Best Brompton Improvements

I’ve been riding my Brompton for about 7 years now, commuting to and from work about 25min each way. I’ve also done a few longer trips with it including a trip from London to Aberdeen, riding about 60 miles each day. So I think I’ve put some pretty serious mileage on it and have learnt a bit about what on it is good and what can be improved.

When I bought it, my Brompton was an M6L. That is it had the classic U shaped handlebars, 6 gears and lights and a rear rack. The lights were the bottle dynamo type, powered by a small wheel rubbing against the rear tyre and that was the first thing I got rid of. I didn’t really want the L type but I needed to get the bike in a bit of a rush (before the Scotland trip) and that was what was available at a reasonable price. The bottle dynamo is a waste of time, so much so that I think it has been discontinued. It would often flick on when going over a bump and seemed to make cycling a lot harder. LED lights are cheap and the batteries last a long time so they are a much better option.

Having said that, one good thing about the dynamo light is that the front light is mounted down near the wheel and is not obstructed by any luggage you might have. When using handlebar lights in conjunction with a large bag, the bag can obstruct the light, meaning that there is a shadow about 9 feet in front of you.

As mentioned above, LED lights are cheap so I have several on my bike. I keep a couple of Electron Backupz on for emergencies and as my main lights I have a Cateye Nanoshot on the front and the Moon Gem 3.0 on the back. Both of these are USB rechargeable which is essential for a commuter and the Nanoshot is bright enough to illuminate a dark road. I’ve had them for a couple of years and they are both great.

Another major improvement I’ve made is swapping out the basic foam grips for some Ergon GP3 grips. I cannot recommend these enough and Brompton should be offering them as an option. You have to cut them down to get them to fit (and it helps if you have the 2014 brake levers with the narrower bracket) but they will fit and not interfere with the fold, at least if you have the rack. They are incredibly comfortable and I can’t imagine going back to something else. On the trip to Scotland, my hands probably suffered more than anything and I wish I had had these then.

I was so impressed with the grips that I went back to Ergon for some pedals and got a pair of their PC2s. I only actually use the right pedal as I keep the folding one on the left but you can’t buy just one pedal… The main benefit of these is that they are flat – I found the standard Brompton pedal could tear up my shoe a fair bit, the problem is less on the folding pedal as the spindle area is larger.

This one might seem minor but has made a difference: a metal chain guard from Tiller Cycles. I was having issues with my plastic one coming loose, falling off and cracking so after seeing these on My Orange Brompton I bought one, and again it’s great. Makes the bike look better and I never worry about knocking it loose with my shoe.

Other changes I’ve made have mainly been to take advantage of the development that Brompton is doing. One of the best things about Brompton is that you can buy every individual part should you so wish so it is easy to upgrade and replace items. So over the years I have…

  • Swapped the standard tyres for Marathon plus on the back and Kojak on the front, then just Marathon plus on both as punctures are a real pain. The old Marathon plus seems to be better than the new one…
  • Upgraded the brake levers to the ones Brompton brought out in 2013-14. These are much much better
  • Upgraded the hub to the wide range version. To be honest I didn’t notice much difference with this and probably wouldn’t bother again. You don’t need as many gears as you think
  • When I got the new hub on, I had a new style rim put on as well. I’m pretty heavy and I kept breaking spokes on the rear wheel but since having the new rim (which is meant to have more sympathetic angles for the spokes) I haven’t had any problems
  • Replacement rear triangle when the bike shop spotted a crack in it, this Brompton replaced for free (credit to Simpsons Cycles¬†for spotting the issue)
  • Added the EZ wheels to the rear rack. Again these are much better than the standard ones

Bromptons are fantastic machines, but they can be improved. If you do one thing to yours put the Ergon grips on. It is very easy to do and a step change in comfort when cycling, especially if you are like me and have the seat above the level of the handlebars, resulting in a lot of weight going through your hands and wrists.

Brompton on the way to Aberdeen
Coming up to Dundee I think – before I replaced the grips (or much else)

Whisky Fuelled January Microadventure

This was in some ways the most ambitious microadventure I’d attempted to date. Firstly it was mid-week (Thursday night) so more logistically complex in having to leave from work and go to work the next day. Secondly it was the middle of January and some of the coldest nights of the year. All previous microadventures having been done in the summer at the weekend, this would be a couple of important firsts. To allow for this most other elements of the plan were kept as simple as possible.

What I packed, might go through this in more detail in another post
What I packed, might go through this in more detail in another post
Ready to go
Ready to go

So, I met up with Rob and Tad at Waterloo after work and we got the train down to Guildford with a couple of excited cans on the way. We then took a short walk from the station to the Kings Head pub for dinner and a couple more pints. In the cold weather it’s important to fuel the fire and fill up properly, and the Kings Head proved completely up to the task with large portions of burgers, pizza and chicken. (This article has some great tips on how to be as warm as possible in your bag.)

After dinner we took a short walk up to Pewley down (map here) to find a spot to make camp. This plan was pretty easy to come up with but I think I may finally have found the reason for Bing maps: planning microadventures. The combination of having OS maps available and the birds eye view makes it very useful for spotting potential wild camp areas, much more so than Google maps.

The hill was a lot steeper and higher than expected which was good news in that the views would be that much better. The first task was to collect some suitable sticks to use with the tarp. We had thought about just going with bivvy bags but Tad didn’t have one and we didn’t fancy waking up with our bags covered in frozen condensation so tarp was the only way. Finding sticks was very easy and I’m glad we didn’t bother bringing walking poles to use. After a bit of scouting round we found a flat spot with a good view and set up camp.

Camp complete with whisky drinking porch
Camp complete with whisky drinking porch

Doing this in winter means that you can set up camp earlier and worry less about being discreet as there is no one else around. We saw one dog walker at around 6.20am who shone his torch at us but no one apart from that.

We then sat down to enjoy the outdoors and some whisky. Top marks here went to Tad for bringing a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask – an excellent whisky. I had in my split hip flask some Ardbeg Uigeadail and some new make spirit from Glenglassaugh which I had aged for a month or so in a very small cask.

New spirit and mini cask
New spirit and mini cask

Rob had brought a couple of mystery choices that had been in hip flasks for a while, they all went down excellently.

Getting stuck in
Getting stuck in

After drinking a fair amount of whisky and realising we still had to go to work in the morning we got into our bags. It took a bit of sorting to get in and snug but I was then warm for the whole evening, wearing a lot of merino and sleeping in my silk liner inside my bag, inside my bivvy bag. I woke up a few times during the night but on the whole was warm and comfortable. Tad on the other hand had a worse night – doing this in -4 temperatures does need some more serious gear than what you can borrow from your girlfriend.

We got up about 6.40, packed up the gear, had some coffee from a flask prepared at work the previous day and headed to the station.

Stuff sacks seem to shrink overnight, or was it the ice on everything
Stuff sacks seem to shrink overnight, or was it the ice on everything
This is why you do it
This is why you do it
Heading back to civilisation
Heading back to civilisation

Train back to Waterloo, shower and change at work and then into meetings. I was pretty spaced out during the morning, not sure if that was due to sleeping out or the 5 pints and multiple whiskies. All in all this was a great success

What would I do differently next time?

  • Get a better pillow setup, it was a bit low and stopped me sleeping well on my side
  • Make sure I knew my knots before leaving
  • Take a different waterbottle or have it in my bag to stop it freezing overnight

Dartmoor Microadventure – legal wild camp

In the summer while we were down in Devon we took the opportunity to go for a microadventure in one of the only places in England where you can wild camp legally – Dartmoor. Amazingly in England and Wales (but not Scotland) it is illegal to wild camp pretty much everywhere, this site gives some good info. As it says on there, you can in practice get away with wild camping in lots of places where it is technically illegal, like Ditchling Beacon, but it’s great on Dartmoor to not have to worry at all about being discreet.

So we walked up during the afternoon (I can’t remember exactly where we parked or camped) and although we had grand plans about a big walk before pitching camp, pretty soon we got a bit tired and bored of walking and started looking for a place to pitch the tarp.

Thinking about not walking any more...
Thinking about not walking any more…

The weather was fantastic with amazing visibility although it was quite windy. So we went and found a flat spot with a hill behind us where we were a bit sheltered from the wind.

Lean to setup blocks wind from behind...
Lean to setup blocks wind from behind…
...while giving great views in front
…while giving great views in front

We’d picked up a stick from earlier in the walk to use as a lifter and set up the tarp in the same lean to way. We’d obviously got a bit out of practice on the knots though as I woke up during the night to the sound of one of the guylines flapping around and had to jump out of my bag to go and re-tie it. This was more difficult than it might have been as I had drunk a fair amount of wine and whisky before bed. I did though manage to catch sight of a fox who was sniffing round our camp.

We cooked a reasonable 2 course dinner of pasta and steamed pudding and then wrapped up to watch the stars and also the firework displays celebrating the various regattas along the coast. Seeing fireworks from above is quite strange but it was great being able to see them.

Don't have to be subtle when wild camping on Dartmoor
Don’t have to be subtle when wild camping on Dartmoor

Fairy lights threaded through the tarp attachment points make a great lightweight lighting solution.

The neighbourhood fox, during daylight
The neighbourhood fox, during daylight
Catching sunrise is one of the biggest upsides of wild camping
Catching sunrise is one of the biggest upsides of wild camping

I was surprised how cold it was overnight considering it was during summer. It was a completely clear night though and we were in a pretty exposed spot. Having said that I was very cosy in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag combo and just wore a t-shirt and boxer shorts to sleep. In the morning it took us a long time to get out of our bags because they were so snug, but we did get up, had a quick breakfast and walked back down to the car. Microadventures are great.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Take nicer food for dinner and focus the evening more on dinner than the walking
  • Tie the knots right first time
  • That’s about it

Matching Music to Board Games – King of Tokyo

Playing a board game is enhanced by having suitable music or background noise, making it a more immersive experience. In this series of posts I will provide some recommendations for music to go with particular board games.

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First up is the game King of Tokyo. This is a fun game to play, pretty short and easy to pick up with a fun concept and great board design. The music recommendation for this is very straightforward and obvious: the original soundtrack to Godzilla by Akira Ifukube (Spotify link). Definitely not any of the soundtracks to the more recent films.

I genuinely enjoy the soundtrack in itself and it works perfectly with the game. Moving your piece into the city while the monster noises come through on the soundtrack is great.