Brompton

Essential Brompton Buying Guide

A Brompton folding bike is one of the most amazing personal transportation tools ever invented. It’s equally useful in your daily multi-modal commute in Chicago, or any large city, international air travel, and even self-supported, pedal-powered globetrotting.

Although the folding mechanism of each Brompton is identical, the bikes are fully customizable and highly adaptable to a variety of applications, and are designed to integrate seamlessly with diverse lifestyles. You can personalize everything on a Brompton from handlebars, gearing, cargo carrying, lighting, tires, to colors, accessories and extras. Best of all, these options —like the bikes themselves— are well and thoughtfully designed to complement your Brompton experience.

However, it can be a little overwhelming to make sense of all the choices. Our staff at Cosmic Bikes have many years’ experience helping customers build and modify their Brompton bikes, and we’ve put together what we think is a pretty comprehensive guide to help you make the right selection. Above all, we encourage you to stop in and test-ride one of our demo models for first-hand experience. We think you’ll be hooked!

Cosmic Bikes Essential Brompton Buying Guide

NEED A REASON?

NEED A REASON?

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

HANDLEBARS

HANDLEBARS

COLORS & LUGGAGE

COLORS & LUGGAGE

GEARING OPTIONS

GEARING OPTIONS

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

FENDERS & RACK

FENDERS & RACK

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

Making the Brompton Your Own: Colors, Luggage & Extras

You’ve chosen your Brompton essentials for optimum functioning and fit. Now comes the fun part.

Colors

For many people, color selection is the most delightful (and frustrating!) aspect of building a custom Brompton. So many choices!

2019_Brompton_Purple_Metallic
2019_Brompton_Hot_Pink
2019_Brompton_Papyrus_White
2019_Brompton_Flame_Lacquer

Each year, Brompton offers a few premium finishes. The ever-popular trademark Raw Lacquer is a clear-coat over the metal frame, which shows off the the quality and craftsmanship of the hand-built frame. Each bike made with the Raw Lacquer finish has a unique appearance due to variations in the surface coloration of the metalwork and brazing. It doesn’t aim to look “flawless”, aiming instead for a more industrial finish. The Lacquer finish uses the same powder coating process as the other frame color options (with the plastic powder having no pigment), and it gives identical durability and protection from corrosion. The steel frame parts on all Brompton bicycles will age and a patina will form over time; the purpose of the raw lacquer finish is to allow the natural aging and altering of the bicycles appearance to be visible, and this will happen differently for every example. The phosphate treatment the Brompton steel undergoes prevents any cosmetic corrosion from becoming structural. For 2019, Brompton has added two gorgeous premium color options: Flame Lacquer, which is a clear-coat with a vivid, glossy copper tone, and Purple Metallic with a three-dimensional effect which seems to shift between purple, blue and even greenish hues depending on the light.

Several powder-coat colors are included as standard options without an additional charge. For 2019, these are Papyrus White, Hot Pink, Red, Racing Green, Lime Green, Lagoon Blue, Tempest Blue and Black. To make choosing even more fun, the standard colors can be combined for a two-tone effect. You can select one standard color for the main frame of the bike, and a contrasting or complementary color for the extremities (rear triangle, fork and steering column). If you are purchasing a Superlight Brompton, you will choose a single color for the main frame and steering column, with titanium extremities.

Luggage

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

On a Brompton, the preferred way to carry luggage is up front. All of the bikes we stock come with the optional front carrier block attached to the head tube. This carrier block can be added to any Brompton. It will allow you to carry any of the Brompton bags, and to switch easily between them, literally with a push of a button. You can choose from a wide selection of bags depending on your needs:

  • Smaller bags: waterproof Mini O-Bag, Tote Bag, Shoulder Bag, and adjustable Roll-Top Bag. These are excellent options for carrying light-weight essentials.

  • Office bags: waterproof O-Bag, S-bag with replaceable front flap, and C-Bag (not suitable for S-type handlebar). These briefcase-style bags have laptop sleeves and interior organizers, and are large enough to accommodate files, spare clothing, lunch, etc. They also come with exterior pockets that face the rider for easy access to a water bottle and other essential items.

  • The T-Bag stands alone as the largest bag that can be used for touring or carrying bigger loads. It has an adjustable roll-top closure, and those same rear-facing exterior pockets (not suitable for S-type handlebar).

  • Brompton basket is an open-top cordura bag designed for grocery shopping.

Note that the bags are mounted to the frame of the bike rather than the steering column, therefore the don’t affect the steering or balance of the bike on turns. Many of the non-waterproof bags include a high-visibility rain cover tucked into a concealed pocket.

All the bags are attractive and well-designed, and function equally well on and off the bike as lifestyle bags. With the exception of the Ortlieb-made O-bags, the Brompton bags include a removable aluminum frame, which allows each bag to attach to the mounting block and gives the bag rigidity. Although removing the frame with each use may not be practical, it is a nice option if you ever plan to use the bag off the bike for an extended period, and prefer a soft-sided shoulder bag. The bag frames come in a few sizes, and may be purchased separately. We find that some customers use that option to create their own luggage by incorporating the frame into duffels, crates or even pet carriers.

Fine-Tuning Your Custom Brompton: Saddle, Tires & Lighting

After you’ve chosen you preferred handlebar, gearing and rack/fender options, there are more decisions to be made:

  • Select your saddle and seat post height and saddle for best fit and comfort

  • Choose tires and lighting for the desired performance and functionality

SADDLE

Few things are as personal as the choice of saddle on a bicycle. Brompton offers a choice of two widths on their standard saddle: 147mm and 167mm. The wider option will work well for both men and women with the H-hadlebar option, where most of the rider’s weight is distributed to the sit-bones. Women in general may find a more favorable fit with the wider saddle, although many men do as well. With the S-handlebar, most men would likely find the narrower saddle more appropriate.

Fortunately, Brompton offers an upgrade to the Brooks B17 Special saddle, which is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship in Antique Brown leather with copper finished rails and rivets. The same saddle is offered in men’s and women’s version, and it will conform to your unique contours with use over time, just like a pair of leather boots. It is a worthwhile and highly recommended upgrade.

A Brompton will also easily accept any other saddle you may have in mind.

Seatpost height

  1. Standard seat post will suit riders with an inseam up to 32-33”.

  2. Extended seat post is two inches longer and will accommodate inseams from 33-35”. However, the the folded configuration, this seat post will protrude two inches beyond the frame. This is fine for daily commuting and storing the bike, but it does not work well for packing the Brompton in a travel case. If you require that functionality, and have a long inseam, choose the next option.

  3. Telescopic seat post will also accommodate inseams up to 35”, but this $60 upgrade gives you the ability to completely collapse the telescoping seat post extension into the main tube of the seat post, making the bike as packable as the standard one.

Tires

Our preferred choice, and the one we order for all of our stock bikes, is the $35 Schwalbe Marathon upgrade for its time-tested durability and puncture resistance. Schwalbe Kojaks are a lightweight option that some Brompton owners prefer who are accustomed to more of a road-bike feel. The Kojaks are lighter and work well on superlight bikes if you want to save additional weight.

The standard used by Brompton in the Schwalbe Marathon Racer, which is a fine compromise, and does not add extra cost.

Although Brompton does not offer this option, we do stock Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires at Cosmic Bikes for customers who intend to use the bike in all conditions throughout Chicago winter.

Lighting

You can purchase a Brompton with just a reflector set, and use lights you already own or purchase a set you like. Any light set will mount on a Brompton as on any other bike. However, you may find that you have to remove the lights or move them out of the way when the bike is being folded.

If you prefer more streamlined lights, Brompton offers two options:

  • A USB rechargeable battery set, consisting of a Cateye 400 lumen front LED headlight and a rear blinker. These differ from after-market lights in that they come with mounting brackets custom-made for the Brompton, and do not interfere with the folding functionality of the bike. They can easily be removed when not needed, and can be conveniently charged wherever you happen to be.

  • Integrated front and rear lights powered by Shutter Precision Dynamo Hub. This is a fantastic option for commuters, which eliminates the problem of forgetting your lights at home or running out of charge. The LED lamps go on when you start pedaling, and feature a small capacitor that allows the lights to stay on when you pull up to a red light, so that you are always visible on your Brompton.

Brompton Rack, Fenders and Rollers

After choosing your new Brompton’s handlebar and gearing, you will select the fender and/or rack option. Three versions are available:

  • Version E: no fenders or rack

  • Version L: fenders only

  • Version R: fenders and rear rack

    Note that there’s no option for getting a rack without fenders.

Normally, we think of fenders as protection from road splash, and a rack as a way to carry gear. However on a Brompton, these options have additional implications for storing and transporting the Brompton when it’s folded, that may not be obvious to someone who has not used the bike before. To make these implications more clear, we’ll go through the versions in reverse order.

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Each Brompton bike comes supplied with two firm rubber rollers attached just behind the point where the rear triangle releases from the frame. These give the bike stability when folded, and allow the bike to be rolled. How well the bike rolls depends on some additional factors.

Version R

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This configuration includes the front fender, and a rear carrying rack with the rear fender attached to it. In addition to providing extra carrying capacity, the rack is equipped with two more rollers, one on each of its outer corners. together with the two rollers attached to the frame, this becomes a stable platform on which the bike “sits” in the parking position. In the folded position with the handlebar up, the four rollers facilitate the towing of the bike, as you might do when walking through an airport concourse, for example.

Best uses: This version is great for users who need to walk with the bike regularly through train terminals and airports, or for use in grocery stores. The rack can of course be used to carry cargo, but any load must be removed prior to deploying the parking position or folding the bike. If you plan to use your Brompton on extended trips, where you’d benefit from additional cargo space, go for the rack. If you primarily use it for daily commuting, the front luggage tends to work better, and the rack is strictly optional.

Version L

M6LBlack.jpg

This setup has the same front fender as above, but in the absence of rear rack means that the rear fender is attached to the bike with slender steel struts. The top of the L-version rear fender sports a single small roller. When the bike is fully or partially folded, this third roller forms a triangle base with the existing frame rollers. This is stable enough for resting the bike, but because this third roller is small, and supported on a fender that has a little “give”, the rolling function is somewhat compromised in the L-version.

Best uses: All-weather commuting. You can save a little weight by forgoing the rack, but don’t skimp on the fenders. They’ll keep the bike, and your garments, cleaner.

Version E

H3EBlack%2BTi.jpg

This is the most pared down configuration. Without either the rack or the rear fender, the bike has a slight tendency to tip when folded. It does not roll well on the two standard rollers attached to the frame.

Best uses: If you want the most light-weight option, and don’t require the rolling function, this is the way to go. If you’re getting a superlight Brompton, excluding these add-ons will definitely enhance the weight savings. This is a fine choice if you use the bike exclusively in dry weather.

switching

The three options are not easily interchangeable and at a minimum require additional hardware, or even complete new kits. For example, you can’t go from L to R simply be adding the rack. The R-version rear fender is different than the L, and must be purchased together id you are adding a rack. Conversions are possible, of course, but can be more involved and costly than you might think. Please check with us to help you determine what will be needed.

Rolling, rolling…

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The stock rollers included with the Brompton are OK, but if you find yourself wishing for smoother, more efficient rolling, you may want to upgrade to EZ Wheels. These are larger and slightly softer rubber wheels, sold in pairs, that will significantly improve your Brompton rolling experience.

Brompton Gearing Options

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While the choice of handlebar on a Brompton does not affect the price, the choice of gears does, and it’s the second most important option that will affect the user experience with your new Brompton.

Brompton bicycles are offered with 1, 2 3 or 6 speeds, and each option has its unique advantages and optimal applications.

One-Speed

1speed.jpg

The single speed Brompton is the most affordable, lightest and least maintenance-intensive option available. It is geared similarly to a single-speed urban bike, so it is relatively easy to start from a dead stop, and capable of decent cruising speed with a reasonable pedaling cadence. The single speed lacks some versatility, and is ideally suited to relatively short trips over mostly flat terrain (and considerably less so to cross-country treks over diverse topography). However, because of its low-weight, compactness and lower assortment of moving parts, it’s also a wonderful companion for out-of-state and international travel, so you are never stranded without your own personal transport. Read more about what else is there to love about the single-speed Brompton.

Two-speed

2speed.jpg

The two-speed drivetrain is comprised of a proprietary 2-speed derailleur which switches the chain between two cogs affixed to the rear hub, and is activated by a small left-hand shifter. This arrangement adds $80, a negligible amount of weight, and an easier gear that turns out to be very useful for going up bridges and overpasses, while retaining most of the simplicity you get with the single-speed. Brompton touts the two-speed configuration as being the most versatile option for urban commuting and multimodal travel, giving the rider a bit more versatility, while still keeping the weight of the bike low.

Three-speed

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The 3-speed option does add about 1.5lbs of weight and $140 over the cost of the single speed, but the venerable 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub is easy to operate and virtually bomb-proof. The Brompton Standard Gear Range (BSR) provides three evenly spaced gears, so you can climb hills, cruise in normal traffic or haul ass when you have a tailwind or when being chased by your neighbor’s dog.

Unlike derailleur gears, internal gears may be changed when you are at a stop, so if you forget to downshift at a stoplight, no prob — just push the shift lever down, and you’ll be good to go in gear 1 when the light turns green. I love, love, love the three-speed option for it’s versatility and simplicity, and I don’t mind the extra weight. However. I have found that on longer rides (exceeding 10-15 miles) I do miss the middle gear between the cruising one and the pushing one. It may be a small inconvenience if you take longer trips infrequently, but if you plan to do world tour on your 16” wheel steed, see below.

six-speed

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The 6-speed Brompton offers the ultimate in gearing versatility, and if you intend to take longer pedaling trips with your new folder, put away any thoughts about keeping it simple and light, and go for the full monty. Yes, it adds more money, yes, it adds more weight. Yes, the two shifters are somewhat more cumbersome and initially confusing (one will shift while you’re at a stop, the other will not). Yes, you have to think about what gear you’re in and actually look at the dang shifters. But at mile 34.3 you will be happy that you don’t have to constantly shift between your cruising gear and your pushing gear, and instead find yourself comfortably pedaling in the “+” version of one or the “-” version of the other.

The confusion over the 6-speed system may ease when you realize that the gears are not a linear arrangement of gears 1 through 6. Instead, the 6-speed system is a combination of the 2-speed and a 3-speed, resulting in two distinct sets of 3 gears. Your right hand operates the 3-speed internal hub, the left hand operated the 2-speed derailleur. In the “+” position, this shifter will allow the 3-speed hub to perform just as it does on the standard 3-speed Brompton. However, when you push the left-hand shifter into the “-” position, it brings the whole 3-speed system into a lower range, resulting in 3 lower gears that dovetail with the standard three. The effective range of all six gears is similar to the span of gears you get on a typical urban hybrid. It takes a little getting used to, but the versatility is well worth mastering the slightly steeper learning curve.

options

To make things a little more confusing, the 2, 3 and 6-speed Brompton drivetrains can be ordered with modified gearing (reduced or increased) to further customize the bike to your riding preferences. The reduced gearing options are appropriate for very hilly areas, or for riders who are less athletic, older or very petite. The increased gearing options may be appropriate for riders accustomed to pushing harder gears.

Most of our customers find that in Chicago’s flat topography standard gearing works just fine. A -12% reduction makes sense on 6-speeds, which feature Brompton Wide Range (BWR) Sturmey Archer hub on the rear wheel. The standard 6-speed comes with a 50-tooth chainring, while a reduced 6-speed comes with a 44-tooth chainring. Because of the wide gear range of the hub, the smaller chainring may give the average rider a more fully usable range of 6 gears, but it remains a matter of personal preference of the rider.

Fortunately, these modifications are accomplished by substituting different size front chainrings (in the case of the 3-speed, the rear sprocket may also be replaced), and are relatively simple to perform by a Brompton dealer after your bike purchase, should you happen to want to modify your gearing in the future.

Choosing the Brompton Handlebar

This is the first installment in our Brompton Buyers Guide, in which we will help you comb through all the different aspects of selecting a new Brompton, including handlebars, gearing, rack/fender option, frame materials, colors, luggage and other options and accessories.

The most visible variable on Brompton bicycles, and one that turns out to be the most significant for rider comfort, it the handlebar choice. It is no accident that the handlebar is the first item in the designation of various Brompton models. Four types of handlebar are offered:

  • S-type, the straight bar offering the lowest riding position

  • M-type, a medium rise bar, offering a moderately upright position

  • H-type, a rise bar with additional two inches of height at the bottom of the steering column, offering the most upright sitting position

  • P-bar, a butterfly-shaped bar, offering multiple hand rests and sitting positions

S-BAR (SPORTY POSITION)

S-BAR (SPORTY POSITION)

M-BAR (MIDDLE POSITION)

M-BAR (MIDDLE POSITION)

H-BAR (UPRIGHT POSITION)

H-BAR (UPRIGHT POSITION)

P-BAR (VARIABLE POSITION)

P-BAR (VARIABLE POSITION)

Because the Brompton handlebar cannot be height-adjusted, and retrofitting an existing bike with a new handlebar configuration is quite costly, it makes sense to give careful consideration to the choice of handlebar. Below, we’ll go over the options in a little more detail, and offer some insights from our long experience of helping customers dial in the perfect Brompton configuration.

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S-TYPE

The specifics: The S-bar itself is 55cm (21 1/2”) wide, and the complete S-bar steering column rises 40cm (15 3/4”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the S-bar positions the rider in a moderately aggressive riding position, however the specific feel is of course dependent on rider proportions. Shorter riders will find the position similar to an urban hybrid bike, while taller riders may find it closer to a drop-bar road bike. In any case, the S-bar is somewhat more rigid in feel than the other Brompton handlebars, resulting in responsive and confident steering.

Recommendations: in our experience, we’ve found that customers tend to combine the S-bar with one- or two-speed gearing options. Indeed, these are the ingredients of ultimately simple, minimalist urban transportation machine. These riders prefer to keep the bike light and compact, and tend to use it for shorter distances, perhaps in combination with other forms of urban transit.

NOTE: Not all front bags are compatible with the S-bar, so it’s also important to take your gear-carrying requirements into consideration when choosing this option.

M-TYPE

The specifics: The M-bar is 53cm (20 3/4”) wide, with a 13cm (5 1/8”) rise, and the complete M-bar steering column rises 52cm (20 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the M-bar position is similar to a hybrid bike with a slightly raised handlebar, with a significant percentage of body weight resting on the wrists. It’s a great option for urban cruising: upright enough for good traffic visibility, and assertive enough when you need to pick up some speed. The M-Bar can be tilted slightly toward the rider to reduce the degree of lean (Note: tilting the bar too much will stress the cables, and cause the handlebar to protrude away from the bike in the folded position, so any such adjustment needs to be done very judiciously).

Recommendations: Most of our Brompton customers select either the M or H bar, and it can be a difficult decision to make. We recommend testing the M-bar for an extended duration, if possible. If you find yourself wanting to rise up in the knuckles of your hand, you’re probably leaning too much, and may consider the H-bar.

H-TYPE

The specifics: The H-bar has the same dimensions as the M-bar, except that the complete H-bar steering column rises 57cm (22 1/2”) above the Brompton main frame, due to and additional 5cm (2”) rise below the handlebar hinge. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.)

The ride: the H-bar position is quite upright, with most of the rider weight resting on the saddle. It’s very comfortable, but may feel somewhat awkward over longer distances for riders accustomed to a more athletic position. For riders shorter than 5’5” (but depending on proportions), the H-bar may be too extreme.

Recommendations: if you’re concerned about back pain, neck cramps or sore wrists, by all means go for the H-bar. You’ll be sitting very upright, but that alone is not likely to slow you down in any way. In fact, you may find yourself doing longer trips on your Brompton, since you won’t be distracted by any discomfort. Should you choose the H-bar, you may also wish to combine it with a slightly wider, more supportive saddle, since more of your weight will be on your sit bones. A Brooks saddle will do the trick, but remember that Bromptons will accept a wide variety of other saddles available on the market.

P-TYPE

The specifics: The P-bar is 51cm (20”) at the widest point, with the drop of about 20cm (7 3/4”) between the highest and lowest position. and the complete M-bar steering column rises 51cm (20”) above the Brompton main frame. (The top of the frame at the point of contact with steering column is 55cm (21 1/2”) from the ground.) It is approximately the equivalent of having the M-bar and the S-bar on the same bike.

The ride: this is by far the weirdest, but also the most comfortably versatile Brompton steering available. Any time your hands get fatigued, or you wish to shift your position, you have not only the top and bottom grips, but also a variety of places to rest your hands along the side curves of the bar. Note that brakes are only available on the top part of the bar, so that should be your default position in traffic, or any situations when you need quick access to brake levers. This is an excellent handlebar option if you’re planning to take longer excursions with your Brompton.

Recommendation: there is no reason not to go with the P-bar, other than its odd appearance. But you can get over that pretty quickly. If you don’t love the foam grips, you can add flair to your P-bar with Brooks leather tape, or any festive handlebar tape of your choice.

Final Thoughts

We’ve seen time and again that new Brompton owners constantly find new excuses to use their Bromptons more, and therefor the utility of the bike expands far beyond what they originally anticipated. Bromptons can, and are, ridden over great distances worldwide. We ourselves have taken our Bromptons on trips exceeding 50 miles per day. Therefore, our parting comments on the topic of handlebar selection is to go with one that you believe you can comfortably enjoy over many miles!

Brompton Overnight Gear

Self-contained Brompton set-up

Self-contained Brompton set-up

Here’s a complete listing of gear brought on a sub-24-hour overnight camping trip on a Brompton folding bike. The trip took place in mid-October, with daytime temps in the low to mid 50’s and low 40’s overnight.

Luggage

  • Brompton-mounted T-Bag

  • Lightweight nylon backpack

    Comments: My original idea was to get everything in the T-Bag, and —in warmer weather— this would have been completely doable.

Essentials

  • Bike: Brompton H3E Superlight

  • Phone & charger

  • Wallet

  • Toolkit (fitted inside Brompton frame), spare tube and pump

  • Front and rear rechargeable bike lights

  • Personal items: toothbrush and toothpaste, advil (just in case)

Shelter and sleeping

  • 2-person Nemo Galaxi backpacking tent (fits neatly at the bottom of the T-Bag!)

  • Nemo Tensor Ultralight Sleeping pad (this is amazing and rolls up smaller than a beer can)

  • REI synthetic sleeping bag, nothing special

  • Thin alpaca wool blanket —this would not have been necessary in warm weather, but made a crucial difference on this trip since I knew my sleeping bag would be insufficient.

Coooking/Food

  • Pre-cooked spaghetti with meat sauce packed in plastic container

  • MSR Pocket Rocket campstove and one fuel canister

  • MSR Camp Cookware Set (more than I needed but it was the only one I had)

  • Insulated steel tumbler

  • Tea bags

  • Matches

  • Folding eating utensils

  • 32 oz bottle of water

  • MSR Trailshot Pocket water filter (I didn’t need it, but I did'n’t know what the water situation would be)

  • Pssst, don’t tell anyone! 1/2 small carton of Bandit Cab to enjoy with my spaghetti.

    Comments: I considered bringing coffee-making apparatus, but opted for tea bags for optimum simplicity. It turned out I did not miss the coffee. Similarly, I would have enjoyed having a hot breakfast at the campsite, but decided against the complications of carrying extra stuff and having extra clean-up.

Clothing

  • Thin stretch cargo pants (these were sufficient for the ride in, but were packed away once I arrived in favor of warmer gear)

  • Gym shoes (my Brompton does not have clipless pedals)

  • Thin wool long johns

  • Insulated windfront biking pants (not tights)

  • Cotton t-shirt

  • Thin LS merino wool jersey

  • Insulated synthetic jersey

  • Neck gaiter

  • Synthetic fleece hat

  • Thin packable down jacket

  • Lightweight gloves

  • 1 pair of thin merino socks

  • 2 pairs of thick merino socks

    Comments: at night I wore pretty much everything except the jacket (which I used as a pillow) and the cargo pants. I layered the cozy merino socks with air gaps between the layers, and they kept my feet warm all night.

Solo Brompton Overnight

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For months, I’ve fantasized about doing a quick, minimalist overnight on a Brompton. After all, what more perfect tool for a quick getaway than this stealthy, compact, uncluttered folding bike, with neatly fitted self-contained luggage options? What could be simpler? Pack a bag, hop a train, find a stop with good biking access to some bucolic location, get off, unfold the bike, clip on the bag and ride off on a delicious midweek escape, right?

It turned out kind of like that, only not quite. Due to circumstances outside of my control, I was not able to take this trip during the warmer part of the season, and the two days I finally chose for my adventure happened to be the coldest ones since spring. This necessitated bringing a little more gear than originally anticipated, in the form of extra clothing, sleeping gear, and food heating gear, which in warmer weather I might have dispensed with (see this post for my complete gear list).

However, I was still able to get all my belongings into a front-mounted Brompton T-Bag, and a small, not excessively stuffed backpack.

For the purists, let me state right of the bat that I was never planning to embark directly out my front door. If I had the luxury of a little more time, I might have been willing to spend a couple hours fighting city traffic to get to a decent trail. However, with the sub-24-hour schedule, I prioritized the pleasure of trail riding over cycling purity, and I — gasp! — drove out to the south-west suburbs to a convenient spot along the Tinley Creek Trail, from which I mapped an approximately 20-mile route to Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs.*

In retrospect, I realized that I had put off this adventure partly because I could not carve out a time to do it all by bike. So take my advice: forgive yourself. Do what you need to do to get yourself out of the city and maximize the time you have available to enjoy nature and adventure on your bike.

I was a little concerned about carrying an overstuffed T-Bag on the front of the Brompton, but I have to say that it handled admirably, although it was very perceptibly slower on the climbs. Oh, well. I wasn’t going for speed anyway.

Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

Solitude on a leaf-strewn trail

Self-contained

Self-contained

My routing turned out to be pretty impeccable up to a point (see below). I parked on a neighborhood street adjacent to the trail in Oak Forest (parking overnight in Cook County Forest Preserves is not allowed). I rode up Tinley Creek Trail following the east part of its northern loop. At its northern tip, I joined the Palos Heights Bike Path to connect to the Cal Sag Trail, which I took west. That connected —seamlessly, as it turned out, despite extensive road construction— to the I&M Canal Trail at Archer and 83rd in Lemont. The sequence of bridges over the Cal-Sag Canal and the train lines have signs requiring you to walk your bike, and I would not call them luxurious or scenic trails, but they are continuous and protected.

I continued my trip along the I&M Canal wondering where the access point to the forest preserve, on the other side of the canal, train track and Archer Avenue would be. And here was the one major glitch in my routing: there IS NO ACCESS. As I rode on toward Willow Springs, my phone confirmed that I had passed the point of entry to the campground. I arrived at the trailhead parking area at Willow Springs Rd, at which point I was finally able to cross the canal, but I was considerably farther up the road than I needed to be. I gamely doubled back along a narrow sidewalk on Archer Ave. Regrettably, the sidewalk came to an abrupt halt about half a mile shy of the entry to the forest preserve.

If you are unfamiliar with Archer Avenue at that point, let me tell you that it is a high-speed road (40mph posted, 55mph actual) thick with cars and trucks, a rumble-strip along the narrow shoulder, and a scant weedy, thorny, bottle strewn strip of grass hugging scraggly woods along the side. It did not help that the time of day was approaching rush hour. Like any normal human being, I consulted my phone for a more sensible point of ingress to the forest preserve. There did not seem to be an obvious option. The other roads were unfamiliar to me, but I knew that a relatively short walk from where I was would put me at the park’s entrance.

So, I walked. This was the most hair-raising half-mile walk I’ve ever undertaken, particularly, as one of the roadside attractions were four crosses erected to the memory of victims of automobile crashes along this very strip of road. I knew that on the way back I would have to come up with different routing.

As you can imagine, I arrived at the campground with considerable relief. On the approach through the gate, the sight of the serene lake, with voices of delighted kids echoing through the woods, and rays of the late afternoon sun warming up the landscape washed over me like a soothing wave, helped me remember why I came, and made everything right again.

All tent sites are lakeside!

All tent sites are lakeside!

what a way to experience First frost …

what a way to experience First frost …

Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

Brompton, barge and train in the distance on the Cal-Sag

… and sunrise

… and sunrise

I took care setting up the tent, blowing up my sleeping pad, and making comfortable sleeping arrangements. The folded Brompton fit snugly in one of the vestibules of the tent. It was too windy to build a fire, and with temperatures quickly dropping, I was glad I brought a tiny campstove to make my spaghetti dinner piping hot. When done, I carried it (along with a paper cup of red wine I snuck in for the occasion) down to the secluded fishing dock on the lake, and enjoyed a beautiful dinner al fresco under the crescent moon.

The night was cold. Official readings were in the 40’s. I stayed reasonably warm in the tent, but I was certainly glad for the extra covers I brought along. At 6am, I woke to a a silvery, frost-covered campsite, completely quiet except for the gaggle of a flock of geese overhead. Steam rose from the lake, and the rising sun gently warmed up the meadow around it. I made hot tea, and drank it while packing up my tent and planning a safer route out of the camp.

I opted to take 95th St out of the campground, and Willow Springs Road back into town to join the I&M Trail. The 2.8 mile ride was much better than Archer Ave, but far from ideal. The shoulder is non-existent, however the traffic is more sparse and slower, with generally courteous drivers who gave me a wide berth.

After a cold night spent outdoors, I was chilled and hungry, and definitely feeling fatigued. I had really hoped to find some great breakfast place to replenish my reserves. As it turned out, I made it all the way back to Palos Park before finding anyplace to eat. I took a short detour off the trail to visit a place called The Harvest Room, where I had about four cups of hot coffee, and a dish of food that had the word “mountain” in it.

I would never wish to repeat my hike along Archer Ave. But having tried a solo camping adventure for the first time, I relish the memory of it, and plan to make time and space for many more.

*Yes, this would have been totally doable by train with a little more planning. From my location on the NW side, I could have taken the Blue Line Downtown, and boarded the train to Orland Park, and connected to the Tinley Creek Trail via the Orland Park bike path.

5 Bike Adventures You Can Have Today

The idea that worthwhile life experiences and adventures have to involve international travel, significant investment and considerable allotment of time are damaging, and keep many of us from filling our lives with adventures right now. It perpetuates the notion that leisure and recreation can only be earned through sacrifice, soul-crushing work, and saying no to what you deeply yearn to do. So we say: say yes!

Adventures lurk inside the city, or just outside of it, and even a day --even several dedicated hours -- spent relishing the outdoors, or doing something our of the ordinary, will make a difference in your week and in your outlook.

1. Breakfast al fresco:
This can be done on a weekend morning in cooler weather, or -- in a pinch -- early on a work-day when the days are longer.
Ride your bike to a nearby beach or natural area. Depending on how much time you have, I would suggest a distance of 5-12 miles one way. Bring along a portable stove, cookware, uncooked breakfast fixings and a thermos of hot tea, or a way to make a hot beverage of your choice. A small table cloth is a nice touch. Pro tip #1: unless you have a self-staring stove, pack matches or lighter!
You will not believe how delicious, nourishing and warming your meal will taste. Take your time enjoying it. Your sneaky adventure will buoy you for the rest of the day.

2. Full moon ride:
Grab a good set of bike lights, and set off before dusk on a full moon night. Ideally, plan a route that in 1-1.5 hours of riding will take you to a body of water or an open field to view the lonely satellite. (Our favorite viewing spot in Chicago area are Gillson Park and beach in Wilmette, or the Skokie Lagoons off Tower Road on North Branch Trail.)
Riding home at night on an unlit trail, with only the circle of your own bike light to guide you is a beautiful way to be alone with yourself.

3. Inclement weather bike ride:
Why not turn bad weather into your ally? Dress for it, but don't expect to be completely comfortable. Finding a way to enjoy the experience despite adversity is what makes it an adventure. One of my favorite rides was a chilly, rain-soaked, early April small town exploration on Brompton Bikes in Fox Lake, the last stop on the Milwaukee District North Metra line. Instead of our usual 30-40 miles, we limited ourselves to about 12, including a meander through the rain-soaked Grant Woods Forest Preserve, where we ducked under a picnic shelter and fortified ourselves with a little bourbon-soaked hot tea we brought along for the occasion (highly recommended!). Dunkin Donuts coffee never tasted as good as it did while we waited for our return train.

4. Foreign cuisine:
In a large city going to an unfamiliar ethnic neighborhood can be almost as exotic as an actual trip to a foreign land at a fraction of a cost. I recommend leaving your smart phone at home, and biking to an area you rarely visit. I've lived in Chicago for over 30 years, and there are still plenty of options for exploration, including Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Rumanian, Nigerian, Middle Eastern, and many more. If you're not sure what to order, do the really adventurous thing and ask for a recommendation from the server. As a result, I once ended up confronting a plateful of very spicy but nearly raw meat at an Ethiopian restaurant.
Pro tip #2: a Brompton folding bike will quickly provide a conversation opener and help to bridge any communication gap.

5. End of the line:
Pick a regional train route, hop on with your bike, and go to the end of the line. Using Chicago Metra Train routes alone yields a dozen desinations, so you could try a new one every month! Once you get past the suburban sprawl, you will find that nature and open spaces are a lot easier to get to. The small town you end up in may have a friendly breakfast spot, where you can get some tips on best nearby places to disappear for a few hours. The quiet rural roads are not likely to have a lot of traffic, and the bike will easily carry you to a place where you can enjoy silence and solitude. In milder weather, you can bring along a packable hammock and even enjoy a midday nap, or simply spend some moments suspended in the company of trees and birds.

Just go!

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Great River Trail by Brompton

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We picked the wrong day for this ride. With our Bromptons in the trunk of the car, we headed out of Chicago intending to ride out and back over a 20 mile stretch of the 60-mile Great River Trail between the towns of Fulton & Savanna, Illinois.

However, after the first few miles of nicely wooded, shaded path, the trail took us over vast, open expanse of prairie, crackling in midday sun. To be fair, the prairie landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. Miles of uniquely midwestern flora along the trail deserve to be fully explored and appreciated. However, though the thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, with heat radiating off the exposed ground we felt like we were under a broiler. We began to look with anticipation for the smallest hint of shade offered by spindly trees and sparse sumac bushes.

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At last we came to a beautiful evergreen woodland park with pine-scented shaded paths, a working water fountain, and a very civilized washroom. We used our bottles to generously douse ourselves with water from head to toe. This would be doable, we thought, prematurely, as it turned out. After a short run through the state park, the trail spit us out again onto the side of a flat, bare, straight, sun-baked road, with contours of a US Penitentiary shimmering on the horizon. Gamely, we headed on, but after a couple of blocks it became clear that continuing the journey as planned might actually put us in danger of heatstroke.

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We decided to cut our loses and turned east into the small hamlet of Thomson, IL in search of light colored t-shirts, sunscreen and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find all three at Arnold's Bike Shop. Actually, we were even more surprised to find Arnold's Bikes Shop in the first place -- tucked away in a tiny town, Arnold's is a minuscule shop, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! Our Bromptons were an instant conversation starter, and the owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and pointed us to a nearby old school ice cream place.

On the way back to Fulton, we took a little extra time to explore the beautiful piney state park, and discovered a tiny, secluded campground directly on the banks of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.

We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.

Season: July (NOT recommended. We'll repeat this ride in the fall.)
Distance: 20 miles (out of 40 planned)
Weather: Brutal heat, mid 90's.
Highlights of the trip: gorgeous piney campground on the banks of the Mississippi at Usace Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Arnold's Bike Shop in Thomson, IL.

10 (or so) Reasons to Own a Brompton in Chicago

-ONE-

You live in a small space / live with someone who resents the amount of space bicycles take up / need all the space you have for your exotic orchid collection.
A folded Brompton makes a 24" x 24" x 8" package, taking up approximately 1.5 sq ft of floorspace, and fits neatly in a closet, under a desk, or in the corner of entryway or garage.
(It also fits nicely on a rimmed rubber boot tray, which is handy to have during wet weather, and will definitely minimize any spousal resentment).

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-two-

Your office building does not allow bicycles.
I'd say they're not very progressive. Haven't they heard about peak oil and the havoc internal combustion engines are wreaking on the environment? Apparently not. But, guess what? They don't have to know that tidy little black package you're wheeling in and out every day is a bicycle. Or they can pretend not to know.
The Brompton Cover Bag is a sneaky lightweight device that protects you from being accused of bringing a bicycle into the building, as well as protecting others from coming into contact with potential dirt from your Brompton.

-three-

You hate bike share.
Right? Those Divvy bikes have roughly all the grace of a cow. A Brompton can do the same thing -- close the gap between the train stop and your office, hop short distances while doing errands, give you a lift when you're running late -- only with style and finesse.

-four-

You'd rather not ride a bike when it's raining. Or when you're really tired. Or on those occasions when you've had a few cocktails with people after work.
A Brompton lets you seamlessly combine cycling with other forms of urban transit. If you set out on a bike, but don't feel like continuing for any reason at all, fold it up, hail a cab or hop on the bus. Or maybe just pop into a coffee shop for a quick cup of Joe, and discover that you don't mind riding further after all (you can still change your mind later). Conversely, if you've been interminably waiting at a bus stop, you may decide to just say no, whip open your Brompton (while other commuters gasp with envy and amazement), and get wherever you're going on your own power.

-five-

You can't stand the thought of being separated from your bike. Ever.
Bring it with you. That way your bike will probably never be stolen. Bring it home, to work, into the grocery store, restaurant, or to Wyoming.

-six-

You're sick and tired of Chicago.
See note about Wyoming, above. If you can swing it, bring your Brompton on a plane, and get away for a month. If not, put in the trunk of your car and get out of town for a day.

-seven-

You don't want to get your hands dirty. Or your pants. Or other people's pants.
It's a little talked about fact that a Brompton folds with all of its naughty bits neatly tucked away inside. This vastly minimizes the chances of you or anyone else coming in contact with chain grease.

-eight-

You are not mechanically inclined.
You don't need to be. Unlike some other folding bikes which require you to (a) have time and patience, and (b) be a contortionist or (c) have the use of three hands, the Brompton fold is quick, easy, and secure. All it takes is about 8 seconds (this is not an exaggeration), and three simple steps, and the bike is securely folded without the need for any additional straps or magnets. Unfolding is even quicker and more impressive (and even if you're really not mechanically inclined, it can make you appear that way).

-nine-

You work on an aircraft. Or you own one. Or a boat, or RV (in which case I definitely don't want to hear you complain about how expensive Bromptons are).
Bromptons are great for anyone who regularly travels using some other means, and wants reliable transportation at their destination. Money jokes aside, one of our customers is a professional truck driver. He keeps his Brompton in the living space behind the cab, and when his truck is being loaded or unloaded (which can take hours, usually in the middle of nowhere), he uses it to get to the nearest town.

-ten-

You like well-made things. Or cute small things.
The people at Brompton take quality seriously, that is why each bike is built by hand by highly qualified team at their London factory. (And it's also why the last sentence was dead serious. It was lifted straight off the Brompton page, and they don't mess around). It is true, however, that Bromptons are exquisitely made little engineering marvels, with surprising little touches that cause delight every time they're used. And, yes, they are cute and small.

Brompton S1E: Your Partner for the Urban Salsa

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It's that unassuming Latin guy who looks like someone's absent-minded dad, until he decides to dance the salsa with the restaurant owner on the sidewalk in front of her taco place. Suddenly, you forget that you were just snickering at his New Balance gym shoes, and his polo shirt coming untucked in the back. Cuz all you can do is just look at his hips in those narrow black jeans, and wonder how can he pack that much passion into such slight movement, how do his feet just know where to land, and how does he manage to utterly command the dance without for one second losing concern for his partner.

The Brompton S1E (especially in your basic black) is all that. Plain. Slightly introverted. Charmingly unpretentious. But always ready to respond to your needs. Personal transportation needs, of course.

If single-speed bikes are the last word in cycling simplicity, the S1E trumps them with compactness and portability. No matter how sexy and elegant, your fixie still has to ride on the bus rack, or wait at the curb while you go to work or eat a restaurant meal. Not so the S1E -- this one is welcome anywhere you go, and is never vulnerable to others who might be tempted by its charms.

It folds small. Really small. Two feet by two feet by eight inches small. That's what happens when you design a folding bike with tiny wheels to fold not in half, but in thirds. It fits demurely under your desk at work, travels quietly in the trunk of your car or taxi, and sits neatly near your front door at home, lying in wait.

Because, really, it's always ready to spring into action. The beauty of the trademark Brompton 3-part fold design, is that unfolded, the bike is longer, more sure-footed than any other compact folding bike. And that's a better ride, small wheels notwithstanding.

So, what's the ride like? Great. Really great: fast, nimble, responsive. The S1E feels light and maneuverable, offers great control in an urban setting, and can take off like a rocket on an unobstructed trail. It's hard not to feel zippy on this bike, even after you've put in a long day's work. Bring it down from the office, unfold it with a practiced hand, hop on and maneuver deftly through the parting sea of pedestrians who look on incredulously (seriously, you're gonna ride that thing?), as you coast seamlessly into traffic. But you just start pedaling and you catch your cadence, your rhythm. Half-way down the block, you feel like you've grown wings, when you start to dance this crazy urban dance with your perfect two-wheeled partner.

Details:

S1E is the simplest Brompton configuration available: flat handlebar, single speed, without rack or mudguards. Simple pricetag too: $1200.