Monday, 23 February 2015

Brompton M3L review

My Mum used to have something like a Brompton in the late 80's and even then, as a child that loved all manner of things, I thought it was rather silly.

The fold looked awkward and as did the single low top tube. Bluntly, it simply wasn't a real bike. And before I bought one a few weeks back and started to use one on a daily basis, I would have still agreed with the 5 year old me.

Cycle Scheme

Luckily, my company offers a great benefits package and it allows me to enjoy my two wheeled hobby perhaps more than I would or should be able to otherwise. Couple that with the fact that I hate the walking parts of my commute, I ended up taking the plunge to try out a Brompton.

My requirements

Before any major purchase, it's best to write a list of requirements so that you can accurately assess them against each option.
  • Could be stowed on a train during rush hour (there are strict limitation on what bikes can be on London bound trains)
  • Had some kind of street cred
  • Had a good reputation for reliability
  • Could take mud guards
  • Had a good supply of spares available
  • Wasn't too awkward to fold up or down
  • Would last 5 years
  • Would fit me comfortably and allow me to cycle efficiently
My M3L 2014 Brompton
In the end, it was always going to be a Brompton. It's synonymous with commuting and it's the final word in the best fold-up money can buy.

Which Brompton model to buy?

I'd done some prior research on sizing (there's only one size frame) and specs. I'd deduced that I'd want the M3L and in red (they go faster). In Brompton speak, M3L means it would come with a traditional handlebar, 3 gears, mudguards and a pump.

Below is a breakdown of what the different Brompton codes mean. You can even customise your own version on Brompton's website too.
Handlebar style Gearing choice Fixtures
S Sporty 1 Single speed E Minimal; no mudguards or pump
M Traditional 2 2 speed derailleur L Mudguards and pump
P Dual height 3 3 speed internal hub
H Upright 6 6 speed internal hub R Mudguards, pump and rear rack

X optional lighter titanium forks, triangle and sundries

The art of folding

Neatly folder and taking up little space
on the train
Well, it's not really much of an art to be honest. With almost anything, it's practise that makes perfect. But to those who are unfamiliar with the few steps it takes to fold a Brompton, it can look like poetry in mechanical-motion (well it did to me when I first saw a chap swing and fold this bike from nothing into something. Marvellous).

Learn how to fold on the Brompton website.

What's the ride like?

My initial reaction to riding a Brompton was how twitchy it is. I usually ride very slack head angled mountain bikes, which means steering is slower and more predictable, so riding a Brompton almost feels like steering on a uni-cycle. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to get used to and within the week it becomes second nature.

The small wheels mean acceleration is quick and the rear 'shock' takes the sting out of the road and provide a very comfortable ride. I would still recommend to avoid pot-holes and bumps as the small wheels can literally become engulfed in some of the pot-holes in London.

The handlebars flex when you're really pushing it, but then this isn't a race bike. It's a sit-up and ride comfortably whilst enjoying your morning commute. It's still plenty fast, but with minimal and tall gearing, coupled with London traffic, you won't be getting up to full speed all that often.

Usually I modify my bikes within hours of getting them. New tyres, new brakes or saddle. Something has to change. But for the Brompton, it's testament to its sound specification that I haven't changed a thing. The saddle is comfortable, brakes worthy and the tyres have proven themselves over an English Winter. I couldn't be more impressed and satisfied.

Final thoughts

When I first started to write this post I had only had the bike for a few months. I've since been rather busy and I've now owned the bike for 6 and my thoughts on the bike haven't changed. It's still the right bike for commuting, it's recognised everywhere and it's been the tool that I needed to help reduce the frustrations and durations of my commute. On a short walking commute this bike has saved me 30 minutes a day at least. It also leaves me more comfortable when I get to the office and carrying heavier items, such as laptops, are less of a concern than when I was walking.

I truly wish I had bought a Brompton earlier.

Friday, 20 February 2015

10 reasons to visit Bike Park Wales

Holy. Cow. If you're in anyway into riding fun down hills (not specifically downhill runs), then I would heartily recommend that you pay a trip to Bike Park Wales.

For me, the day passed in a bit of a blur, and quite unusually I wasn't inclined to stop and take photos as I was having so much fun. Although I did manage to come away with 10 clear reasons as to why I would recommend you to visit and why I will be visiting again in the near future.

View from the top just a short way along Sixtapod (blue)
  1. The staff are little gems
    I chatted with 4 different members of staff and they all came across as passionate bikers, but what I really liked was that they seemed genuinely excited for me riding BPW for the first time
  2. The trails are plentiful and well marked
    Once you're at the top, you just pick a trail and off you go. And trails easily lead into other trails, but at big intersections, and along the trail sometimes, you can branch off onto other trails easily enough. Signs are big and are bordered with the colour grading of the trail. Simples
  3. It's easy to get to
    M4 Junction 32 > A470 for 14 miles or so > loads of car parking
  4. The bike shop guys know their stuff
    I asked for their advice on knee pads and they recommended a heavier duty set. Boy were they right. I came off on Rim Dinger on one of the berms at the top, and I was so glad to have had the bigger pads
  5. The shuttle runs are regular, often and don't take that long
    Didn't miss Wi-Fi one bit!...
    ...cos I had 3G just fine.

    I laughed in delight when I finished my first run because lo and behold there was a shuttle waiting to take me back up. And it was the same the whole morning. Not once did I need to wait longer than 5 minutes and I never grew cold waiting or whilst in the van being transported up
  6. You can combo different trails all the way down the hill
    I think it may take a while to know where the trails are, but I loved that I could mix the blues and the reds together as I travelled down the hill. It would also be great for groups of different skilled riders as the trails would generally split and come back together quickly enough
  7. The blues are, in my opinion, the most fun
    I liked the reds, but I couldn't stop sessioning the blues. They are so fast and simply so much fun. Sixtapod, into Locomotion (red) and then into Willy Waver was easily my fav combo
  8. You don't need a DH or 'enduro' bike
    I rode a 130mm travel Trigger 29er and whilst I wanted more travel, the bike behaved very well and took all the drops and hits just fine (on the reds and the blues. I didn't try the blacks)
  9. You will scare yourself and love it, but you can also roll it
    I always get tingles when I ride new trail. You have no idea what's coming up and when you launch a jump, you simply have to pray or hope that there's a landing a suitable distance away. And BPW has a lot of jumps, berms and pumps to spring off and enjoy. However, every jump I saw had an option to roll it too
  10. Trails are well maintained
    Natural, man-made, jumps, berms, open sections, rocks, up-hills even, BPW has a wide selection of differing trail conditions and even in the midst of Winter, with snow on top no less, I didn't once think that the trail wasn't maintained or rougher than I'd have liked. Bravo the maintenance team!
If you decide to go, then I'd recommend you book early (especially for weekends, 2+ months notice), make sure your bike is in good nick and bring pads along too. Hopefully you'll have a blast and as much fun as I did.