Big Adventure. Small Wheels.
For the past few months, we’ve been hatching a plan for our next trip. Hitting the road again was never a question of ‘if’ – but ‘when’ and ‘how’. You may have noticed that we’ve been hinting about our next adventure, about changing a few details of the ‘how’ of our traveling. As the details have started to come together, we’ve gotten more and more excited about what this next journey will be. And now that we’re here at NAHBS, it’s finally time to let you all in on the big secret…
Look up at the changed header for the blog and you’ll see the name of our next trip… “Big Adventure. Small Wheels.” What do we mean by ‘small wheels’? Meet our new touring bikes…
We’ll be putting our trusty Surly Long Haul Truckers in storage to travel on Bromptons. Why? Riding around on a Brompton is simply a fun experience, and being able to fold them into a really tiny package is just cool.
Our plan is to pair the cycling with train travel. We think more people should get out on bikes, but we also think the train is overlooked as a contemporary means of travel. Since the two go together so well, we’re going to focus our whole next trip on the joys of bike and train travel. As much as we love our Surlys, they feel sluggish compared to the Bromptons, and they’re just not as simple to take on multi-modal travel.
So, meet Brompton… The Brompton is a folding bike with 16-inch wheels. It has the smallest and neatest fold you can get in a folding bike. The design has been around since 1988, which means that it’s a mature product that performs like a ‘real’ bicycle.
You may be wondering about the tiny wheels. Will we really be able to tour on these bikes and ride them up and over the mountains? Yes, we think so. The Bromptons are geared in such a way that we have almost the same range of gears as we had on the Surlys, they’re just broken down into a smaller number of gears (six). Because they’re geared so well, the small size of the wheels doesn’t affect the handling the way you might initially think, and we don’t have to pedal harder or spin faster in order to keep up with a larger-wheeled bike.
What about the carrying capacity? The Bromptons are decidedly smaller than the Surlys and are not intended for hauling around as much of a load as the Surly. But that doesn’t mean they can’t carry gear. Brompton makes a great front touring bag that’s approximately the size of a pannier and a half. We’ll be using these bags, as well as a second bag on the rear racks (likely a backpacking-style backpack). We will have to pack lighter and carry fewer items with us, but we see this is a blessing. Even though we were continually lightening our load on our last trip, we still had 70 or so pounds of gear by the end. That’s just too much stuff and too much weight! As soon as we figure out our reduced selection of gear, we’ll share that here.
Like before, we’re trying to not overly plan our route. We’ll be starting from Portland this spring and heading East, across the northern part of the US and into Canada. For both of us, one of the greatest parts of the last trip was meeting people along the way and interacting with all of our wonderful readers. So we hope that you’ll all come along on this journey as well! If you have suggestions for places we should check out, please let us know.
As we’ve been riding around on the Bromptons, we’ve started to notice something… we’re smiling a lot! These bikes are zippy and playful and fun to ride, not to mention rather head-turning. We’re having so much fun already – and we can’t wait to take them out on the open road!
We’re currently raising funds for train tickets and video equipment to really make the experience come alive for our readers. If you want to contribute, go here!
Alex March 5, 2011 at 2:40 am
Great to see people on Bromptons who are not miserable guys in suits pedaling to work from the train station! Unfortunately that seems to be the buying demographic in the UK 🙁
All the best on your next adventure, and remember that the bike is secondary to the journy!
Russ March 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm
@Alex our thoughts exactly! We know that Bromptons are capable of far more than shuttling back and forth from home to office. Its time to show people how to take it on fun adventures 🙂
Mike March 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm
I run a Birdy, which is also small in size, but large in producing a massive smile on my face whether I am going into town or out on a phototrip.
You can check out my bike story at http://www.mikemcfarlane.co.uk/photography-tips-and-articles/view/the-cycling-photographer/
But I really wanted to ask you guys advice. The bike trailer I use is great for carrying a lot of camera gear that I need on trips, but it is a little unwieldy offroad in the sort of locations I want to be. Have you ever come across dedicated panniers for carrying cameras? I also seem to have read a lot of comments also saying carrying cameras in panniers is bad for them because of all the vibration. My cameras have a rough life anyway, so I can’t imagine that being on the back of a suspension bike is too much worse, but you never know. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.
Looking forward to following you on your travels.
Dustin March 9, 2011 at 9:43 pm
As y’all cycle north and through Canada checkout this good blog on his Canada journey – http://leonsteber.com/biketrip/
Enrique March 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm
I’d love to get your comparison of the Brompton with the Dahon Speed TR.
The All-American road trip, redefined — by bus and train | green LA girl March 25, 2011 at 7:35 am
[…] “Big Adventure, Small Wheels” is what the simple-living, travel-addicted couple is calling their journey. The two aren’t new to adventure travel — or to a remarkable dedication to alternative transportation. Just a few years ago, I knew Russ as the local bicycling photographer, famous (at least among environmentalists and cyclists) in the L.A. area for lugging all his heavy photography equipment around on bike. […]
Kathy Desjardins March 31, 2011 at 2:10 am
Great fun ahead…My hubby, Ron, and I love train trips and bike tours..We have reservations for the fall..We are honored to be able to follow your trip..We will be with you in spirit..safe trip…Life is Good!!
Portland Bike Show & Birthday Trip » The Urban Hausfrau April 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm
[…] After Nicholas’, we ran over to Clever Cycles on SE Hawthorne. We went there to see what Brompton bikes they had in stock and to test ride a few. I’ve been in love with Bromptons for over a year now. I think the first time I saw one was on someone’s flickr photostream. If you’re not familiar, Bromptons are handmade folding bikes from Britain. Very popular in bike friendly Europe, they are very fun to ride and many people tour with them. […]
The Path Less Pedaled | Jo Blogs April 19, 2011 at 3:31 am
[…] clever folding Brompton bicycles and combining their leg work with some relaxing train travel too. Big Adventure, Small Wheels takes them meandering across the USA, wherever the wind (well, the train tracks and cycle paths) […]
Scott April 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm
Some thoughts based on three years of riding Bromptons in hilly Seattle and on doing some smaller-scale touring:
– The Schlumpf Mountain Drive is a great way to get low gearing without giving up the high end. Note, however, that it doesn’t work worth a darn with the Brompton Wide Range hub; several gears overlap, so you have about eight useful gears instead of 12, and they’re spread across a wider range.
– Putting a bag on the rear rack means you can’t fold the bike as readily. I attached a Xootr CrossRack Bicycle Rack to my seat post high enough that the seat post still went down far enough to lock the bike together when you fold it. You need to pad the seat tube with some sheet rubber padding, which you can get in the plumbing section of the hardware store so the clamp doesn’t dig into the seat post. At my Ace Hardware, it’s called “red gasket.” I can send you pictures if you’d like.
– For a bag on the Xootr rack, I use the Arkel Utility Basket. The combination has hauled groceries many a time and took me on a week-long jaunt through the Northwest a while back.
– Todd’s right about the wonders of Ergon grips. It’s great having the extra hand position to break up the day.
– If you replace the EazyWheels on the rear rack with Razor scooter wheels, the bike rolls a little better when folded, and the Ergon GC3s clear the ground better. (The EazyWheels also get pretty beaten up after a while.) The metric bolts that screw into the frame (6 mm?) are beefy enough that they won’t bend under normal use. However, for the bolts that secure the wheels to the rack, I had to get 1/4″ grade 8 bolts and drill the holes out just the tiniest bit. (Bolts that just fit the holes soon bent, and my hardware store doesn’t have grade 8 bolts small enough to fit those holes.) The wee bit of drilling hasn’t affected the rack.
– There’s a new Brompton group in Seattle: http://unitedbromptonriders.org/. Drop us a line if you’re headed for Seattle, and we’ll take you out for a beer.
– Yes, I know, I should get all of this advice onto my sadly neglected blog.
Russ April 27, 2011 at 12:05 am
Wow. Scott, thanks for all the tips! Hope you get more stuff on the Brompton site!
Teresa August 5, 2011 at 10:21 am
My brompton is about 14 yrs old. Saw it online and ordered it, love to leave it in the car for those quick rides and city riding on and off trains. Such a great idea you both have for this trip. Good luck and am following your travels !
Anil June 9, 2012 at 4:01 am
Stuart, what are the small modifications you did on the rear rack to put an Ortlieb paneinr ?I’m very interested in your answer because I will soon have a Brompton M6RN and plan to do quite long bicycle trips.Thanks for your answer.
Stephen June 9, 2012 at 6:12 pm
I’ve done that too. In fact I know a person who buys a $20-$30 bike every trip, tunes it up a touch, names it, rides it for the trip and then doteans it to someone who needs a bike when she leaves.
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Best of luck to you two! We’re really excited to be following and promoting your adventure. Bikes + trains, what’s not to love!