There is something about a folding bike...
I love folding bikes and ever since my first folder - a second hand 20" Raleigh based on a Dahon frame, I have always been intrigued by their speed, longevity and long-distance capabilities.
My longest ride on a folding bike was a 110 mile 'Coast to Coast' in a day effort from Annan in Scotland to Tynemouth on Tyneside on the Raleigh. I also went on a weekend tour of Western Scotland from Glasgow, around the Isle of Arran and back. I rode that bike so much that I fatigued the metal in the handle post and it met a rusty end on my balcony!
There is one folding bike though that is rapidly becoming a British cultural icon and that is the Brompton. Amazingly, I had never ridden one as I have been put off by the 16" wheels and how they would handle the dubious Manchester road surfaces on the way back from work.
The recent launch of the excellent Brompton Dock network has made renting one for 24 hours cost as little as £2.50 and is a simple way to test out its capabilities and practicality. I just needed a safe closed circuit, good surface and accurate race time to see what I could do. The answer was to take part in the Oulton Park Spring Duathlon 2015.
Taking part in the Oulton Park Duathlon...
A duathlon is a non-drafting event, so I was riding solo, however, it would not have been possible without permission from Brompton Dock for allowing me to use their bike in unconventional circumstances, XtraMileEvents for allowing me to use the Brompton for the race and Scott who owns a car that is unable to carry two road bikes. He also helped me out the week before in my first speed trial of a Brompton Demonstrator from Evans Cycles Deansgate in a 1-hour attempt in the car park of Manchester City Football Club (I did 29km on the car park doing laps).
A 3-speed Brompton vs. time trial bikes...
I hired a Brompton Dock bike from Manchester Piccadilly and the cost for 3 days was £7.50 which is great value considering a new Brompton retails at over £700. The edition used was a standard 3-speed with dynamo lights. I did not change the pedals to SPD and cable tied a drinks cage to the handle post. I asked permission from Brompton Dock to make sure I could use it at the Duathlon.
Average of 31km/h...
The Oulton Park Duathlon takes place at the motorsport circuit near Tarporley in the Cheshire countryside. I decided to take part in the standard distance of an 8.5km run, a 38.5km cycle and a 4.2km run to the finish. The course is not exactly flat and some climbs are quite steep. Each lap is just over 4km long and the tarmac surface is immaculate.
After completing the first run in a comfortable 33 minutes, I picked up my Brompton bike to even stranger looks than when I first left it in the competitor's transition zone. However, as my run time was close to the leading time of 30 minutes, I was able to get moving quite quickly from transition and was soon picking up some speed. I was consistently averaging over 30km/h and up to 40km/h on the downhills and tailwind sections passing some guys on some very expensive time trial bikes!
There were 9 laps to be completed in the cycle segment and the short, sharp climbs were quite testing especially as I was not clipped in and this halted my uphill momentum. Someone from the crowd shouted out 'Go on Happy Shopper!' in reference to my bike every time I passed the hill which was a nice, yet amusing boost.
The hardest part of the day was maintaining an aerodynamic position and at times felt like I was riding Graeme Obree's 'Old Faithful' given my low and hunched position. One of the most intriguing aspects of riding on the Brompton was that it did not feel like I was on an inferior bike given the impressive hi-spec carbon fibre machines surrounding me. Yes, the bike only had 16" wheels and 3 gears, but I was able to complete the cycle distance of 38.5km in 1h 13 averaging 31km/h in an hour.
The big question is whether the guys who won the event on a bike time of around 1 hour or less would be able to get below my time on the standard spec Brompton? Despite all of the technology in top-end bikes, the Brompton is a great leveller due to their generic build and specification.
After dropping the bike back into the transition zone, I completed the last run in 18 minutes. This was more of a procession for me as I came to the event for the Brompton segment and not a super competitive duathlon time.
At the finish, I received much support for my efforts from both competitors and spectators at Oulton Park. It was a great day and I achieved two aims. I completed a competitive event using a Brompton bike and averaged over 31km/h for an hour on an undulating course.
What was the cost of entering..?
This was a last-minute entry decision and cost £50 through XtraMileEvents. The price included standard entry and an 'on the day' British Triathlon licence. The Brompton bike cost £7.50 from Saturday to Monday night.
I would recommend joining the Brompton Dock scheme as it is great value and available in various locations across the country. This is great if you travel around by train and need a bike, especially in London as you can easily take them on the Tube. If you do want to take part in a Brompton Race, there is an annual 'World Championships' that brings together Brompton riders from around from the world.