Occasionally a few folder enthusiasts take part in rides organised by Audax UK - these are rides from about 50Km to over 1200Km. 100Km Brevet Populaires are probably the most popular with us (well, anything more than that is too much for me!), and we have reported on these in the past (most recently the Snowdrop Express ride from Hartlebury in February). Of course, some of our number do the longer rides - Dave Minter rode the 1200Km Paris-Brest-Paris last year on a 2-speed 1960's Moulton Stowaway, and is planning to do the even longer London-Edinburgh-:London ride later this year, though at this stage it's not certain what he will be riding.
The shorter Brevet Populaires (under 200Km) must, like the longer rides, be completed within certain time limits, and follow a defined route (I went off course right at the end of the recent Snowdrop Ride, which was why I could not claim to have completed the Audax, though I did complete the ride). For these shorter rides, the times allowed are not terribly taxing, but they certainly mean that you can't take extended stops, and any mechanical problems, or losing one's way, can present problems.
Three of us took part in the 102Km Staffordshire Lanes ride from Shenstone (near Lichfield) on Sunday 17th April. Susan Barlow and Dave Minter, who live nearby, were using their Bromptons, and rode to the event, while I chose The Newt (my Bike Friday New World Tourist) this time - usually I would pick the Airnimal Chameleon as being by far the best folder I have for such a ride, but I wanted to try out the new double chainring gearing which has just been fitted to The Newt, and I had also just got some new mudguards (at last!) as well. I drove to the event (trains are impossible on a Sunday, ad it was much too far to try to ride there, and back, and ride the event as well.
I think this is the first time I have tried to fit The Newt into the Smart with the rear luggage rack attached (last time I used a Carradice SQR system), and it proved a tight fit in terms of height - actually more of a problem than the Chameleon, though I've always tended to think in the past that the Chameleon was the more bulky and difficult to stow. Anyway, I squeezed it in, and drove over - I got a bit lost near the start of the event, and arrived with just 20 minutes to spare, which by my standards is cutting it a bit fine (allow time to unload the bike, book in etc).
I was a bit worried to find that Susan and David had not yet arrived when I reached Shenstone, but they turned up a bit later, although as a result of us all cutting it a bit fine, we did not depart until after everyone else had left, 5-10 minutes after the nominal start time. The result was that we were immediately required to do our own navigation, rather than following others, and in fact we hardly saw any other riders until we got back to Shenstone at the end of the ride. Our own navigation proved to be less than perfect at the start - we went off course almost immediately, and covered an additional 3Km, and wasted another 10 minutes, getting back on the route. At least it was glorious sunny weather - but for the fact that the forecast for the later afternoon was for rain, I might have removed my new mudguards at the start - a very easy job with the Bike Friday, as one allen bolt secures each mudguard. Incidentally, these new mudguards are more rigid and shaped to the tyre profile, though rather narrower, than the earlier ones. They also have a more sturdy attachment on the mudguard, though the net result of this makes me concerned that they might be more easily broken than the previous very flexible type. The three-point mounting on the mudguard is welcome though - my original mudguard broke around the one mounting point when it got a knock, and the more rigid construction means they do not flap about as vigorously as the old ones did.
About 2/3 of the way through the first stage of the ride there was a rather steep, long hill, and with the limited gearing on her Brompton, Susan fell a bit behind. Dave and I stopped at the next junction to let her catch up, but after a few minutes my phone rang, and Susan reported that the handlebar stem had come off - she has an SP suspension handlebar system. Dave and I rode back, and Dave was able to re-fit the bars - the problem was the rather basic (to put it politely) shim between the cut-off Brompton stem and the suspension post used by SP. Unfortunately all this cost us about 15 minutes more, and as a result we just barely got into the first control in time. Although we expected to gain time, barring any more problems, in the following stages, this did put us under some pressure, so our stop was a brief one for a drink, and then we set off again.
Stage 2 included a couple of information controls (you have to record some local details on the Brevet card in response to a question, to prove you have followed the route). Happily, these and the route sheet itself did not present any problems - although the absence of any distance information on the route sheet (other than the controls) did make for more difficult, and worrying navigation - without distance information, it is much easier to overshoot a turning without realising it. At the second of these information controls, in Dunstall, we caught up with another rider who was taking a break, and we were to see him a number of other times, as we passed one another at stops, though we didn't see anyone else (lots of non-participating cyclists though). By the time we reached the second control, at the aptly-named Botany Bay (for those of you who don't know them, Susan and Dave are Australians), we were half an hour inside the time limit, so we were able to take a slightly longer break, and eat some, very welcome, food.
The final stage back to Shenstone caused us the most worry in terms of navigation. The instructions for the route around a landfill site were not very precise, and in the absence of distance information, and a long stretch without turnings on a road which we were far from certain was the right one, cause us some concern. We also paused a number of times to consult a map, but happily it turned out that we were on the right road. On the final part of this section it also bean to rain, initially a very light drizzle, and then becoming a bit harder, though fortunately not really heavy until just as we got back to Shenstone, with some time to spare.
The new front changer and double chainring on The Newt performed well, though, as usual, the rear changer was rather imprecise (the long and convoluted cable run seems to make it impossible to set it up to give clean, reliable gear changes). The revised gearing gives me a slightly higher top gear than the previous single ring and 11-34 Megarange cassette, and in effect 2 or 3 more low gears. I only used the new, small, ring about 4 times, and as I always had at least 2 gears left, I could probably have managed with the old set-up, but it is always reassuring to have some lower gears in reserve, and as the route was not especially hilly (though by no means flat), I'm sure the extra gears will be useful in the future. The absence of suspension on The Newt (apart from the addition of a suspension seat post) made for a harsh ride, but not as uncomfortable as I had feared, and the very light, but narrow and hard, Flite saddle proved much more comfortable than I had expected. I think that I'd still usually use the Chameleon for this sort of ride though - the larger wheels, rear suspension, carbon fibre forks and triple front ring give more gears (and some useful higher ones) and a more comfortable ride.Apart from the incident with the SP handlebar stem, the 2 Bromptons performed faultlessly in the hands of two strong riders - I must admit I'd not want to attempt such a ride myself on a relatively standard Brompton, as I need as many gears as I can get and a bit less weight too - though one of my most enjoyable Brevet Populaires a few years ago was on an SP Brompton, with 7-speed derailleur gears, V brakes and various weight-saving modifications.
This was a most enjoyable ride - an excellent route, a well-organised event, good weather, and excellent company. Many thanks to Susan and Dave for their company, and of course to the organisers of the event. I think I'll try to do it again next year, but unless I can persuade some other folders to join me, I shall have to do it on my own, as sadly (for us in the UK) Susan and Dave will be back in Australia by then.
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Last updated: 18 April 2005