In this post, I describe the bike and gear used for our recent Caliraya bike tour
The bike: The Smurf With No Name (Brompton P6R)
SPECS: Brompton P6R
Chain: KMC 9 speed chain
Drivetrain: Sturmey Archer internal gear hub x 50t crank
Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Racers 16x 1.35
I got this bike in Febuary 2016 and among my rigs, this remains to be the last one that hasn’t experienced a multiday tour. Initially, when I got this, the model was M6R and did a conversion of the handlebar (the P Bar) for touring purposes.
With a Sturmey Archer 3 speed Internal Gear Hub and External Cogs 14 and 16t combined with a 2 speed derailleur, the bike has a total of 6 speed configurations. Noticeably in folding bikes, the long stem tends to make the handling a little twitchy and the same is noticed with the Brompton. With a 50t crank, it does take a little more effort for the bike to power and the shifting of gears may make riders feel the difference between using an IGH and regular derailleur systems. One noticeable feature is that every shift in gear may tend to be quite abrupt-either too light or too heavy. In addition, the steel construction of the bike makes it stiff yet a favorable flex is felt similar to other steel bikes (i.e. Surly). But while the stiffness is a good thing, the small frame and fork and wheels tend to absorb vibrations weakly making the rider feel every pothole or bump on the road.
The bike has a long wheelbase comparable to bigger wheeled bikes making the ride quite stable. The 16inch wheels provide a much more sleek feel and this makes the Brompton shine as it is easy to maneuver especially in heavy traffic.
In a tour, small wheel bikes may obviously be an unlikely candidate but they are worthy for long distance explorations (ive done one in Pagudpud using a Dahon C7A) since they are easy to transport when folded and when things go wrong, you can always bail out with a small foldie!
For the Caliraya trip, the Brompton was very much agile in terms of maneuvering through traffic. It was quite easy to go through small spaces as you move along with other vehicles. The standard brakes that come with the Brompton also provide great stopping power. The feel is comparable to those high end v brakes-XT/XTR/Avid SD7s.
In terms of cruising and speed, it is similar to other steel bikes-feels a little bit heavy (slow) but is relaxing to operate and you don’t feel your body aching after the trip. Make no mistake though, it isn’t like a Surly that can take a lot of punishment in absorbing vibrations but the steel frame doesn’t make you feel like a rotten fruit after the ride
As regards its performance in climbs, the gearing may feel a bit inadequate as I had to exert effort in certain gradually elevated portions of the route. It may be safe to say that it may be a bit difficult to spin the rig given the large toothed Chainring and abrupt changes in gearing. However, the bike appears to be fine for moderate/light stretches of climbs.
For this tour, there are several features I’d like to zero in on specific parts of the bike.
The P bar
Among the different handlebars offered by Brompton, this one can be considered as their touring bar. Similar to butterfly handlebars (only oriented vertically), they afford several hand positions providing comfort during the whole stretches of the ride. Since the rider’s position is upright on a Brompton, the P bar allows you to hold on to the bottom part of the bar similar to dropbars making your posture a bit more aggressive-great if youre cruising on open road to minimize the effect of headwind. Also, the P bar provides a lot of mounting space for lights and other stuff.
Front Carrier (Available at Coolstuff168 https://www.facebook.com/pg/All-about-Bromptons-364830127010048/photos/?tab=albums)
The Brompton’s key component for carrying luggage is the Front Block Carrier and can carry a variety of bags. Though it does not get in the way in terms of steering the bike, bigger bags tend to be a problem if headwind is encountered. Hence, for this tour, I used the Ortlieb Mini O bag
The Brompton has its own specific rack bundled with a pair of bungee cords for Cargo hauling. Though the rack may accommodate a drybag, mounting third party rack bags or panniers may be a problem as there is very little space between the rack and the rear fender underneath as well as the railings are quite thick compared to other racks (ive tried installing a Deuter rack bag and it just didn’t fit!). Some would use dry bags or a backpack on top secured on the saddle but I used a new set of panniers which I will get into later.
One major concern among Brompton users is the difficulty in changing flat tires. In my rig I used Schwalbe marathon racers with Dr. Sludge sealant inside the tubes. I’ve been using this since March 2016 and I haven’t experienced a flat since then. Though it tends to corrode/contiminate the valves after a couple of months, cleaning it can extend the life of the tubes as well as the sealant.
Brooks Cambium C17 (available at Bikeary bicycle lifestyle https://www.facebook.com/bikeary/?pnref=story)
Much like in my other rigs, this saddle has been spot on for me and didn’t pose problems while riding. Another advantage for the Brompton is that the use of Brooks saddle affords you additional space for attaching another bag in case you’ll need to go for a longer tour (Carradice or Ostrich bags are perfect for this)
Overall while the bike has potential for longer tours, operating this rig may require the rider more effort and getting used to.
In the trip, I used three bags-Ortlieb mini O bag, Pacgear top tube bag and the Conquer Dispatch Lite (prototype)
Ortlieb Mini O bag
This bag is custom fit for the front block carrier of the brompton and ive placed my electronics and other personal stuff. True to the company’s assurance that their products are waterproof, my stuff remained dry amidst two days of light-moderate rain. It is spacious and does not seem to cause problems when riding against strong headwind.
PacGear Outdoors “Tanke” Top Tube Bag (https://www.facebook.com/pg/PACgear/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1092919724140439)
For this one, ive placed my tubes and Brompton Tool. Attaching the bag to the seatpost and frame, the bag is quite sturdy and didn’t pose problems while pedaling. Surprisingly, the thick fabric has a high level of water resistance, when we experienced constant raining, the contents remained dry.
Conquer Dispatch “lite” (prototype) panniers
As part of expanding the bikepacking line of Conquer bags, the dispatch lite panniers (I just gave a name to it!) is a response for riders who need bags for their small wheeled rigs or those going on extended tours but need a little extra space for their stuff. I’d say the bags are similar to Porcelain Rocket’s Micro Panniers and Revelate Designs’ Nano panniers. That is, if one finds a fully racked setup too heavy or a rackless setup very limiting, you may want to go “semi-racked” (perhaps using a low rider or light/small rear rack for extra stuff).
Weighing at 0.47kg per bag, the dispatch lites appear to be one of the smallest ones in the market (much like the Vincinta B050V panniers https://www.vincita.co.th/collections/pannier/products/b050-single-pannier-small)
Made of ripstop fabric with excellent stitchwork, it has a high degree of water resistance. As ive experienced during the Caliraya trip where it drizzled and eventually rained (light-moderate) for two days, the material absorbed moisture but didn’t get through the inside (to be sure though, it would be wise to store your stuff in ziplock bags as they are always effective!). like other bags of this type (Revelate Design, Porcelain rocket and Rogue Panda Designs), the bag attaches to your rack using clip straps/Velcro with several attachment loops making it versatile in terms of accommodating different rack types. Moreover, the bag has shoulder strap loops for easy carrying when you need to take out the bags from the rack (yup, the strap is included in the prototype). In addition, the front part of the bag has loops as well for daisy chaining a ripcord or using bungee cords for additional attachment security if carrying heavy loads (much like in the Brompton!)
In terms of volume, I suppose you can store as much as 2.5 liters in each bag (5L in total). In my case ive tried stuffing 2 days of clothes on bag, my Klean Kanteen (500ml), slippers, extension cord/multi USB port and charger, toiletries kit in the other with space to spare. I would assume that for a heavy packer like me using a Brompton in a longer tour, I’ll probably stuff 4 or 5 days of clothes in the bags and have a saddlebag to store utilities and other stuff there.
The bags blend seamlessly with the Brompton as they attach easily to the rack with the clip straps. Though it touches the IGH chain, it doesn’t affect the shifting performance (and ive run through unfine contours of pavement, some puddles of water in the street and several potholes on the route). During the ride, the bags didn’t sag nor were they a problem when banking during the descent from Caliraya (they didn’t touch the ground) as it had several inches of clearance from the ground keeping your stuff safe.
While the bag may seem perfect, it is not without problems. Several improvements can be made with this prototype-good thing Conquer reports this will be released early 2017 (with a price much lower than its big brother-the Conquer Dispatch panniers).
The dispatch lite can be improved in several ways:
- The zipper can be replaced with a rolltop strap clip as it helps in increasing storage space as well as water resistance.
- Since I tried both Velcro and Strap Clips for attachment, the strap clips appear to be better at securing the cargo as well as ease in removing or attaching the bag.
Users of the bag will need to closely consider heel strike in attaching these to the rack (especially for small wheeled bikes). Though I haven’t experienced heel strikes during the trip, Marvin Martinez who tried pedaling felt heel strike due to his big feet and therefore, one will need to attach the bags further to the end of the rack (good thing, the clips can afford you greater ease and variation in mounting.)
Though this prototype appears to have certain minor issues, I think this may be the perfect pannier for the Brompton or similar small wheeled bikes (as far as i know, there are no existing panniers for the Brompton). Further, for those needing smaller bags for their bike commutes or extra space for extended tours and not wanting great weight penalties, this should definitely be part of your armory.
In sum, given the setup of the bike, gear and ride conditions, it would be good to see how this setup performs in a much longer tour and see how these hold.