The Folding Society

A Birdy Red on the West London 2/5 Brevet Populaire, 17 June 1999

This was the second 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).

Choice of cycle

This ride was due to start from Denham at 10.00am, at the end of the M40, and a study of the train timetables and the Railtrack web site showed that getting there would be something of a challenge. One of the easier options (in terms of starting time and number of train changes) arrived at 10.02, so had to be ruled out; the next option to be considered arrived at Gerrards Cross at 9.30, leaving just 20 minutes to cycle to the start and get booked in. Not only that, but four changes of train were involved, increasing the risk of not arriving in time. I finally settled on a journey involving cycling 5 miles to Smethwick Galton Bridge, catching a train to Birmingham Snow Hill, then catching a train to Bicester North and transferring to a train to Denham.

Having a choice of bikes, I am generally choosing to use the less portable machines for the local rides where either no train travel is required, or there is no need to fold (there being no restrictions on cycles on the local trains). This might be regarded as biasing the reports, but I'm not out to make life difficult for myself, and as you will see I am commenting as appropriate on the relative ease of transporting the bikes. For this ride, with the more complex train journey, and timetables which are a bit ambiguous on train carriage at peak times, it seemed appropriate to pick the Birdy Red, which is more portable than the Bike Fridays and Moultons, but has a better riding position and more suitable gearing for longer rides than the Brompton. For a ride of this length and with this amount of train travel and train changes I would not have minded using one of the Bike Fridays, but as the Pocket Rocket had been used for the first in the series, it was time to try something else, particularly as the route sheet for the ride seemed to indicate that this was not going to be particularly arduous route.


No preparation of the bike itself was carried out, a light overhaul having been given after the Llangollen ride in May, and the bike having had very little use since.

Generally luggage carrying is one of the weakest points of the Birdy, but for this sort of day ride a small saddlebag or a small bag mounted on the rear rack are quite acceptable and effective options. I chose a small bag on the rear rack, secured by conventional bungees - I have discarded the original elastics supplied, which were not very effective or convenient. The Birdy lacks any bottle cage mounting bosses, so I used a very old handlebar mounting bracket to attach the cage. Carrying any load on the Birdy bars has a bad effect on handling stability, not to mention increasing concerns over the hinge strength and bar integrity (a number of cases of the column breaking near the bottom have been mentioned on the email list), but I find it tolerable.

Getting to the event

The first train from Galton Bridge was at 6.15, so this meant an early start to the day. Fortunately the train arrived exactly on time, as there was only 5 mintues to change trains at Snow Hill, and the London bound train from Snow Hill also left exacly on time. I chose to fold and bag the Birdy at Galton Bridge. Carrying it from one platform to another at Snow Hill was not a problem, although it would have been easier to leave folding until I boarded the train at Snow Hill, but with so little time available for changing trains I decided it would be better to complete the folding earlier.

Chiltern Railways state in their timetable that they are happy to carry cycles, but they are not allowed on trains arriving at and leaving London and Birmingham at (specified) peak times. That does not make it entirely clear how or whether the restrictions apply to trains which have start/end points within these times, but which the traveller will only be using between intermediate stations. Anyway, bagging seemed the safest bet, although later on in the journey some conventional cycles were brought onto the trains without incurring the displeasure of the train staff, and this was also to occur on the return journey.

The trains I had chosen were due to get me to Denham nearly 1.5 hours before the ride started, but as mentioned the alternative really cut things very fine. The train from Snow Hill was slowed and stopped several times, and pulled into Bicester North, where my next change was due, nearly 15 minutes late, and after the scheduled departure of my next train. Announcements on the train attributed the problem to a failed freight train, and it seems all services were being delayed, because my next train had not yet left, and indeed was also 15 minutes late. This train was to take me all the way to Denham - another advantage over the later train, which would have involved another change, and would have only got me to Gerrards Cross. In view of the late running of the trains, it was certainly fortunate that I had taken the precaution of taking the earlier journey.

On unfolding the Birdy at Denham, I had a simple 2 mile ride to the start point, although on busy main roads.

The ride

As other riders arrived - mostly by car - I began to have some concerns, for they generally had what I would class as fast road bikes and looked dedicated types. Although the event listing showed mudguards should be fitted for this event, most of the bikes did not have mudguards, and indeed did not have clearance to allow them to be fitted. 30 riders were taking part - exactly the same number as at Redditch, despite this being a mid week event. No doubt partly because of the timing, the organisation was quite low key, though perfectly adequate. The organiser issued Brevet cards, then mounted his bike to go off with the leaders.

This was much more of a group start than at Redditch, and it soon became apparent that they were going to ride at a faster pace than I would be comfortable with, or indeed could sustain. After a coupleof miles I was behind the main group, though they were still in sight. Despite this, I generally kept other riders in sight, as a few late starters passed me, and I managed to keep up with some of these during the latter stages of the ride to the first control. This too was a fairly informal affair - the organiser was just riding off with the main bunch as we arrived, and he called to say he would stamp our Brevet cards when we got back.

{Clue}I rode most of the way back from the control with a friend of John Pinkerton, although towards the end, when the ground was somewhat flatter, the limited top gear of the Birdy, and the fact that I was tiring, meant that once again I fell behind. I arrived at the finish ahead of one very late starter, but otherwise last - though of course it is not a race, so this really does not matter. Despite this, and making allowance for the ride being a little shorter than the Redditch one, I completed the ditance in consierably less time than the previous event, no doubt because of the faster pace. Photo: A brief pause, not to check the weight of the bikes, but to write the weight into the Brevet cards - this was an Inormation Control.

I didn't find this ride as enjoyable as the Redditch one, no doubt partly because of riding faster than I was really comfortable with, and not being able to keep up with the other riders. I must say I did not find the countryside as attractive either - much more formal. We also rode much more on main roads, the last 10 miles or so in particular being on busy A roads, including a mile on the A40. The problem with not being able to keep up with the other riders was almost entirely down to my limitations, rather than the Birdy, though on some flat sections the limited top gear (about 86 inches) of the Birdy did not help. The top gear limit applies to nearly all my folders, only the bikes with the Sachs 3x7 being significantly higher geared (the Moulton Jubilee L which I once owned also had a substantially higher top gear). Apart from the chain coming off the chainwheel after hitting a bump, the Birdy performed faultlessly. This chain problem has never occured before, and the chain was held in place by the plastic retainers, and even continued to give drive via the rivets as it was trapped between the outer plastic plate and the chainwheel!

After the event

The return journey was uneventful, though due to inadequate noting of train times it took me rather longer than was necessary. I used a slightly different return route, catching a train from Denham to High Wycombe, then High Wycombe to Birmingham Moor Street, changing to Birmingham New Street and then catching a train to my local station at Tipton before cycling the final 1.5 miles home. My total cycling distance in the day had been 77 miles.


The Birdy was very simple to transport to and from the event, although it seemed that I would have had no trouble with any of the bikes, whether folded or not, as conventional bikes were being carried on these trains without problems. My difficulty in keeping up with other riders was due to myself, and the speed of the other riders, rather than the bike. However, in retrospect I would have probably been better using the Pocket Rocket for this event in view of its freer riding characteristics, even though its top gear would have been no higher.

It would be useful to know beforehand what type of group one might be riding with - at Redditch most people were going at a much more comfortable (for me) pace. It certainly appeared that the riders at Denham were used to riding together, and at this sort of pace. In fact there are at least 4 rides during the year in this area, and I am booked to do another in August, so I shall have to give the question of the most appropriate bike some more thought before then. Although with this type of event there is no need to bother about staying with the group, I think now that I know the pace at which this particular group ride I will probably use either the Pocket Rocket or Moulton AM7; what a pity I sold the Jubilee L ...

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Last updated: 29 June 1999