route of the Double Severn had shown that it was quite hilly, and as I had some doubts about whether I had a low enough bottom gear on the bike originally earmarked for the ride (the Moulton AM7, with a 29 inch bottom gear), I had done a recce the previous weekend on a conventional non-folding, larger wheeled bike - see the next topic in this newsletter. Although this confirmed that it was a hilly ride, I decided to continue with the AM7, partly because it was its turn, partly because I felt it really could handle this ride even with this, for me, slightly high bottom gear, and finally because it seemed likely that The Mole and his cronies would make snide comments if I did not use the Moulton.

I slept exceptionally badly the night before the ride, and when I did get up it became apparent that we were in for a hot day, with a quite strong wind which might provide some cooling, but which would also make riding hard work when cycling in to it. Frankly, if I had not been committed to producing this report, I might have cried off. On arriving at the start, after a 6 mile ride, I found a larger number of riders than on previous events I had been to - certainly over 50. All were on conventional bikes, and as at previous events quite a lot were not fitted with mudguards, although the event was designated as one at which mudguards should be fitted. Although mine was the only unconventional bike, as at previous events, it occasioned almost no comment, at least not in my hearing.

The speed at which people were riding was generally between that of the fairly leisurely Redditch Ramble and the quite fast West London ride I had done previously - I was certainly riding in the last quarter of those taking part for the most part, though not last. My ability to keep up, or otherwise, was entirely a function of my own capabilities, and not the the bike. Anyway, it wasn't a race, so that is immaterial, and I completed the ride fractionally inside CENSORED, which had been my target.

This was certainly the hilliest of the BPs I have ridden so far, and it had a few stretches marked with a single arrow on the OS maps, though it did not rate any AA points or a 'Grimpeur' rating, so it was nothing special in Audax terms. The gearing of the AM proved just adequate, though the ascents from the River Severn at Arley and Coalport were hard work, and I barely needed the top gear of 90 inches at any stage - so in retrospect perhaps I should go back from a 48 tooth chainwheel to a 46 on this bike - a sign of age?

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 AM, with its full suspension, was exceptionally comfortable, and apart from general weariness caused by the distance, hills and heat, I would say that I was in better condition at the end than on the Pocket Rocket and Birdy used for the previous two events, or the conventional bike used for the recce. The capacious but extremely light day bag and day bag carrier were plus points for the AM - in view of the weather, I didn't need to carry a lot of additional clothing, but the day bag would easily have held anything I might have needed in different conditions. Not only are the carrier and bag light and capacious, but they fit neatly and unobtrusively behind the seat pillar, and don't hinder the rider at all. I would have been glad of a second bottle cage on this hot day, but there was plenty of room for an additional bottle in the bag. While the portability of the AM in terms of carrying it on public transport, is limited, as at previous BPs I have attended, a large proportion of participants arrived by car, and in the absence of any stations nearby, and no direct bus services from major centres, this is perhaps hardly surprising. As noted in the description of the recce ride I did on a conventional bike, what local train services there are will take bicycles without restrictions, whether folders or not.

So the AM proved ideal for this ride, the only downside being that in true AM7 fashion (actually this bike now runs as an AM8) the chain fell off the chainwheel twice, for no apparent reason when making quite unstressed upward changes in the middle of the gear range. Anticipating hat this might happen, I had a suitable Park tool clipped to the stem, and was able to replace the chain quickly and cleanly.

A fuller report on this event will appear on the web pages within the next few days at

There are two more rides planned in this test series, and although I am finding it rather hard work, I hope to complete the series, barring accidents, particularly inclement weather, or other disasters. Both are in August, the first at Nantwich, and the second at Denham again. Ideally I would have liked to use the SP and a standard Brompton to complete the series, but knowing that the group who ride at Denham go quite quickly, I will probably use the SP at Nantwich and revert to the Pocket Rocket for the Denham ride.

Another test reports on longer rides with folders and separables

A study of the route for the Double Severn ride had indicated that it was quite hilly, and as I was having some doubts about the suitability of the gearing of my bikes for the event, I decided to do a recce the weekend before. For this ride I decided to use a conventional non-folding bike with standard 700c wheels, not just because this gave me ample gearing for whatever conditions might be encountered, but more importantly because I wanted to have available for comparison the results of a ride on a standard bike used under the conditions of these longer folder/separable rides. The bike is question was a Thorn Audax - a machine with a specification particularly suited for this type of ride, but one with which I had no previous experience. I will make a few comments here, but you can find a full report on how the bike performed, and how it compared for this sort of ride with the folders I had used on the previous Brevet Populaires, on the web pages at

The bike itself performed very well, and was certainly well suited to this type of ride. I made some use of the 25 inch bottom gear, and also of the 105 inch top gear - a greater range than is available on most of my folders and separables. This ride was certainly hillier than either of the other BP rides I had done, and the weather was quite hot, so that by the end I was feeling quite weary. In fact I diverted from the official route towards the end, to avoid a steep climb back from the official start/end point into Dudley, and I used first a towpath for 5 miles and then the train for a 5 mile stretch from Wolverhampton to Tipton. Portability was not an issue on this ride, as I was able to ride to the start point, but as it happened I did take this non-folder on a train part of the way.

Based on this ride and the two previous and one subsequent Brevet Populaires, I would say that the standard non-folding, larger wheeled bike did have a performance advantage over the folders and separables for this kind of ride. However, the difference compared with the Moulton and Pocket Rocket was quite small. The folder/separables of course have other advantages - the Moulton had the most comfortable ride, excellent luggage capability for this kind of day ride, and a degree of portability, while the Pocket Rocket had a good degree of portability for train travel. Don't forget, though, when considering portability, that I did take the Thorn on a local train during the outing, and that St John Street Cycles, who manufacture the Thorn, can supply it with S & S couplings, which allow it to be split into two (rather large) pieces for transport. I would also add that I believe that any performance advantage enjoyed by the conventional bike is very largely due to the fact that there is better choice/availability of components than for small wheelers, notably in terms of tyres and gears.

The previous rides were done on the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket and a Birdy Red, and you can read the full reports of all the rides on the web pages at

120 miles with an SP Brompton

The Brompton is a splendidly practical machine, but for those who cycle for the pleasure of cycling, and/or cover higher mileages, rather than just using it to get from A to B, there are some improvements which could be made. Inevitably these would increase the price, and would not be of interest to many owners, so it is really not surprising that Brompton have not yet produced a model to suit these people.

Those looking for a machine which is more suited to this type of riding have in the past had to look elsewhere - often at the Birdy - and suffer the consequences of much less convenient folding and less versatile luggage carrying capability. Now that Steve Parry has produced a much modified Brompton, to be known in future as the SP, those who want a Brompton but who want to ride further, faster, and with more pleasure, have a machine available to them. The first three of these machines were modified Bromptons, and hence were known as Brompton SPs, or SP Bromptons, but in future Steve will be building machines from scratch, using frame parts supplied direct by Brompton, and these will be known simply as SPs. I have the third of the SP Bromptons, and in two weeks have completed 120 miles. A full report on the machine can be found on our web pages at As it runs to 5 pages of A4, I'm not going to reproduce it here in FSN, but I will very briefly summarise some of the main findings below. I would urge readers to look at the full report on the web pages.

What needs to be stressed is that the standard Brompton does the job for which it is intended brilliantly, and at a reasonable price, and any negative comments really stem from the fact that it is so good that people wish to extend its use outside its basic design and manufacturing specifications. Similarly, where I have made any negative comments on the SP, these stem from the limitations within which the modifications have been carried out - for example, retaining the strengths of the original Brompton design, using standard cycle components, and retaining major structures such as the Brompton rear triangle.

Steve's main modifications are to the gearing (7-speed derailleur), brakes (V-brakes) and handlebar stem (now uses a suspension seatpost, which gives suspension but also does not bend as the Brompton one does). However, there are countless detail changes, all worthwhile and greatly improving the bike.

Good points of the SP (with particular reference to the standard Brompton)

  1. Gears closer and much better spaced
  2. Gear change light, smooth and reliable (not that this is a problem with the Brompton)
  3. Brakes much more powerful and very progressive
  4. Handlebar suspension deals well with small, medium road defects
  5. Rear triangle retaining clip makes it much easier to manoeuvre the bike
  6. Handlebar stem much stiffer
  7. Lighter - my SP is about 2 pounds lighter than my Brompton

Drawbacks of the SP

  1. Need to put in gear 1, 2 or 3 when folding
  2. Position of pedals quite critical when folding as cannot move them when folded with chain loose
  3. Seatpost slightly awkward to lower to lock folded bike - need to lift rear wheel, which may be dirty, up against frame tube
  4. Handlebar suspension not very effective on coarse road dressings - but what is?
  5. Cannot change gear when stationary - a basic constraint of derailleur gearing
  6. Hook retaining rear triangle must be released when folding, and can be bent if not clipped in place when unfolding (I have now filed mine slightly to overcome this)
  7. Gear mechanism very close to tyre in bottom gear (unavoidable in shoe-horning a 7-speed derailleur into the standard rear triangle).

The bike runs very freely and smoothly on the road, and seems to require much less pedalling effort. The gears give a good, well spaced range, and engage very easily. The V-brakes are extremely powerful, and the suspension stem definitely gives a better ride, and eliminates the flexing of the handlebars. Virtually none of the best points of the standard Brompton are lost.

The real comparison should be not so much with a standard Brompton, but with other folders, particularly the Birdy. The Birdy still probably has a marginally better ride and more comfortable riding position, but the differences are very small. It is probably also rather better when ridden off-road. However, when the superior folding, better luggage capacity, steel frame and all the other advantages of the SP are taken into account, I would rate the SP as a much better bike overall. Incidentally, having mentioned the steel frame, when I weighed my Birdy Red against the SP in true road-going form, the SP was very marginally lighter.

More reports on the SP will appear when I have had a chance to cover more miles, and I hope to include it in my series of test of folders on longer rides, probably early next month. In the meantime, please see the full report on the web pages. at


A note for those lucky enough to own a NS Moulton: some machines have apparently been fitted with a rather flexible type of mudflap, while others have a more rigid type. If you own a machine with the more flexible type, you are advised to cut it down to 1.5 inches, to avoid the possibility of it concertinaring up under the mudguard with disastrous consequences.

I think this is a very sound piece of advice which owners of OTHER bicycles might like to take heed of. It has struck me that this is a real danger with this type of mudflap, whatever the bicycle to which it is fitted. Mud has got behind the mudflap on the front of my Brompton, and I have had worries that the same thing could easily happen to this.

We hear that another issue of The Moultoneer will be rolling off the editor's laser printer in the near future, so members of the Moulton Bicycle Club should be able to look forward to receiving it within a week or so.

Bike Fridays

The fact that I have been using the SP and the Moulton does not mean that my Bike Fridays have been neglected, and both the Pocket Rocket and the Newt (New World Tourist) have had a few modifications, and of course have been ridden as well!. In the light of the excellent performance of suspension seat post used as a handlebar stem on the SP, I decided at long last to fit the similar suspension seat post to the Newt, but in its intended position - I have had this post for many months, but for various reasons I had not got around to fitting it. It does result in a slight increase in weight, but it is quite effective in reducing the jarring on rough surfaces. The movement is quite short, and I am not conscious of the varying pedal to saddle distance. For pure road riding I would probably not bother with it, but when there is some off-road work to be done as well, as on towpaths or a couple of planned rides later this year, I thin the improvement is worthwhile. Of course the jarring to the hands and shoulders from the bars is not improved - that needs some further investigation. the Newt has also been used as a test bed for a BikeBrian - see next section.

While considering which bike to use for the Double Severn BP, it crossed my mind to use the very light and responsive Pocket Rocket, the principal problems being that the bottom gear, 30 inches, was even higher than the AM, and the top gear rather lower. I have therefore restored the original 53/39 chainwheel in place of the 52/42, although this meant fitting a long arm rear changer. The gear range is now about 28-88 inches - still relatively limited compared with the conventional Thorn Audax described earlier, but a the equivalent of about one more gear than I had before. In the event I did not use the Rocket for the Double Severn, but I feel the range does now suit my needs better, at the expense of having to fit the new long arm rear mech, and on the rides I have used it on so far it seems to have had no negative effects, while giving me more confidence in being able to handle hills - up and down - more comfortably. Personally I find the psychology is actually quite important - I feel much more comfortable, and really do seem to have less trouble with hills, if I have one gear in reserve!

For gadget freaks

The Psion Series 5mx
In the last issue we mentioned, for those of you with an interest in other folding and portable products, that Psion was launching its upgraded palmtop computer, the 5mx. Mine has now arrived, and it is certainly far quicker at starting applications (not that it was slow before), and the screen legibility is significantly improved, even if still less than perfect. The main problem for me has been in loading the accompanying web browsing and other software from CD. Existing Series 5 owners who loaded their applications onto the new machine without doing a full installation have had problems, and virus checkers and other programs running on the host PC have also interfered with the loading of the software from the CD. After several attempts I finally overcame all these problems, and the 5mx is proving even more useful than the Series 5.

The BikeBrain
A new product which has recently been launched which is of interest to cyclist with an enthusiasm for gadgets, particularly those who own a Palm Pilot palmtop rather than (or as well as!) a Psion, is the BikeBrain. This allows the Palm Pilot/Palm III etc (currently not the Palm V though) to be used as a cycle computer, recording all the usual information and displaying it not only in numbers, but also graphical form. It can also be used to store route information (textual), which is then displayed and scrolled as the ride progresses, so that it shows the next action you need to take. The statistics of the ride can be uploaded from the Palm to a PC at the end of the ride and displayed in graphical form. Route information (the distance at which changes of direction, and that direction, are required) can be stored during a ride, and can be uploaded for future use. Route information can be set up on a PC for downloading into the Palm, or can be downloaded from a web site, although as this is an American device, all the routes available at present are in the USA. During the ride the BikeBrain is mounted on the handlebar stem (preferred) or bars on a slightly clumsy bracket via a (non-waterproof) transparent case, and is coupled via a connector and lead to a fairly conventional sensor, with a magnet mounted on the wheel. This is not a GPS device, but it should be noted that GPS devices are available that can be connected to a Palm, and there is also a Europe Route planner available for the Palm.

A brief test of the Bike Brain showed that it did everything claimed for it, and although it is bigger than a conventional cycle computer, it does a lot more, and of course the Palm serves as your address book, telephone directory, diary and a lot more as well. I thought the mounting was a bit crude, the display is rather less clear than a conventional cycle computer, and is more susceptible to heat, and the case is not waterproof (I believe a waterproof version is planned). Battery consumption of a Palm in normal use is extremely low by computer standard, but in bike computer mode it has to be running continuously, and battery life of 20-30 hours (AAA bateries) is very high by cycle computer standards. Nevertheless it is very interesting, and gadget freaks who own a Palm already might well be very tempted. Mention is being made of a future version incorporating input from a heart rate monitor, and presumably height measurement would be another possible future feature. The Bike Brain is not perfect, but it certainly works, and demonstrates all sorts of possibilities for the near future.

More advantages of owning a folder

Local trains in our area carry all types of bicycle at any time without the need to book or pay, and with no restrictions on numbers. This might suggest that a folder is not really necessary, but restrictions still apply on expresses, and when there are disruptions and passengers are transferred to buses, which do not take conventional cycles, having a folder is still a big advantage. 5th July was such an occasion, and I twice had the opportunity to take advantage of the portability of a folder. You can read the details of these added advantages of using a folder on our web pages at Incidentally, this and the preceding item were composed on a Palm III palmtop computer during a disrupted train journey on 12 July. Unfortunately the problems on this occasion did not give folders, or owners of any type of bicycle, any advantage!


Saturday 17th July - San Francisco Summer Ride
Gather at 9:30 am, roll out at 10:00am. Meet at the front of the San Francisco Ferry Building at the base of Market Street. The route will be "Good 'ol G.G. Bridge to Sausalito and Strawberry Point". The idea is that after plummeting down into Sausalito, riders will get picnic lunches and then ride out to Strawberry point. There is a beautiful park out there reputedly only known to folding bike types, and empty of summer hordes. For more information, e-mail Tom Vogt ( or call (510-237-7380)

Saturday 24th July - Devon Folders
Reading through the Folding Society News page in the latest issue of A to B, we came across an event which we had not heard of previously (!), but now we know about it we are pleased to be able to include it in our events list. A new group meets on Saturday 24th July - the Devon Folders. Meet at Exeter Mud Dock cafe at 11-ish for a circular ride of about 8 miles to a well-stocked public house for a hearty lunch, and return via the Topsham ferry. Call Tim Pestridge on 01626 873800 or 07970 556035 for details.

The Lancaster Cycling Weekend 30th July - 2nd August 1999
No CycleFest this year, so this seems to be the alternative. Further details are available in the provisional programme on our web pages at

Saturday 31 July - Ledbury Herefordshire Ride
Meet at Ledbury Fire Station, Bye Street (free car park behind, and not far from the station) at 10.00am for 10.30 start. A 20 mile ride. Further information from John Sewell, Tel: 01432 851537. [Information provided by The Moulton Bicycle Club).

Bike Friday European Meeting, The Netherlands, 31 July to 1 August
There will be a Bike Friday Meeting in the Netherlands on Saturday 31 July and Sunday 1 August. This year's event will be in the Arnheim/Nijmegen region, and the plan is to stay in a youth hostel. There will be touring and sightseeing, and a visit to the Dutch National Bicycle Museum Velorama in Nijmegen. Although intended for Bike Fridays in particular, Enno Roosnik indicates that other cycles will be welcome. For more information, contact Enno at

Sunday 15 August - Chichester Harbour Ride
25 miles approx Meet Chichester Railway Station 10am for 10.30 start. Further details from Eric Jones, Tel 01903 782631. [Information provided by Moulton Bicycle Club]

Bike Friday Homecoming, 20-22nd August
Euegene, Oregon. More information from

Moulton Bicycle Club Bradford on Avon Weekend, 4-5th September
The annual Moulton event at the home of Dr Alex Moulton, The Hall, Bradford on Avon. More details later. This is of course strictly a Moulton only event.

A Canal Holiday
Member Bob Hutton has asked us to mention this event in September.

"A one or two week holiday aboard the Narrow Boat 'Silas', commencing Saturday 4 and/or 11 September 1999. This will be as 'As it comes' holiday, rather than highly organised, so bring your folder and let's see how we go. £65 per person per week covers the boat and fuel. Folding Society members and families only please."

Contact Bob Hutton, [removed], first come first served.

29 November - 3 December - Portmeirion
The very popular autumn Folding Society gathering at Portmeirion will be taking place as usual - this will the fourth year. If you have been before, then you will know what to expect, and I'm sure you will be planning to come again this year. If you haven't been before, please give it a try, it's an ideal spot for an autumn/winter break with lots of good company, and we have had excellent weather every time so far, despite it being quite late in the year. This is another fairly informal event, and the booking of houses at Portmeirion is done by individuals. As explained in a previous issue of FSN, A to B have agreed to act as a clearing house in helping those who have booked houses find people to share them, or those who want to share to find people with space, so contact them if you need help in this respect. It's important that enough people book houses in time, and the place can fill quite quickly, so don't delay in making arrangements. You can contact A to B at

Folding Society News No 30 - Supplement

In the day since the appearance of FSN No 30, there have been a number of developments which are worthy of comment - hence this supplement.

The BikeBrain

In the report on the BikeBrain, I referred to the initial tests of it fitted on a Bike Friday NWT, which was fitted with a swan-neck stem, necessitating mounting it on the handlebars. The preferred location quoted by the supplier is the handlebar stem, and having now tried it there on the Moulton AM7, the mounting is much neater and a good deal steadier and more satisfactory. The size of the unit is also much less noticeable when mounted here. Unfortunately on bikes with a very short stem, or lascking a conventional stem, this mounting position may not be practical. On a bike with a rising stem, such as fitted to many mountain bikes, it is probably even better, as it will be angled to improve visibility by the rider. On the AM Moulton, the very slender forks make the mounting of the sensor, which has a profiled base, rather more awkward than on the Bike Friday. Further reports will be posted here in due course, as part of an extended section on cycle computers in our web pages. We also hear that Recumbent UK is to publish a full report on the Bike Brain soon. In the meantime, if you want more information you can refer to the BikeBrain web pages, the address of which we omitted in FSN 30 - it is

The SP - a second opinion

Since I produced the report on the first 120 miles with my SP, John Pinkerton has added his comments based on a ride of nearly 30 miles on the same machine. Like myself, John was very impressed. You can find his additional comments on the updated web page at

Errant chains

In my report on the Double Severn ride, I referred to the fact that the AM7 shed its chain twice during the event, and that this is a fairly common problem with AM7s. By return I received an email from Doug Milliken, informing me that a version of the chainkeeper from the New Series Moulton is now available for older AM7s and AM8s. I have confirmed with the ever-helpful Shaun Moulton that this is the case, and I now have one on order. When I have had a chance to test it, I will report back. Although I have found the AM7 particularly troublesome in this respect, it is certainly not unique, and during the last month I have also had chains come adrift on the Birdy Red, Bike Friday Pocket Rocket and the Brompton (during unfolding).

A photograph has now been added to the report on the Double Severn event, which contains something of interest to keen Moultoneers.

Contributing material for FSN

We would very much welcome articles, photographs or any other material for inclusion in future issues of FSN, or on our web pages. Please send any material to The Folding Society at the address given below.

The Folding Society
If you have any news or other information of interest to other members of the Folding Society, please email us at the above address.

If for some reason you wish to be removed from this mailing list, please send a message to this effect to the same email address.

All information given here is provided in good faith, but no responsibility can be taken for errors or for any consequences arising from the publication of this information.

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Last updated: 13 July 1999/20 April 2004