Brompton P6R Impressions

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to finally pick up the Brompton I ordered way back in May. When I spoke to staff at Harry Hall Cycles in Manchester, when looking for a P-type to test ride I was told that only around 0.5% of Bromptons sold by them were P-types, with the vast majority being the M-type. Even the S-type is more popular. Undeterred I ordered a P6R without having tried one (as conversion between types is possible). Now I’ve had a few outings on the bike, I thought I’d share some of my first impressions about the differences between the P6R and my old M3L.

P Handlebar:

Before riding the bike, I had read in several places that the P-type handlebar was very flexy, to the point where some riders felt unsafe. Thankfully, this turned out to be a massive exaggeration (or perhaps something which has been addressed since those comments were being made) as the P-type bar feels very sturdy, even more so than my c. 2009 M-type (but not quite as much as Ms C’s 2000 L5). The effective ‘cockpit’ is smaller than on the M, but this suits my riding quite well, as I often ended up riding on the ‘hoods’ of the M-type. The shorter brake levers seem to work just as well as the longer ones used on the M-type. I have not had much cause to use the lower position yet, and being equivalent height to the bar on the S-type I expect I will only use it when cycling into the wind out up a long hill. Thankfully the P-type seems to offer the advantages of the M and S-type bars in one, without the disadvantages of the S (no overstuffed T-bag, aggressive riding posture, looking a bit hipster). I imagine it won’t be long until I rip a few chunks out of the foam grips on the sides of the P-bar, but thankfully I could easily replace it with bar tape.

Rack:

The main reason I opted for the rack is to increase the stability of the folded package, with the option for spillover capacity capacity for camping etc being desirable too. Obviously the height of the track makes it next to useless for panniers, but there is potential for attaching extra stuff to the top using the included bungees. I added the ‘Eazy Wheels’ a few hours after getting the bike, in order to make the folded bike easier to wheel along. If fitting these yourself it is important to resist to urge to fit the wheels symmetrically, as this will make the folded bike less stable. Just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine.

Dynamo Lights:

Yes I know, I already had dynamo lights on the M3L. The idea behind specifying dynamo lights was that it was an affordable way to get a dynamo wheel and light set for Ms C’s L5 Brompton (M5R in new money). The new dynamo wheel had the locknuts overtightened and the wheel did not spin as freely as the old one. It only required a quick adjustment but for someone new to dynamo hubs it might be perceived as normal drag. The included rear light is the same Spanninga-manufactured one I already had which includes the stand-light, but the front light was the bottom-of-the-range Lumotec halogen which does not have a stand-light. It is still an improvement on the battery-powered affair she was using before, but come winter it might be worth getting something better.

The factory cables routing uses tubing which is mostly run alongside an adjacent brake cable and it is generally more elegant than my ‘wrapping-around-brake-cables’ approach. A word of advice for anyone who is thinking of doing the same thing as me and hoping to do a quick front-light switch; the rear light connects to the front light via one blade & receptacle connection on the front lamps and one ring crimp at the mount, rather than two blade and receptacle crimps as with most higher-quality lamps. Re-using the factory wiring for the rear light with as new front lamp will require removing the ring crimp, stripping some wire and feeding it through the hole in the blade connector (ideally sealed up with some heat-shrink or at least electrical tape).

Gearing:

The M3L had a Sturmey Archer S-RF3 which, once the stock gearing was lowered was pretty good. The P6R comes with the Sturmey Archer BWR hub which is a three-speed hub with wider steps between gears than the S-RF3/AW. This hub also differs from the S-RF3 by having a differently-splined driver than other Sturmey three-speeds in order to accept an additional sprocket, which is coupled to Brompton’s 2-speed dérailleur. These are combined into a hybrid gearing system which uses the dérailleur to produce an additional step between each of the three gears, the result of which is six well-spaced gears. However this comes at a price, every other shift is a double hub & dérailleur shift. Whilst this sounds like a lot of hassle, in practice you will likely skip some of the gears out in normal operation, whilst appreciating having the option there should you need them.

The range of the current six speed set-up is pretty good, with the fist gear being slightly lower than first gear on the M3L after I lowered the gearing. However, I may still lower the front chain-ring to around 46t in the near future. I opted not to go for the lowered gearing option when buying the bike as it cost an additional £15 for a substitution, whereas an equivalent Stronglight set would only cost £20 and leave me with the original Brompton part as spares/eBay fodder.

Other differences:

Both pedals have been redesigned since my M3L was made. The result is that they more closely match aesthetically and the folding pedal fixes to the crank arm via a socket head screw (looks like 10 mm) rather than a much rarer 24 mm hex head. Whilst the folding pedal bearing is still pressed into the aluminium plate (and thus not officially user serviceable) it appears to have been changed to one which I hope is more durable. The crank arms are now engraved with the icon depiction of the Brompton fold used in much of Brompton’s material, rather than the logo decal used in earlier years.

The brake pad cartridge holders have been changed to a new type with cut-outs in the side. I suspect that this was done to save weight, even though it is likely that it only saves as much weight as a good shave.

I have opted for the firm suspension block, as the standard one on the M3L spend most of its time in the ‘fully compressed’ state which negated much of its benefit. The firm block improves comfort by a surprising amount. I transferred the Brooks B17 saddle from the M3L to the P6R, although the stock saddle wasn’t all that bad.

So far the P6R is a pleasant improvement over the M3L. The bike feels re-assuringly solid, which is appreciated after some of the concessions Brompton had made to the overly weight-conscious over the years. The addition of the rack and the P-type handlebar adds a bit to the bike’s weight, but as is generally the case with weight on bicycles, this is effectively imperceptible when riding. It would make a difference when carrying the bike, but in practice this rarely comes up, as the bike can usually be pushed unfolded to within a few metres of where it will sit when folded up.

Now I need to get the M3L ready for its new owner…

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The Raleigh Cameo Project

Walking home from the shop on Sunday I spotted a pair of bikes by the dumpsters at the end of a terrace. The one closest to me was a low end Halfords house-brand mountain bike. I wasn’t going to look any closer, but I spotted a Sturmey Archer AW hub on the bike behind and decided to take a closer look. The second bike was a Raleigh Cameo, one of the various names given to what is basically a ladies Raleigh Sports.

The rear hub is stamped 11.79, the front wheel is missing. I assume that the front wheel was stolen and the low value of the bike in its current state led the owners to simply give up on it.

There are a few rusty spot on the frame, in keeping with the age and condition of the bike, but it is otherwise sound. The front mudguard looks as if it could be persuaded back into its original shape, but sadly the rear mudguard is missing (except for the remains of the right stay, which is caught in the wheel). The rear rack is not original, not to mention hideous. The saddle is a pretty basic mattress saddle of the era.

The fork has the same crown as my DL-1, the lug-work is also quite similar. The frame is quite similar to the step-through version of the DL-1, differing mainly in the seat and head-tube angles, which are slightly steeper on this model. With a bit of work, it could make quite a nice (third) bike for Ms. C and a loaner for visitors.

Finding this bike gave me an idea for a project. Seeing as the bike was free, I thought it would be interesting to try and restore it to a functional state using either free, cheap, hand-me-down or trade parts. These bikes (and very similar non-Raleigh models) were very common in their day, so it should be possible. Stay tuned for updates.

Mass Obsession

Whilst I primarily see cycling as a mode of transport, there are many for whom it is more of a sporting or leisure pursuit. Plenty of cyclists use their bikes primarily for transportation purposes, typically commuting, where the bicycle offers them a time advantage over driving, walking or public transport during peak hours. As sport-cycling is currently the dominant image of cycling sold by bike shops in the UK, it is common to see people riding for a wide variety of purposes on a narrow selection of bikes, typically racing (or road) bikes, mountain bikes, or the horrific merging of the two; the hybrid.
Anyone who gets on a bike to get around is a part of the solution, regardless of the type of bike they choose. After all, even a jump bike with a single low gear and no provision for fitting a saddle is still a more suitable method of getting around town than a single person driving a car designed to carry five. However, at times I do find certain behaviours of other cyclists a bit baffling.
Obsessing over the mass of your bike, also referred to as being a “Weight weenie,” is particularly baffling when taken to extremes, especially on a bike ridden as a mode of transport. I can understand not wanting to carry a significant amount of extra weight unnecessarily, but I cannot fathom why anyone would choose not to have a rack on the bike they ride to work, just to save a tiny bit of weight. Often this means carrying a rucksack on your back instead of a pannier on your bike, the discomfort and inefficiency of carrying your luggage this way is a pretty poor trade-off compared to the tiny bit of extra weight a rear rack adds. Mudguards are another bicycle component which many choose to do without, the need for a change of clothes after even a shortest ride on a wet road, (even after the rain has stopped) to save the added mass of a pair of mudguards seems utterly baffling.
Another seldom-considered factor is what I’d like to call “Weight compensation.” Common cycle wisdom states that less weight gives the potential for a higher speeds, but it also allows the rider to achieve the same speed with a little bit less effort. Safety interventions such as seat-belts and ABS are supposed to make people safer, but often end up subconsciously encouraging people to take greater risks because of the increase in perceived safety. reducing the mass of your bike will probably just end up making you use less effort to travel at the same speed. The body is a dynamic thing, and it won’t take long for it to adapt to the reduced demands placed on it; take off that bike rack and eventually you become that tiny bit more feeble as you settle back to the pace you were travelling at before, losing the muscle strength you once had. I’ve seen this realisation on the faces of many a roadie when I’m out on the Yuba Mundo. The bike alone weighs in excess of three times as much as a good racing bike, but as they slowly overtake me they see I’m only travelling a few km/h slower than they are, on a huge bike which puts the rider in an upright position to boot.
The rider matters a lot more than the ride.

DL-1: One Year On

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It has been around a year since I took delivery of my Raleigh Tourist De Luxe. Of course by, “Took delivery,” I mean cycled to Didsbury on the Yuba Mundo to meet the old gentleman from whom I was purchasing this fine steed, and towed it back to home. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be for me, having had no opportunity to test ride it. What I did know however, was that if I didn’t like it, I could sell the bike (or its component parts) for a fair bit more than I paid for it that day.
When I got the bike home, I adjusted the saddle and took it for a spin. Whilst I liked the ride, it wasn’t quite right; the gearing was far, far too high, with first gear being what I imagine a reasonable third gear should feel like on a three speed. The rod-brake handlebar was limited in its range of height adjustment and the angle of the bar was fixed. Luckily, a few replacement parts allowed me to fix these minor gripes and turn the bike into the perfect everyday transport solution for me. Over the past year I have made numerous additions and upgrades to the bike.
Additions and upgrades:
I have also been forced to replace a few parts due to failure.

Replacements due to failure:
However, I should mention that the X-RD3 hub was at least somewhat faulty from the start, and that my own experience shouldn’t detract from the consensus that this hub, and internal hub gears in general, are the best choice for a practical, low maintenance utilitarian bike.
After a year riding this bicycle, I can sincerely declare it to be one of the smartest purchases I have ever made. Since getting this bike I certainly cycle a lot more. My odometer is currently displaying a total distance cycled of 13,029 km, up from 8,000 km at about this time last year, most of that distance has been for transportation (as opposed to leisure), covered on the DL-1 because it is such an easy bike to ride.
When I say the DL-1 is easy to ride, I am not just referring to its ride quality (which is excellent). As an upright bike with mudguards, a chain-case, comfortable Brooks saddle and (since the addition of the saddlebag) permanent luggage, puncture-resistant tyres, automatic & permanently affixed dynamo lighting and low maintenance brakes and gears, all I ever have to do if I want to go out is unlock the bike, hop on and go. It is my hope that all of these features represent part of a bigger future for cycling in the UK, even if a lot of them come from its past.

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 The Tourist De Luxe as it is kitted out today
Whilst not quite the same as my Tourist De Luxe, Raleigh has recently started to sell the Raleigh Superbe again in the UK, after courting the, “Sporting goods,” and “Bicycle-shaped object,” markets almost exclusively here for the past few decades:
The 2011 Raleigh Superbe, is specced and priced similarly to the Pashley Roadster Sovereign (although not made here in the UK). It is available from numerous cycle outlets, including Evans Cycles.

Ride Report: BSP Seine “Motherbike”

During my recent visit to Practical Cycles I was able to test ride a number of bikes including the BSP Seine bike. I will be posting ride report for the Bakfiets later this week. Previous ride reports can be found here.

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The BSP Seine is a modern-styled Dutch bike; it has the geometry and practical componentry of a classic Dutch bike but it is made of oversized aluminium tubing rather than lugged steel. It is aimed at a family audience, having two child seats in addition to a pair of small panniers.

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The smaller of the two child seats is placed up-front, with the handlebar wrapping around the seat.

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The larger child seat is placed above the rear rack, without preventing the use of smaller panniers

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The bike has a very appropriate specification; hub gears (7 speed Nexus) and roller brake in the rear

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Roller brake and dynamo hub in the front

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Smart-brand light-sensing front lamp

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Battery-operated light & motion sensing automatic rear light

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And of course a frame-fitted O-lock and skirt-guard

The bike is also equipped with a full chain-case, mudguards, a steering stabiliser and a twin-leg kickstand. When I came to ride the bike, if felt instantly familiar. The geometry and swept back handlebar gives the bike a similar ride quality to the DL-1. The low step-through meant that the front child seat did not negatively affect getting on or off the bike, and it did not diminish the ride. The handlebar was tilted a bit low for me, but this can be easily adjusted to accommodate a range of rider heights.

The roadster-like handling characteristics make the bike extremely stable, which is ideal for a bike designed to carry children. It is definitely a much better option than carrying your kids the one mile to school in a Land Rover.

Zaynan from Practical Cycles will be at the Chorlton Green Festival on Saturday the 16th of April. Amongst the cycles he will have with him will be the BSP Seine, so head down there if you fancy a closer look or a test ride.

Ride Report: Surly Big Dummy

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During my recent visit to Practical Cycles I was able to test ride a number of bikes including the Surly Big Dummy. I will be posting ride reports for the other bikes I test rode throughout the course of this week.
The concept behind the Big Dummy is essentially the same as that of the Yuba Mundo, the wheelbase is extended to allow an extra-long rear rack to be incorporated into the frame. The Big Dummy differs however in that the rear rack is not part of the frame, instead the frame is built to use the Xtracycle platform which can be used to convert most 26 inch/700C bikes into long-tail cargo bikes.
The Big Dummy is a significant step up in price from the Yuba Mundo, but this is reflected in the componentry included, and the cromoly steel used to construct the frame. By using the Xtracycle platform, all of the Xtracycle accessories are compatible with the Big Dummy. This was a big advantage over the Yuba Mundo a few years ago, but Yuba have since caught up and offer a much larger selection of add-ons and accessories.
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Zaynan, the owner of Practical Cycles poses with the 8-speed Alfine geared Big Dummy
The standard spec complete Big Dummy comes with derailleur gearing, but Zaynan offers customisation options, the model I test rode was equipped with a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear, complete with high-end trigger shifters.
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I was particularly taken with the lovely Sturmey Archer chainset (this picture sadly does not do it justice, someone else has done better). At first I thought it was the hugely expensive SA chainset recently reviewed on Road.cc, but I was please to learn that it is actually only around £36. Now all I need is a bike which it will be appropriate for.
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Sadly Yuba have stopped specifying Fat Franks for the V3 Mundo. Thankfully the Big Dummy still comes with this excellent tyre. The Xtracycle rack (unpainted tubing) fitting point can also be seen here, with the optional Wide-Loader stored away in the right Xtracycle bag, being installed in a similar manner to the main rack.
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The model I test rode was also equipped with a front B&M dynamo light powered by a Shimano Disk-brake dynamo-hub. This is effectively the same light as my DL-1’s Lumotec Retro but in a more modern-looking package.
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Using the Xtracycle platform enables Big Dummy owners to use the full range of Xtracycle accessories, including their heavy-duty kickstand
As for the ride, the bike felt instantly familiar to me. The steerer had thankfully been left at full-length and the bike had been equipped with moustache bars to give a more upright posture than the standard spec Big Dummy. The handling was almost exactly the same as the Yuba Mundo, but the rider position was more reminiscent on the Brompton M-type. For me this was perfectly pleasant, although the geometry and componentry of the Big Dummy are likely to appeal to someone who wants a cargo-bike which feels more like a cross-country mountain bike.
The Alfine hub was slightly smoother than the Nexus equivalent, the shifting was very precise and fast, even under load which is usually a problem for hub gears. The shifter was of the dual-trigger variety with one lever for shifting up and one for shifting down. This is the first time I have used this arrangement with a hub gear and I found it worked rather well. The Shimano disk brakes were as good as any of the cable-actuated discs I have used elsewhere and are an appropriate choice for a bike designed for load carrying and reasonable speed.
My impressions of the Big Dummy were favourable, but is it worth double the cost over the Yuba Mundo? If you are likely to spend a lot on upgrading the Yuba Mundo, the Dig Dummy may become more competitive price-wise. The frame is of a higher build-quality and higher-grade steel, but its load rating is lower. The standard rear dropouts (as opposed to the odd 14 mm dropouts on the Mundo) are more conducive to installing hub-gears, making any future hub-gear upgrades easier for Big Dummy owners than Yuba Mundo owners.
The upgraded specifications of the V3 Yuba Mundo do reduce the competitiveness of the Big Dummy in my opinion, although these have also increased the price. Personally, I enjoy the process of tinkering with, and upgrading my bikes. However, I understand that many people do not feel the same way. If you want the best componentry on your long-tail without the need to do a lot of upgrading, the Big Dummy could be for you.
Zaynan from Practical Cycles will be at the Chorlton Green Festival on Saturday the 16th of April. Amongst the cycles he will have with him will be the Surly Big Dummy, so if you want to have a closer look or a test ride, head down there.

Small Wheels Good

Amongst the more performance-oriented parts of the cycling community, there is something of an aversion to small wheels. Large wheels have certain benefits, they deal with uneven surfaces better than small wheels and the wheel does fewer revolutions for a given distance, leading to longer tyre life.
There is a common misconception that larger wheels are faster. At very high speeds, there are benefits to larger wheels due to the gyroscopic effect, but these only come into effect at speeds seldom sustained for long by even professional cyclists. At low speeds, the reduced weight and air resistance of a smaller wheel makes them faster than their larger counterparts, making them ideal for transportation use in start-stop traffic.

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An original Moulton bicycle from the 1960s, spotted in Chorlton.

The 200 m flying start world speed record for a bike using the conventional riding position was set on a modern Moulton in 1985.
Another advantage of a smaller wheel is strength. Shorter spokes make for a stronger wheel, just look at the amount of punishment the 20 inch wheels used by BMXers are put through. The strength of smaller wheels is also put to clever use in the Madsen bicycle and the Bakfiets (images taken from respective sites):

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Madsen bucket bike

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Workcycles bakfiets

Smaller wheels make hub-based brakes more effective. Drums, rollers and discs all work better on smaller sized wheels due to their central location. I use a drum brake on my Raleigh Twenty and it is more powerful than the same unit on my DL-1.
As has been discussed over at Lovely Bicycle! smaller wheels increase the range of rider sizes which can be accommodated. Sadly, the desire on the manufacturers’ part to only use one wheel size for a given model means that proportionally smaller wheels are seldom used for smaller sized frames (such as 650Bs on a smaller touring bike rather than 700Cs). Added to this is the common misconception that smaller wheels are slower, meaning that small wheeled bikes for touring are still a niche market (The Moulton being the only small-wheeled dedicated touring bike which springs to mind).

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The Raleigh Twenty was Raleigh’s more-affordable answer to the original Moulton. Raleigh eventually owned Moulton for a time.


Small wheels are also more manoeuvrable, which is a desirable trait when riding in traffic, as many Bromptonauts will agree. Finally, small wheels are easier to store. This is not just useful for folding bikes like the aforementioned Brompton, but also for rigid bikes such as the Moulton and the Twenty. The Twenty doesn’t get the same special treatment on the train as a folder, but it is much easier to take in and out of a train, or to squeeze into a gap somewhere during busy periods. It is also easy to take into a house rather than lock up outside, and the small wheels make the whole package easy to carry up a flight of stairs.

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Type M Brompton. Brompton, like Pashley and Moulton are one of the few companies to still make their bikes in the UK

Small and large wheels each have their own advantages, when choosing a bike, don’t count small wheels out too quickly.