Whenever I get to stay in a different country, I’m always excited to ride my bike and see the country’s different aspects. While the typical tourist will flock to popular spots, I prefer to see how life is in different areas.
It isn’t my first time to bike in Singapore…but it isn’t my first time as well to get lost…even with a map, I still end up in a different place!
But today, getting lost was a fortunate thing for me as I got to ride with the Brompton club based in Singapore.
As I was riding along Marina Boulevard, I happen to see Ejin and I was told that there was going to be group ride to Chinatown…
When we arrived, the place is quite packed, you could feel that excitement and cheer for the Chinese New Year.
I’m thankful to have met them as I was oriented on group cycling in SG…The ride was relaxed-nothing really stressful. Overall, this was a nice experience with a group abroad and I look forward meeting more riders in the future and who says getting lost was bad?
It was only in Caliraya, Laguna where we had a chance to ride together. But prior to that I’ve seen Nerica Joy’s posts online about her adventures with her brompton. Though ive heard of people using the bike on long distance trips, very few would do such in the Philippines. And Nerica is one of those few who’d take that long distance adventure using this 16 inch wonder. For this entry on featured builds, Nerica took time to talk about her bike.
PV: Interesting to see that brompton riders like you go long distance with this bike. Does your bike have a name?
NJ: I call my bike “Tanke” because it’s as heavy as a tank hehe.
PV: Quite interesting name! and i agree with you that the bike is a bit on the heavy side given its steel construction. what’s the story behind it? Why decided to have that build?
NJ: The primary reason I got the my Brompton is because I bike to work. Since my work is client-based, I need a bike with a compact fold and easy manueverability for urban commuting. But since I love to do long rides as well, why the heck not use the Brompton?
PV: I agree about the compact fold and its potential for long rides…i remember the topic of type of bike is a longstanding issue among long distance riders but it’s nice that you always go for personal preference and balance opinions of others with your own needs. so what’s in it? anything special?
NJ: Its sturmey archer rear hub makes it easier to shift gears when tackling steep climbs. Also, its geometry allows me to pedal in a near upright position so I won’t tire easily after long distances. Plus, it is very easy to upgrade the brompton to attach racks and bags. The only fault that I have with my build is that it does not have dual crank (yet). Its current build is best for flat pavements. But that doesn’t mean I don’t use it to climb hehe.
PV: yeah tell me about climbs! you basically strolled through the Caliraya climb without breaking a sweat! since you’ve been doing long distance trips for quite some time, what’s the most difficult ride for you?
NJ: My most difficult ride would be hands-down the Taal Loop via Sungay, Talisay Batangas. After 150 km, we were supposed to climb the dreaded Sungay road going to Tagaytay. I was already exhausted then. This is the time when I wished I didn’t use my Brompton because my build has a 50t crank with 16″ wheels. It was not made for climbing. After just 1km mark from the bottom of Sungay road, both my legs cramped and I could not recover. If only I had a smaller crank, the climb would be easier. I vowed to return with a vengeance hehehe.
PV: Everybody dreads that Sungay climb but im glad you got through it…and hey, it’s just there waiting for your revenge hehe…considering that the Brompton may be a difficult bike to bring if you have a lot of climbs in your route, what would be the most memorable ride for you?
NJ: My most memorable ride would be my attempt to bike from Manila to Sagada. My favorite part was Kennon Road. The view was so breathtakingly beautiful that I did not feel the heat or the distance of pedaling for 5 hours to the Lion’s Head. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Sagada by bike since I had an accident. But still, the journey more than made up for the inconvenience that happened.
PV: Ah yes, i remember that when i saw some of the photos online but im glad that you made a speedy recovery and that didn’t dampen your spirit! Why is this build for you?
NJ: I am more of an urban commuter than a tourer that’s why the B is perfect for me. But don’t let the small wheels fool you. It can keep pace with roadbikes on flat pavement and easy shifting makes it a contender on the hills. It’s great for touring as well as for urban commute.
PV: totally agree on this one. I think on my stable, the Brompton is the best commuter out there given the terrible traffic in Manila! and to end, what advice can you give those interested in bike touring?
NJ: My advice to anyone who is touring is to just do it (Nike? Hahaha). The adventure begins the moment you walk out the door. You’ll know what you will need the next time.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
With international travel becoming more and more accessible to the public, the chance of going on cycling trips abroad are not just a distant dream anymore for the budget minded rider. Due to my work as a teacher, every opportunity I get to attend conferences abroad is also a chance to explore the country on two wheels.
While there are several forums that talk about the routines done in getting your bike ready for international travel, I share with you some of the insights I’ve gained in this. Obviously there are others who have vast experience as I have and it would be good to consult others as well
Preparations for the trip:
Airlines have certain policies in checking in sports equipment and it is important to make sure that if there are fees to pay for this service you might as well avail of them to assure that your ride is safely taken care of during the flight. In the case of Cebu Pacific, a minimal fee is charged (on average, it’s about 2200-2500 for the roundtrip) but varies in terms of the weight of your cargo. In the case of Philippine Airlines (as what ive learned from friends), sports equipment fees are charged but is set at 15kgs.
Packing the bike is crucial as you have to make sure that everything is secure and small parts are safe. Though some friends have checked in their bikes as it is, I personally have gotten cases for my bike. Before, I had one custom made for my 20 inch folder (check out rockbox (https://www.facebook.com/rockboxcases/?fref=ts) they make cases for custom made for your ride—now with the Brompton, I used the Vincita Bag for the B. It’s important to deflate tires a little and wrap your bike with bubble wrap for added protection. Also, don’t forget your tools such as a pump, extra tube and multitool just in case.
Riding in a different place
City riding can be a wonderful experience, but push it further and try looking for those tourist spots far away from the city center. Here are some places worth exploring:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Aside from the city center being dense, one of the issues ive found in this place is that side streets suddenly merge with large highways and can be a problem as cars run REALLY fast! In addition, the terrain is quite hilly so prepare yourself for an uphill climb here and there…There are several parks though but one is all worth the travel-the Batu caves (you gotta love the grandeur of the statue, the length of the steps, the monkeys and the food)
One of the most bike friendly states, Singapore has an excellent network of cycling routes but you might as well consider going bimodal to save time-don’t forget to visit Might Velo for your folding bike needs. Check out the Coney Island bike route
Initially, I had difficulty here as I saw very few bikers I could ask for directions! But the recreational parks with vast bike lanes are excellent. Going bimodal here isn’t a problem as their train system is excellent. Try the Sha Tin bike route-very spacious and accommodates riders of all skill levels
Ho Chi Minh Vietnam
Admittedly, I was pressed for time cycling here and the traffic has similarities with the Philippines. I observed that motorists are much more careful. Noteworthy here are grand structures of the city
Though ive biked in different countries in southeast with varying experiences, there are a couple of things you have to consider which might be helpful:
Always bring your hotel’s calling card. In certain countries, locals may have limited understanding of English and the calling card can help them understand where you’re going and increases your chances of getting helpful directions. Or if you need to bailout and take the cab, all you need to show the driver is that card.
Get in touch with local bikers- Some of our kababayans deployed abroad or local cyclists have been helpful in my trips sharing routes and interesting information about motorists and routes.
Go bimodal and Bikelanes are your friend-in developed states such as Hong Kong and Singapore, there are dedicated parks for cycling. Though it is tempting to explore places by pedalling all the way, getting lost and eventually wasting time is a problem-so consider going bimodal as some countries have excellent public transport systems.
Understand traffic rules. On your first day, it would be good to observe how traffic flows in the country. Do vehicles travel with a left/right hand drive orientation? Are sidewalks big enough for you to cycle just in case? do cars go to fast? Are drivers reckless or are obedient when it comes to traffic lights? For example, while Vietnam may have similarities in terms of traffic in the Philippines, motorists appear to operate on an internal rule to not speed up (I have observed this in streets along Ho Chi Mihn City)
Overall, travelling abroad can be costly if you just shop and can get fattening if you just eat all that sumptuous cuisine…consider cycling and perhaps your travel abroad experience will be much more enriching J