Brompton M-type Review

It’s been over a month now since I bought my new-to-me Brompton, during which time it has been used extensively. I feel I have now had enough experience with it to do a proper review, you can read my initial impressions here.

The main event when looking at folding bikes for many is the fold itself. As is shown in my original post, the fold is neat and compact and the oily chain is tucked away in the centre of the package. Unlike most other folding bikes I’ve used, it doesn’t try to come unfolded whilst being carried, which is one of the best aspects of the design. Once you have got the hand of it, you can fold the bike in little more than a few seconds, with unfolding taking little longer. This is ideal because although the folded bike is compact and forms a sturdy package, you wouldn’t want to carry it folded up for any serious distance. There are lighter options available, but realistically even they won’t make carrying the folded bike for any length of time much more pleasant.

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I have ridden the bike over reasonable distances on several occasions (several trips from Macclesfield to Manchester), and the compact and clever folding ability of the bike does not diminish the ride. The wheel-base makes the bike feel like a much larger bike when ridden, which gives a better experience than many of the other folding bikes I have tried. The ride quality is similar to the Raleigh Twenty, although the steering is a bit more twitchy at lower speeds. The M-type bars give a reasonably upright posture, although the fact that the seat-tube does not terminate at the bottom bracket means that the virtual seat-tube angle gets steeper with saddle height. This can be corrected to a certain extent by moving the saddle fore/aft.

The stock gearing is reasonably broad, although a wider range would be desirable, and is available in the form of the 3-speed hub & 2-speed derailleur-equipped 6-speed Brompton, or even just the BWR wide range 3-speed hub. The left folding pedal is great, but the non-folding right pedal is less impressive, requiring replacement a few week after I purchased the bike.

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I never used the stock-saddle, but it looked like it was designed for the S-type Brompton rather than the more upright posture of the M and P type bikes. It also didn’t look particularly lady-friendly. The caliper brakes are good enough, although the back brake seems to offer more power than the front, which I believe is an oddity of the Brompton in general, not just mine. I am thankful that the model I got was new enough to have the dual-pivot Brompton brake, which is reported to be a lot better than the old single-pivot model.

After a few weeks, I decided to take the plunge and fork out for the Shimano dynamo wheel before the price increase. The dynamo hub is great, it produces a reasonable output in the lights at walking speed without noticeable drag. Sadly I had to sacrifice the front dynamo light on the Yuba due to budgetary constraints, but with a little hammer adjustment, the Lyt can be used with the Brompton without interfering with the luggage system.

Overall I would recommend the Brompton to anyone. If you only wish to own a single bike, this could be it. It is remarkably versatile, being able to carry a decent load in a wide variety of high quality proprietary luggage options, cover longer distances well, offering a comfortable riding position (although it is no roadster), reliable hub gearing and on top of all that if folds into a neat package, opening up new opportunities to cycle when travelling by bus, rail or air.

“Bike Snob” Review

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As a long-time reader of the BikeSnobNYC blog, I decided to snap up a copy of Eben Weiss’s book, “Bike Snob,” whilst at Waterstones a few days ago. The book is an enjoyable read for anyone who is already a cyclist, the Guide to Cycling Tribes section will no-doubt bring a smile to anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time in the saddle. The book, in parts could persuade a non-cyclist of what those of us who do cycle get to experience when we ride, from the obvious advantages of cycling as transport in dense urban locations to the less practical aspects of cycling which can be troublesome to articulate to our non-cycling friends. Whilst this blog is not particularly concerned with sport-cycling, Weiss describes the enjoyment which competitive cycling brings him in a way even the most utilitarian cyclist can appreciate.

The book has a very American flavour to it, which is to be expected as it was written by an American. In terms of transport policy, particularly the relationship between motorists and cyclists we in the UK are much closer to the USA than most of the rest of the European countries, sadly. This is in part due to Britain being resistant to some of the best things the EU has to offer. Cycling as transport is inferred throughout the book but rarely specifically mentioned. The problems with motorists brought up in the book will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ridden a bike on the road in the UK. Weiss is known to be pro-helmet but takes the moderate approach of saying that “If it’s between riding a bike without a helmet and not riding a bike, you’re better off just riding the bike,” which I can respect, although my personal view is that if it is a choice between riding a bike with a helmet and not riding a bike, you’re better off riding with a helmet. He also points out the folly in relying on a helmet instead of things such as your brain and in the case of hipsters, brakes and does so in a moderate manner which is unlikely to alienate readers with different viewpoints.

This book could make a great Xmas gift for an experienced cyclist but the talk of pain and traffic danger could be off-putting to a non-cyclist you are perhaps hoping to inspire, which is a shame considering some of the positive, inspirational content of the book. Overall I would definitely recommend it.

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Kona Africa Bike: Longer Term Review

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have replaced my Kona Africa Bike with a Raleigh Tourist De Luxe.  The Kona is currently awaiting a bit of maintenance and a clean-up before eventually going onto eBay.  I used the bike every day for about 3 months and was generally happy with it, but decided that a Tourist De Luxe at the price I saw mine at was too good to pass up.  I have decided that the Africa Bike deserved a second review covering its use over a longer period of time than my first review.

The Good:

1) The original single-speed gearing was very pleasant to use and didn’t give me any trouble, although it made riding longer distances and climbing hills more tiring.

2) The replacement Nexus 3-speed gearing was excellent, with enough range to increase the distance the bike could comfortable cover.  I particularly enjoyed the ability to gear down when stationary, along with the general smoothness and reliability of the transmission.

3) The coaster brake.  Both gearing systems came with a coaster brake, the first one I had used since being on holiday in Germany a few years ago.  Coaster brakes prevent you from back-pedalling which can be annoying when setting off, however the advantages of the coaster brake is in its simplicity, essentially being a chain-actuated drum brake.  It was quite liberating to be able to slow down gently when approaching traffic lights or to modulate my speed without the need for a brake lever.  I feel there is something quite intuitive about coaster brakes and may put on on the Tourist if I ever convert it to a 5 speed.

The Bad:

1) The basket.  The folding basket was brilliant, it made me appreciate baskets in general and I liked being able to carry a few things within easy reach and sight.  The problem with the basket was that it squeaks, a lot.  The squeaking got worse when two of the metal wires which make up the basket snapped.  This happened within 3 months of use.

2) The rear rack.  Whilst it was sturdy and I agree with the rationale of integrating it into the frame, the tubing was thicker than that on my Yuba, at around 20 mm it made carrying most panniers impossible.

3) The frame geometry.  The bike was comfortable to ride for distances less than about 25 km, after which it became uncomfortable, mainly due to the difficulty of putting power down onto the pedals.  This was a result of the hybrid frame geometry; mountain bike like seat and head-tube angles but with higher and closer handlebars.  This means that your quads do all of the work, all of the time.  For me this meant riding more than 25 km started to get uncomfortable, although I did manage over 50 km on it a few times.

The Kona Africa Bikes (One or Three) are ideal bikes for people who want to make journeys of about 15 km each way at the most.  This probably covers a great deal of what most people want from a bike, and probably all of it for some people.  As I found myself wanting to travel further by bike, whilst remaining upright, I decided that this wasn’t the bike to do that on.  The bike has many good qualities and hopefully it will end up with a new owner who it is fully suitable for.

B&M Lumotec Retro Senseo Plus Test Ride

Last night I took the new dynamo light out for a spin.  It was around 8pm, so not dark but getting there, and ideal time to test out the sensing ability of the lamp.  I first put the light onto the “1” (always on) position and found that it was not coming on consistently.  I then decided to put it into the “S” (automatic) position and found that the light was still not always on, but seemed to be on more often.  At first I was concerned that I would have to go very fast to get the light to work well, seeing the beam come on and then go away was a bit worrying when I was teetering around the 20 km.h-1 mark.  I later managed to get a look at my reflection in the parked cars and realised that the light was always on, but when it was light enough it just illuminated the small “be-seen” LED portion of the lamp and when I went it was coming on full beam it was because of the dip in light level. 

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The stand-light provides enough light to be seen by other road users when stationary.

I am assuming that on my (maybe all of them) lamp the “1” and “S” positions are reversed, but that even when set to always on the lamp uses the sensor to determine what level of light is needed.  I quite like this idea because it will increase the length of time between halogen bulb replacements.  Like most aspects of dynamo lighting, it would have been nice if this feature had been explained somewhere in either the instruction leaflet or on the B&M website.

New cockpit test-ride

I went to visit the grandparents yesterday in Bamford, about 32 km (20 miles) there by road and about 28 km (~17 miles) back by canal.  This is the first longer distance ride I have done on the DL-1 and also the first proper ride since I swapped the handlebar and rods out.  Compared to doing the same basic ride a week ago on the Kona Africa Bike, it was a breeze.  Hills were easier to climb, due to the feet-forward frame geometry.  The general ride quality was better and I arrived feeling almost as fresh as a daisy.  The ride back was also good, although the narrower tyres meant that the roughest sections of canal felt a little rougher.  A quick pint of J. W. Lees Cask Bitter at The Ship near Hopwood Hall’s Middleton campus helped to dampen those vibrations a little for the rest of the ride (as a note to others, it seems that alcohol has a less pronounced effect when enjoyed in the midst of fairly rigorous physical activity – possibly due to faster metabolism compared to the typical experience of alcohol where physical activity is generally at a minimum).

I am quite happy with the results of the handlebar swap, and I can see why Raleigh called the DL-1 the “Tourist” in later years; it really does feel like you can carry on going forever.

Raleigh Tourist DL-1

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This is a Rod-brake roadster, a Raleigh DL-1 Tourist from 1950.  For a long time Raleigh made three popular utilitarian three-speed bikes,  the Sports, the Superbe and the Tourist (or DL-1).  The differences between these were mainly in the bundled accessories, with the Sports (and possibly the Superbe) having a slightly steeper seat and headtube angle, than the Tourist.  Some contradictory information exists on this matter with pictures of Superbes with the same apparent frame geometry as the Tourist existing.  These were serious transportation, used by ordinary people for their basic transport needs in a manner we seem to have forgotten in the UK.  These machines were built to last, with durability placed above the more modern obsession with reducing weight above all else.  The Tourist (Dl-1) had a slack seat-tube angle now commonly associated with bikes from The Netherlands (although the Sports was still quite slack by modern standards) in addition to features designed to make the bike ideal for everyday transport; mudguards, a full chainguard, a rear rack, hub gears a Brooks leather saddle and in some cases dynamo lights and drum brakes (in place of rod brakes).  There are plenty of these bikes around 50 or 60 years later, they were designed to last forever with only the minimum of care, but sadly when the bicycle fell out of favour here as a means of personal transportation, their production was wound down and stopped in the mid-1980s.  The remaining ones are highly sought-after, often fetching high prices on eBay when in good condition.  Those which are not are still purchased and either restored for actual use or to become museum pieces, rarely ridden if at all.  Similar bikes are still made and sold in other countries where bikes are more commonly used in a more utilitarian manner than in the UK.  I learned a lot about these bikes whilst restoring the Raleigh Twenty and I spent a while reading up on the various bike forums, and on the Lovely Bicycle! blog and found out that a company in India makes DL-1 copies, possibly using the original equipment, although information regarding the quality of these bikes was contradictory, and it seemed like it would be a better idea to get an old DL-1 second hand rather than go down this route if you wanted some DL-1 goodness.  I was surprised to find this.  When Raleigh was broken up, and production moved out of Nottingham, Raleigh’s Danish arm kept producing bikes which had appeal in the Danish and Dutch markets, with one of their models being essentially a DL-1, called the “Tourist De Luxe.”  The most appealing part of this to me is that they have kept the bike essentially the same, but made subtle upgrades to the components to bring it up-to-date:

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Front and rear drum brakes, either rod or cable operated (at least until last year) and a modern successor to the Sturmey Archer AW 3 speed hub, the XRD3. 

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Square taper sealed-cartridge  bottom bracket and matching cranks (no more cotters and 26 tpi issues)

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Rat-trap pannier rack with briefcase clip.

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Brooks B66 saddle with clips for a traditional saddle-bag

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28-inch (ERTO 635) wheels.  The tread is the same as on the Raleigh Record tyres which came with the Twenty.

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Woods valve (yes, they still exist), can be pumped up with a presta-specific pump (not one of those dual schraeder/presta ones though)

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Curious Raleigh Nottingham logo, no longer used for Raleigh bikes made in the Taiwan (I think) due to EU legislation.  New Raleigh bikes just say “Raleigh Bikes” on the logo.

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Rod brake mechanism.

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White tail of rear mudguard.  Note another Nottingham logo.  There is another on the headtube obscured by the rods.

Not a great deal of the English-speaking interwebs seems to have much information or awareness of this bike, but I was lucky enough to see one on eBay, possibly a Nottingham-built prototype from what remains of the former Raleigh site.  I am currently testing it out and if I like it I will sell off the Kona Africa Bike to make room for this stately and very gentlemanly conveyance.

Twenty Test Ride

I decided to go to work on the Twenty today, it has a front brake now and a Dutch-style O-lock so it can be used(After my first post a user from http://raleightwenty.webs.com/ told me that the mount I recognised as an O-lock mount is also used to mount a pletscher rack).  My first impression of the ride was that the bike deserves its cult status.  It is very comfortable and for someone a bit shorter than me would provide a nice upright riding position (I have to have the seat too high for a perfectly straight back).  The bike doesn’t have the overly twitch steering common to smaller wheeled bikes, making it very pleasant to cruise about on.  The stock gearing is pretty high, with a 15 tooth sprocket on the hub making third gear pretty much redundant.  I have a few spares knocking about so I will have to fiddle about to find the optimum.

I had heard that bikes with steel rims (and calliper brakes)had pretty feeble braking made worse by water.  The front brake at first seemed reasonable considering its advanced years.  I made the mistake of passing through a puddle and getting the rims wet, it was only a few minutes later I had to brake and when I did I genuinely thought my brake lever was jammed because the wet brakes provide absolutely no friction.  They may warrant further research to provide new ultra low-friction materials for the future.  Suffice to say I will be looking into alternative solutions to the braking issue as the project progresses.

Nexus 3-speed conversion

Well, I’ve finally converted the Kona Africa Bike One into a Three.  Initially I  planned to buy the hub, sprocket, fitting kit, shifter, spokes, rim and rim tape separately and build the wheel from scratch.  However, when I added up the total cost of these components it was coming close to £100.  Before shelling out the cash, I decided I would have a look to see how much the cheapest Nexus/Sturmey /SRAM 3-speed-equipped bike I could find was.  It turned out it was the Raleigh Drift at £187.  Considering that I would have a single speed wheel with coaster brake left over at the end of the process, I decided to buy the whole bike, steal the back wheel, shifter and fittings and replace it with the back wheel from the Kona, with the intention of selling the newly singlespeed Drift on for around the £100 mark.  I get my 3-speed and someone gets a cheap beach cruiser bike.

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This turned out to be a quite a good idea in the end, after overcoming a few hurdles.  The O.L.D of the Nexus hub was about 10 mm wider than that of my coaster brake hub.  After consulting with Uncle Sheldon I decided to cold set the Kona frame.  With nothing more than an old table leg and some brute force I managed to increase the space between the rear dropouts and the wheel went in without issue.  The 16t sprocket from the Nexus wheel was a bit small for my taste, and it made the third gear essentially redundant.  The gearing of the nexus three-speed hub feels like roughly minus a third in 1st and plus a third in 3rd, so I decided I would swap it for an 18t sprocket like the one which came with the Kona, so that 2nd gear would be the same as my single gear had been previously.  This produced gearing roughly equivalent to a 24-18-12 cassette.  There appeared to be a great deal of confusion online as to whether sprockets from Sturmey, SRAM and Shimano hub gears were all cross-compatible.  Some of the hub gear sprockets I saw appeared to be splined in a similar manner to those used on a cassette:

416293[1] Others appeared to be splined in a different way, with just 3 small protrusions on the inside edge:

After noticing in the forums that the consensus was that the sprockets were interchangeable between most hub gear manufacturers, and also that the second type of sprocket was available from Shimano and Sturmey, I decided to take the plunge and buy one.

I was slightly concerned reading about how fiddly and generally an pain in the arse it had been for many other people to remove and reinstall the snap ring holding the sprocket onto the hub, but my own experience was fairly positive.  I prefer doing this to removing and installing handlebar grips.  All you need is two small flat head screwdrivers to persuade the ring off and on again and that is it.  Much easier than messing with a chain whip and lockring tool.

The only downside is that my rear wheel rim is now pink.  Its not completely negative though, my uncool bike is now that extra bit more uncool, and I assume also less desirable to thieves.

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and finally the bell crank:

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I am pleased with the result of this conversion, it has greatly improved the effective range of the bike.

Sturmey Archer X-FDD technical

I have got the hub brake on the custom wheel working now.  I had to wait a couple of days for the special Sturmey Archer brake cable.  Now I have one, I think I should be able to replace it with a standard brake cable without too much heartache when the time comes.  The brake is about as good as the Tektro V-brake which came with the bike, but it will still be just as good in the pouring rain.  Hub brakes behave a little differently from the rim and disc brakes I have used, the best way I can describe it is that instead of a constant braking force being applied at the wheel when you apply a given force at the lever, the braking force seems to grow over a period of a few seconds when a constant force is applied at the lever.  The result is a nice quick stop but to the uninitiated the brakes feel odd.  I do quite like the fact that I won’t have to do any maintenance on the brake for a very long time.

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The other feature of the hub I have been playing with is the integral dynamo.  I am quite happy with my existing battery LED lights and I am not currently planning to replace them with dynamo lights.  The hub outputs 6 V of AC which is great for filament lamps but sucks for LEDs and lots of other devices.  I purchased a bridge rectifier from Maplin for 27p to convert the 6V AC into 8 and a bit V DC.  I connected the output from this to both a fixed positive voltage regulator (£1.02) to produce 5V DC, and a battery pack (89p) containing 4 rechargeable Ni-Cad AA batteries.  This allows the Ni-Cad batteries to charge when no other load is attached, and they work in series with the dynohub to power a device when connected.

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The whole lot is inside a clip-sealing tupperware box, and the 5V DC and ground wires are connected to a pair of USB ports:

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The end result is able to charge devices which are able to charge from USB:

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I’m planning to mount the tupperware box on the now unused rim-brake bosses tomorrow.

Kona Africa Bike One Review

I have recently sold my loyal old Revolution Cuillin Sport ‘08 mountain bike to a friend.  The reason behind this was that since I got the Yuba Mundo I have been enjoying its relaxed upright riding position and swept back bars, the mountain bike was starting to feel less comfortable (but also faster).  I decided I wanted the comfort of the Yuba Mundo but the size of a regular bike so I could pop out easily on it, and take it on a train.  Enter the Kona Africa Bike One.

As you may tell from the link above, the Africa Bike One has been discontinued in favour of its bigger brother, the Africa Bike Three.  Three gears is what I wanted however at £350 compared to £200 for the One, I have decided I will do the three-speed conversion myself at a later date.  One of the best things about the Africa Bike is Kona’s 2-for-1 deal whereby for every 2 Africa Bikes sold here in the UK (and probably the rest of the EU and North America, Australia etc) they will donate one to aid workers in Africa and recently Afghanistan.  Aside from its philanthropic value, this also makes the bike practical and sturdy (being designed for use in places where maintenance and repair could be quite difficult).  The bike is cromoly steel with a front V-brake and a rear coaster brake, single-speed and comes complete with mudguards, a chain guard, a rear rack integrated into the frame, a rear-wheel “Nurse’s lock,” and a folding front basket.  For the price it is a hell of a lot of bike, just imagine the price of all of those accessories separately.  CIMG1962 

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CIMG1959The only downsides are the short stock non micro-adjust seat-post and the threaded fork and non cartridge bottom bracket.

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The bike rides extremely well; the swept back almost- moustache handlebars deliver an extremely comfortable riding position.  The step through frame makes it easy to hop off and into a shop for a moment (as does the Nurse’s lock) and the basket is particularly useful for everything.  I have never had a basket on my bike before and now I am thinking about one for the Mundo.  I can finally see why Urban Simplicity’s Joe George loves front racks so much.  The single gear is well suited to urban riding, hills and setting off are not too bad and you can cruise at 25 km.h-1 at a comfortable cadence.  I’m still going to replace it with a Shimano Nexus 3-speed gear hub though, mainly to increase the versatility of the bike.  The stock Continental Town Ride tyres are good on roads and paths, but I might swap them for Fat Franks in the future to make the bike more towpath-worthy (plus they look good too).  The stock seat was also surprisingly ok and the Kona bell is lever-operated to produce a satisfying long ring when pushed.  I found the choice of a rear coaster brake quite unusual but I imagine it is due to the reliability and low-maintenance requirements of hub brakes in general.  I am generally a proponent of front-brake only braking most of the time (thanks to the late, great Sheldon Brown) but the coaster brake is surprisingly effective and quite useful to slow you down gently.

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The bike has a pleasing “uncool” quality; I can’t see many Manchester scallies being interested in stealing it.  Riding the Africa Bike has been thoroughly enjoyable and has given me a better understanding of the appeal of single-speed bikes.  I am happy to add it to the stable.  Stay tuned for my Shimano Nexus 3 upgrading guide soon.