This ride was carried out as part of a series of 100km rides which were done for pleasure, but also to compare 5 different folding and separable cycles.
As this was my first Brevet Populaire (BP) I wanted to make sure that I had one of my better bikes for longer rides, to make the ride as easy for me as possible. Originally I had intended to use the Moulton AM7, but once I had decided to use these events to test a number of different folders and separables, the choice was widened. Bearing in mind that some of the machines do not fold as well as others, it makes sense to use the less portable ones for those events where folding would not be necessary, this being one of those events. Of the bikes available, I would personally rule out both the Moulton Stowaway (single gear) and the Micro - no doubt some people (possibly even I) could do this distance on one of those machines in the time allowed, but I would not consider it sensible to try to do so except in an emergency. The Moulton AM7 would still have been my choice, but for the fact that I was finishing off an issue of the Bike Friday User Group UK newsletter, and I needed another article for it. Having checked that the route was not particularly hilly, I therefore chose the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket for this BP.
My Pocket Rocket normally runs without mudguards whenever possible, but as they were obligatory for this event I fitted the set that actually belong to my New World Tourist - a very easy job as only one bolt is required to fix each mudguard. I was slightly worried whether the mudguards would be considered legal, as the regulation call for 'full mudguards', but no inspection of the bikes was made, so no questions were asked.
My Rocket has Campag Mirage (1997) 8 speed gearing (it was bought second-hand, so this was not my choice), and I decided I needed to slightly lower the bottom gear. As Campag do not cater at all well for lower gears, I ended up modifying the cluster using sprockets from Highpath Engineering (a useful place to go for special transmission requirements, tel: 01570 470035), and this resulted in gears from approximately 30in to 87in - still a bit limited, but the best I could manage without completely replacing the transmission.
In terms of luggage, the Rocket is capable of carrying conventional panniers on the rear carrier, and the bike can also be bought with front pannier rack fixings, though mine does not have these. I didn't need this much capacity, so what I was looking for was a light system to carry limited luggage. Bar bags are a nice idea, but I find they get in the way, and affect the stability of the bike, particularly with small wheels. A saddle bag is also a potentially useful solution, but they are not easy to come by nowadays, and the excellent Carradice models are very heavy, and not easily detached unless the very heavy quick release is used. I therefore opted for a large Topeak expand wedge for tools etc, and a largish bum bag for everything else - maps, emergency rations, lock, jacket and digital camera.
Redditch is quite easy to get to by train from where I live - a 1.5 mile ride to Tipton, train to Birmingham New Street (every 30 minutes), change platform, train to Redditch (every 30 minutes), and a 1 mile ride to the start point. Not only that, but the local trains carry bicycles free and with no restrictions, so there was no need to fold. A folded Bike Friday is a bulky item, not easily carried around a station unless you are bigger and stronger than I am, and not easy to find space to stow on many main line trains, so I was very glad not to have to fold it. I was also able to avoid taking a cover for the bike. For a ride of this length I would regard the folding of the Friday as acceptable, but certainly for shorter rides where train travel is involved, and there are restrictions involved so that folding has to be carried out, I would usually choose a Brompton or Birdy in preference to a Friday to involve the chore of folding and the difficulty of carrying and storing it.
Train times are such that there is not quite time to switch platforms at Birmingham New Street between the two trains, necessitating nearly a half hour wait - very frustrating. I was in luck though, as the train from Tipton got in one minute early, and I was just able to get on the next Redditch train, which meant that I arrived half an hour earlier than I intended. The ride from Redditch station to the start point was accomplished easily enough, and I collected by Brevet card and watched some riders depart on the 200km Audax, and inspected the bikes as they arrived for the Brevet Populaire.
30 riders were doing the full 200km Audax, and exactly the same number were doing the BP. The large majority seemed to arrive for the event by car. Mine was the only machine I saw which was not conventional, though there were at least two tandem and a tricycle (all of conventional design). Rather to my surprise no one passed any comment at all on the Rocket throughout the event.
Riders take part in these events as individuals, so they do not ride as a single group. However, as one would expect, they tend to gather into small groups. I started with a group of about 9 others, and rather to my surprise I found their pace uncomfortably slow; I was reluctant to go off ahead on my own though, as by staying in the group I did not have to worry about finding the route! After about 12 miles we encountered the first real hill, and that rapidly split the group up, and I continued from there to the first control point with two other people riding at a rather faster pace which suited me. This first fixed control point was in Evesham, but as it seemed rather early for refreshments I did no more than get my card stamped before riding on, now on my own.
well as the fixed control points, there are usually information controls
on these rides, points at which some simple information has to be
gathered. During the pause to note the Saturday post collection times, and
take a photograph, at the first of these controls some other riders caught
up with me, although I left this information control on my own again.
On the way to the second control I made an unscheduled stop when I came to
a road with the name Friday Street - a photograph was obviously called
for, just what I needed for the newsletter.
I arrived at the second control, there were no other riders there, and I
only stopped for a coffee and a sandwich. A few other riders were arriving
as I prepared to leave, and a very light drizzle was starting. Up to then
the weather had been very pleasant despite an extremely bad weather
forecast, and although this drizzle continued until the finish, it never
became any worse, and it was only just necessary to wear a waterproof
jacket. The final stages back into Redditch were on rather busier roads -
up to then we had been mostly on very pleasant, quiet, country roads, with
little traffic and some good views. During this final leg of the event I
unexpectedly encountered two Folding Society members out for a ride on
their conventional tandem and stopped for a couple of minutes for a chat.
This, plus missing the turning into the headquarters and doing an extra
mile, meant that I just missed getting round in the target time I had set
myself of censored [Audaxes and BPs are not races, and it is
therefore not appropriate to quote times etc]. However, I was still well
inside the maximum time allowed.
From the point of view of the performance of the Rocket, the ride had been entirely uneventful.
An excellent selection of cakes and tea and coffee were very welcome. A leisurely ride back to Redditch station was followed by an uneventful train journey, the connection at Birmingham New Street once again working out to my advantage, due this time to the late arrival of the train from New Street to Tipton.
There was never really any question of the suitability of the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket for a ride of this length - even when ridden by me. This is a high performance bike which folds, and it is capable of much longer and more arduous rides than this one. The ride on rougher surfaces can be rather harsh due to the combination of small wheels and no suspension, but on the relatively smooth roads on this event it was very comfortable. Luggage can be carried easily on this bike, although the method I chose - a wedge bag plus a bum bag - did not work out too well, as the weight in the bum bag became rather uncomfortable by half distance. The gear ratios proved more than adequate for this event (though an extra high gear would have been handy occasionally), but the gear change with this 1997 Campag Mirage system was not very good - a lot of fiddling was required. The long and tortuous cable runs to the gears and rear brakes do tend to cause Bike Friday owners problems, although I don't know how much of my difficulties are due to the cable run and how much to the Campag system. The Shimano/Sachs 3 x 7 system on my New World Tourist generally behave much better.
Since the local trains have no cycle restrictions, the folding of the Friday was not an issue. However, when I do use main line trains and have to fold the bike I find it a rather tedious process, and the resultant folded bike is awkward to carry and difficult to find a large enough space to store it on a train. For a ride of this length the foldability (or lack of it) is acceptable, but for shorter rides I would choose a more portable bike, even at the expense of a less enjoyable ride.
I very much enjoyed this my first Brevet Populaire, so plans to take part in other events using some other folders are going ahead.
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Last updated: 10 June 1999