101 Uses for a Brompton: Avoiding Road Rash

June 20, 2017

Ordinarily, if someone had told me that the main road to our house was to be made 20mph and have the white line removed from down the middle, I would have been delighted.

skid risk

Unfortunately, it’s only temporary, because they’re surface dressing it (so named because after a cyclist has skidded on the loose chippings that result, or has been sprayed with gravel by the passing drivers who consider speed limits to be for other people, they are likely to need dressings on a large proportion of their surface).

This basically starts from our turnoff, and goes halfway down the hill, which almost feels pointed on the part of the coonsil. It’s on a long and winding descent which is ordinarily fun, if a little white-knuckle if you’ve got a 4×4 behind you attempting to overtake on a blind bend. Throw in a loose surface chipping surface, though, and you’ve got a cycling disaster on your hands, especially if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Today I had a train to catch for a meeting in Glasgow, so I took the coward’s way out – threw the Brompton in the car and got a lift past the danger zone. Cycling up wasn’t too bad this afternoon as nobody overtook me and going uphill meant I didn’t have to worry about braking or slowing down for the bends. Tomorrow, hopefully, the traffic will have bedded it in enough that I can keep the rubber side down. But I’ll be allowing plenty of time for the descent …


101 Uses for a Brompton: Parading

June 17, 2017

LOVE - BIKE

I’m ashamed to say, we’ve lived in the area for 9 years now and this was the first year I’ve ever been to the annual only-slightly-made-up historical celebration of ancient traditions dating all the way back to, ooh, 1932, aka Guid Nychburris.*

Buds of Anarchy float

Today, though, our local cycle campaign were taking part in the parade alongside Buddies, an organisation for people with learning difficulties who last year started a bike project. We’ve been helping them get riding (it’s amazing how many of their members have been confidently told that they’ll never ride a normal bike who turn out to be perfectly capable of it, with a bit of practice and some patience). The Buddies had decided they wanted to celebrate their biking project by dressing up as the Sons of Anarchy (‘Buds of Anarchy’) and we followed along behind as the ‘Hell’s Bells’. Like most of our plans, this all made a lot more sense in the pub when we first discussed it.

Brompton and float

Brompton ready to rock

Anyway, my touring bike, beautiful as it is, didn’t seem quite suitable as part of a biker gang, so I took the Brompton instead, lowering the seat to give it a bit more of a Harley Davidson feel. I’m not sure I quite rocked the ‘biker chick’ look myself, but others had made a more convincing effort and we set off in the sunshine at about 5pm for our slowest bike ride ever.

I hadn’t quite understood what a big deal this parade is for Bigtown. It helped that it was an absolutely glorious day, but the entire route was lined with crowds of people. We could have given out ten times the number of flyers we’d brought, and it was good to be part of a huge civic event, showing that cyclists are as much a part of the life of the town as the local Brownie pack, the young farmers (and boy were we glad not to be the ones dressed up in cow onesies this afternoon), the nearby wetland centre and the Cat’s Protection League

And I suppose it counts as a miracle that, given the many thousands who had lined the streets to watch, only one person felt the need to shout out ‘helmet’ as we passed. Because apparently even when moving at 4 miles per hour on completely closed roads and while dressed up as an anarchic biker gang – you need a magic plastic hat on your head.

biker gang

*I’m only bitter because every time I have to write about it I have to google it first to remind myself of which cod spelling of ‘neighbours’ they’ve officially used as its name. I’m all for Scots being used in the vernacular but given even the locals simply pronounce it ‘good neighbours’ I think they’re actually just spelling it that way for a bet.


101 Uses for a Brompton: Being Left Behind

February 12, 2017

I am in London for a couple of days, having barely been down at all for a year now. And this morning, as I was setting off, I decided to do something unthinkable and head off without the Brompton. I realised that there was no really obvious journey I would be making that wouldn’t, realistically, just be easier on public transport. And while riding a bike instead of taking the tube would save me money, equally not lugging a bike about would save me from collecting another fine set of Brompton bruises.

It felt a bit weird to be able to just hop on a train without the usual encumbrance, and it did mean that I could – luxury of luxuries – stop and buy a non-train coffee while changing trains at Carlisle, something that requires a third hand when also lugging a Brompton on and off the train. It also meant descending into the third circle of hell that is Euston underground and shelling out zone 1 money for my Oyster* and saddest of all, not getting to play on the new Superhighways, which weren’t quite finished last time I had to cross the Thames. But for every blissful traffic-free moment on the Superhighway, I would still have had to spend several eternities watching my own and other people’s lives flashing before my eyes on the rest of the route between Euston and Vauxhall (I am still scarred from watching a lorry overtake and then turn left across a woman cycling in front of me, forcing her to hop up onto the pavement to escape its back wheels).

So on balance, I think I made the right decision, although as the Brompton functions as much as a badge of office as a means of transport, I might have difficulty getting into the Cycling UK headquarters tomorrow when I show up for a meeting. Then again, they are in Guildford, which if memory serves is one of the least cycle-friendly places on earth, so they may be used to it.

* and the bastards charged me for going through the ticket gates at Vauxhall, realising I needed to go out again and buy something from the shop and then going back in again. Daylight robbery.


101 Uses for a Brompton: (Not Quite) Wimping Out

August 20, 2016

brompton under treeToday was supposed to be the last of our summer rides – and to describe the forecast as not looking promising would be an understatement. For a couple of days it was predicting ‘heavy showers’, but this morning – as I woke to the sound of rain on the skylight – it had settled on just heavy rain from ten in the morning onwards, and by mid morning it had thrown in a couple of yellow weather warnings for good measure. Contemplating the thought of cycling six miles in the pouring rain to spend twenty minutes waiting for people not to show up, followed by six (uphill) miles in the pouring rain home, undoubtedly with a headwind, I took up the other half’s offer of a lift into town with the Brompton, with the hope that nobody would show up for our advertised 11 mile ride.

rain on the river

And come 2pm, when the ride was due to set off, it began to look as if that was indeed what would happen. My fellow ride leader had gone for the folder-in-the-car option too, while another local member had come by largely out of curiousity to see if anyone would turn up. We stood under a tree and watched the rain sheet down so hard that even a dog – a dog in a rain jacket, no less – was refusing to go for a walk in it. And we were just about to call it a day and head home with some relief, when three figures on bikes – mum and two kids – hove into view with waterproofs on and raring to go. The prospect of a cosy ride back in the car evaporated. We were on, every soggy sodden mile of it. We were going to do this family bike ride if it killed us

And you know what? It was great. It was, as someone pointed out, quite warm rain (and tbh only the Scots consider this to be an improvement on the regular kind of rain). I’ve been cycling back and forth on the same road for too long for the past few weeks, so it was good to get out and go somewhere else, just for the hell of it. The older child had a new-to-her bike and was getting used to the gears so we were riding along practising going up and down through the cogs, while her younger brother bombed ahead, his jacket discarded, having decided just to get drenched. And when the inevitable puncture came as we reached our destination, we were near to a shelter and could sit under a roof eating brownies and making helpful comments to the person fixing it, and watching someone else have what was possibly an even worse weather-related afternoon:

bride in the rain

By the time we were back on the road, the rain had briefly passed, the sun had almost come out, and I discovered a new route back to the house, by way of some lovely empty tiny roads. I’m still not sure it was exactly how I would have planned the afternoon – but it just goes to show that no day with a bike ride in it is ever entirely wasted.


101 Uses for a Brompton: Redecorating

July 6, 2016

Brompton outside house

Although to be honest, it’s not all that handy with a wallpaper stripper (although it is rather decorative).

wallpaper stripping

Wallpaper. Why?

Now that we’ve got the keys to the house and started to take stock, it is revealing itself (in the words of the other half) as a magical box that contains an infinite number of DIY projects. He’s been working away at it fairly solidly but I’ve had a few other engagements which has made it helpful to be able to throw the Brompton in the boot of the car when we go up to the new house so that I can then ride off into town for meetings as needed.

road from the house

Downhill all the way

And I say ‘up to the new house’ advisedly. The direct route from the new house into Bigtown is a splendid no-need-to-turn-a-pedal downhill run complete with a prevailing tailwind. Riding home in the future may turn out to be a bit of a challenge…


101 Uses for a Brompton: Getting Directions

September 7, 2015

I am in That London with my Brompton for a flying visit, having been asked to help chair a round table (I still get Monty Python songs going round my head whenever I hear that phrase; no doubt eventually I will grow out of it*) for the Near Miss Project which is researching cyclists’ experiences of all those scary moments where your life and usually the tail end of a double-decker bus passes before your eyes which means you get to both help science AND have an audience for all those ‘and then you won’t believe what the driver did …’ stories that your nearest and dearest have long since stopped listening to (and if you missed being part of the Near Miss Project last year, never fear, they are recruiting again). This meant Bromptoning from Euston to Vauxhall yesterday, a trip which went reasonably well, adjusted for the fact that I decided to improvise a little in Soho and found myself unexpectedly heading northeast with the firm conviction that I was going south, something that could happen to anybody as long as that person has the sense of direction of a compass in a tin mine.

Today I had to navigate my way from Vauxhall to Baker Street & when I asked my hosts for advice on timings and routes the suggestion was ‘On a bike? Don’t’. Twitter was a little more gung ho, however, and between us we worked out a route over Lambeth Bridge (Vauxhall Bridge has a fantabulous wide separated new cycle track but it’s only currently accessible going southbound), up to St. James’ Park, through Hyde Park and then working my way north – or, you know, possibly south if I wasn’t careful – to Baker Street. Some of this I knew well enough from Disgruntled Commuter days, so I only went the wrong way a couple of times (it’s been a while), and having crossed the river safely I paused at one of the map monoliths to check I was more or less where I thought I was. A passing Bromptonaut, spotting a fellow owner, paused to ask if I knew where I was going and reassured me I was on the right track. We then fell into conversation (I admired his very nifty arrangement of water bottle holders on the back of his saddle), and, having tactfully pointed out the off-road cycle path just as I was about to fling myself into the maelstrom of angry taxis that is the Mall, he more or less took me under his wing and guided me the rest of the way to Hyde Park. Clearly either Londoners have mellowed, I look even more helpless than I am, or the fellowship of the folding bike trumps all rules about not talking to strangers. Either way I was grateful.

I could have done with my native guide as I made my way to King’s Cross after the event. Somehow my cunning plan of riding parallel to the Marylebone Road along quieter streets by Regent’s Park turned into me being decanted straight back onto it. The last time I cycled along that road I was 22 and foolhardy and heading to Paddington with an enormous backpack on my back to take up a last minute place on a course in Bristol. With no greater sense of direction than I have now – but considerably more courage and less sense – I had simply followed the main roads and, when I came to some big junction as the lights were turning orange, accelerated instead of stopping, not considering just how much slower a bike is through a junction than a car. Somehow I made it across alive with traffic coming at me from what seemed like every direction, horns blaring. It’s a moment that is imprinted on my memory though, for ever more.

There were no horns this afternoon, and no near misses either, although I can’t say the experience was exactly pleasant. I’ll be looking forward to getting home again, where the main hazard is buzzards rather than buses and the only horns I hear are my neighbours, saying hello…

* OK, maybe not