The Folding Society

2001: My year of cycling and folding

Please accept my apologies for the late appearance of this report, and the fact that it is less detailed than I would have wished. A first draft was produced at the end of December 2001, but before it was finalised, I had a problem with my eyes which made reading and using a screen difficult. That problem is still present at the time of issuing the report (14th February 2002), so I have finally issued the draft with only minor amendments, rather than reworking it more extensively as I had originally intended.

The Folder scene

2001 wasn't a particularly memorable year in terms of developments in folding and separable cycles - at least I can't remember anything very significant! The most important development was perhaps that stocks of Sturmey-Archer hub gears were finally exhausted, and folder manufacturers who had been using these gears had to look for alternatives. The Micro became available only in single-speed form, but most significant was the effect on Brompton - no apologies for regarding this as the most important, as it is still the folder against which all others are measured, and over 60% of Folding Society own one (some own more than one!). The change for the 3-speed Bromptons to a Sachs/SRAM hub was fairly straightforward, but, because of the narrow fork spacing, no 5- or 7-speed alternative was available, and so only 3-speed Bromptons are available now. For straightforward commuting to and from station this is not really a problem, but for some of those seeking to use a Brompton for more ambitious purposes, the limitation of 3, rather widely spaced, gears has been a problem. Some settle for the 3-speed, some use it with a mountain drive or a double chainring (sometimes with a changer, and sometimes changing rings manually to suit the general terrain or load). However, neither is an ideal solution, but the latest Bromptons have an additional boss on the rear forks, and this is expected to provide a mounting for a rear 2-sprocket derailleur system - more on this at the end of this article. The limited gearing options on the current Brompton have probably helped sales of other makes, but even so it is reported that Brompton are still working flat out to meet demand, so they have not suffered in terms of sales volume!

My folders and separables

Over the last year my bicycles have actually diminished in numbers by one - both Micros and the Bike Friday Pocket Rocket have gone, but I added a Moulton Jubilee L and a Birdy Red. Both additions are not entirely new experiences, as I have owned both types of machine before. In the last 12 months, quite a number of other ex-Birdy owners have rejoined the flock, including Chris Dent, Pat Strachan and Graham McDermott, and Peter Evans has 'resurrected' his Birdy, which had been out of action for a while. As reported previously, I've found that the changes since I bought my first Birdy in 1997 have improved the machine quite significantly, although none of them are really major in their own right. The Jubilee L was bought with a particular ride in mind, and although that outing had to be cancelled, it has still had quite a bit of use during the year, and was chosen for one of my visits to Inversnaid. The other visit to Inversnaid was accomplished using the Airnimal, and the final major outing of the year, my trip to Skye, Lewis and Harris was carried out on the New Series Moulton. The top six in my annual distance records over the last 12 months are:

My cycling was severely curtailed by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and I would have hoped to have ridden at least 20% more but for this.

The Skye trip was described in detail in an earlier report, and was the most enjoyable cycling outing of the year for me, with fabulous weather, wonderful scenery and good company, and the comfort and the performance of the NS were much appreciated. Both the Airnimal and the Jubilee L performed excellently on their visits to Inversnaid, and more information can be found in the relevant reports (Airnimal and Jubilee L). As usual, the Brompton T5 covered a respectable (by my standards) total distance, and was actually used on more occasions than any other machine - it tends to be used for shorter commutes and shopping trips.

The AM7 remains the bicycle on which I have done the most distance overall, with the Moulton APB and Bike Friday New World Tourist and Brompton T5 running close together, but well behind the AM7.


Portable paraphernalia of one kind and another is fairly essential to my life. Apart from the folding cycles, which are essential for transport but also provide pleasure in their own right, I use digital cameras in my work, for the web pages and for pleasure. Photography was my first hobby, and I've always been interested. For getting pictures quickly for web pages and work, digital cameras are a real boon, but the quality the best ones produce is now close to the best that can be achieved with a good 35mm camera, and is sometimes better. Although I still have a conventional darkroom, it gets very little use now - even when I take photographs on a conventional camera and film, printing is almost invariably done using an inkjet printer on a PC with Photoshop. During the year I reduced the number of cameras and lenses which I have. A Canon D30 with a 24-85mm lens is the flagship of my collection, though the older Nikon Coolpix 990 still gets preference when I just want something smaller and lighter for simple record keeping work. In conventional cameras, most of my photography is either done on a Pentax ME Sup with a range of prime lenses, or with a Leica which I acquired during the year. One of my trips to Inversnaid (mentioned in cycle cycling section above) was for two workshops on Photoshop. For pleasure, as opposed to work or web page reports, I prefer to work in monochrome, and during 2001 I tried using the Lyson inks on my Epson printer - they offer increased life and better tonality, although they suffer metamerism (they become slightly magenta overall in normal tungsten light), which is rather a drawback, and the recording of tones is still not quite as smooth as with conventional photographic materials. If finances permit, I hope to try the Piezography system during 2002, which is supposed to give even better results in monochrome, but is rather expensive, especially to start with, as special driver software is needed.

On the personal organiser front, Psion announced their withdrawal from the consumer end of the market. I had largely stopped using my Series 5 before that, as I find the screen so difficult to read, although the software, keyboard and general functionality still made it a very good machine. For the first part f the year a Palm compatible device took over for most of the time, but later in the year I started making more use of a Compaq iPAQ, although this caused some annoyance with two display failures. I still find the Palm OS devices more intuitive to use than the Pocket PC (Windows CE) machines like the iPAQ, but the Pocket PCs did have a higher screen resolution and the ability to play music, though much less third party software is available for them. The lack of an expansion slot on my iPAQ means I usually fit a sleeve to allow a CF card to be used, which makes it considerably more bulky, and battery life between recharging is such that if I use it heavily I can exhaust the battery during a day. The Sony Clie, a Pal OS device, now has similar screen resolution and music playing facilities, and it also offers remarkably good battery life. Although it does not have a facility for CF cards, it will take Sony's memory stick, and it is extremely compact. It is a hard choice between this and the Hewlett Packard Jornada 568 - a small Pocket PC with the latest incarnation of the Windows CE operating system, 64M f memory, a flip top (which saves having too bother with the extra size and weight of a case) a CF card slot and a claimed battery life of up to 14 hours - optimistic perhaps, but certainly better than my old iPAQ.

The organiser allows me to produce reports like this on the train, and also operates as diary, address book, alarm clock, general note taker, reference data repository, the equivalent of 4 or 5 books (ebooks), music player, audio book player and dictaphone. On some models I can even preview and manipulate the pictures taken on the digital camera.

Looking forward

We don't have any definite news of what to expect in terms of folding cycle developments in 2002, but it seems reasonable to expect that Brompton will make a available a model with more than three gears. The latest Bromptons have a boss on the right hand rear fork which it is reported will serve as a mount for a rear derailleur changer, which will be used with twin sprockets on the 3-speed hub gear to give a total of 6 gears. In terms of number of gears and overall range, this will be a close equivalent of the old 5-speed Sturmey-Archer geared model, but in practical terms there are potential difficulties. With the 3-speed hub and, say, 13 and 15 tooth sprockets combined with a 48-tooth ring, the gears would be as shown below - but not the awkward gear change combinations involved - every other change of gear involves a change of both the derailleur and hub. Unless Brompton have an ingenious mechanism to allow these changes to be made from a single lever, you will need to change both the hub and derailleur gear controls at the same time - awkward and requiring some concentration to keep track f just what you need to do next. Although the original Sturmey 5-speeds, such as the one on my T5, had two controls and cables, one simply operated as an overdrive and underdrive on the first and third gears, so that only one of the levers needed to be changed at any time. Of course later 5-speed Sturmey only needed one cable and lever. What rumours I have heard suggest that the 6-speed Brompton may appear around March, but we will have to wait until then to see what form of gear change mechanism is used.

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Copyright (C)2002 Ferrets Anonymous
Last updated: 14 February 2002