Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bromptoneering (Tour de Pierce, June 29, 2014)

With Davey it was love at first sight. But with the Brompton, I was enamored before I even saw it for the first time, at the Folding and Electric bike shop in Ballard last weekend. It is a British-made folding bike that has a cult following for its simplicity and rideability. It's not just a commuter, people race and go touring with these things. If you can get over the dork factor of riding a “clown bike”, you can carry this thing with one hand and fit it in the overhead compartment of a plane, no tools required and just a few seconds to fold/ unfold it.  It accommodates riders of a wide range of size, though if your leg length is >33 inches you would need a seatpost extender. There are many options, the sporty straight “S” bar, the ultra clown-like “H” bar for taller riders, or the standard “M” bar. It comes in 3 speed or 6 speed, even a titanium model for $600 more. I got the standard M6R off the rack because I couldn’t wait.

I first heard about it from fellow MM Marilou. A veteran of numerous ultras, she was also a former champion of the RAMROD ride back when it was a race. When she broke her ankle last year and couldn’t run, she looked for a compact bike to fit in her garage, which led her to folding bikes. After the Brompton, there was no going back to regular bikes. She has converted a couple other riders into this cult, which is known as the “Brompton Mafia”,
and is competing in the Brompton National Championships next month. In this 6 mile criterium style race, one must wear the proper dress (jacket and tie), fold the bike at the end and run across the finish line with the folded bike. If you win, you get a free Brompton and a trip to London for the World Championships.

This morning as I got my bike gear ready I had to figure out how to carry water without a bottle cage. Couldn’t find the bladders that went with my backpacks so just packed a bottle. Went to pump the tires (which I understand is crucial to keep the tires at 90-100 psi, because of the 3 internal gear mechanism it’s a pain in the #$*%&^ to change a rear flat), and realized, DOH! it has Schrader tubes, and my pump only takes Presta. Rookie mistake. Well hopefully someone there would have a pump. No clips though, so I picked by stiffest trail shoes. Thought about switching out the pedals, but couldn’t figure it out well; the pedals on the Brompton fold in.

Drove down this morning to Puyallup to the WA state fairgrounds, saw Marilou with 2 other fellow MM, Joe and his wife Nikki, as well as several of their riding friends who are deaf and somehow communicate with each other by hand signals while riding.
I could not help but admire Marilou’s Brompton, which had a burnished finish with hand-welding in gold, Brooks saddle, front Ortlieb bag, Velcro water bottle cage, Kevlar tires, and flat cork handlebars.

Joe was laughing at me because I wobbled at first, but it was actually surprisingly easy to ride. The shifting took some getting used to, and something popped on the one hill of the ride and I was left with just 2 gears for awhile until I found the loose screw. My feet felt flying off the clipless pedals every time I shifted. 

But the simplicity of it made me feel like a kid again, tooling around the neighborhood on my Schwinn banana seat bike in the ‘80s. It was actually a totally different experience, in part from sitting so upright you really feel like you’re touring. Fun Fun Fun. You can’t take life too seriously when you’re on a clown bike, but you can’t expect to be anonymous either. You can’t go as fast on those little 16 inch fat tires, but fast enough to feel free.

The thing about the upright seating, my neck and arms did not hurt but boy was my ass talking to me. My left butt cheek went numb about 45 miles in, then it started pouring rain. We missed a turn an ended up on a busy road, and a huge truck ran Marilou into a curb and she fell. There was a fair amount of flesh wound but luckily nothing broken just 2 weeks before her Nationals ride. In bow tie and gold lame jacket!

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