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Brompton Folding Bike + Trailer: A Perfect Touring Combination?

May 2nd, 2013 15 comments


Can a Brompton folding bike and a trailer make the perfect combination for touring?

Stijn on his Brompton + Radical Design trailer

In this guest post for TravellingTwo, Stijn de Klerk checks out the performance of the Brompton with the Radical Design series of trailers.

***

A couple of years ago I decided life without a car made a lot of sense.

I still need to drive a car for work but do most other things by bicycle. My trusty full-size bike is often used for local shopping trips, and I bought a Brompton folding bike so that I could use the bike in combination with the train more easily.

With these two bikes I had most transport and travelling requirements covered, except for the times when I needed to transport something big. This was why I added the Radical Design Cyclone trailer was added to the stable. I don’t use it a lot but when I do use it, I love it.

Radical Design Cyclone

Unloaded, it’s hard to even tell I’m pulling a trailer at all. It functions perfectly and it’s built to last. Even better, it’s as much a duffle bag as it is a trailer and it converts from one into the other in under a minute.

Hooking the trailer up behind the Brompton was obvious as both the trailer and the folding bike are portable. I then started thinking: “wouldn’t it be great if the Brompton would fit inside the Cyclone trailer?” but unfortunately the Cyclone was too narrow for this. Then, lo and behold, Radical announced the Chubby trailer: made wider and shorter than the Cyclone and designed to hold a folded Brompton.

Chubby Trailer

As I’m a keen bicycle traveler, the next question in my mind was if I could use the Chubby plus a Brompton bike to create a combination that would allow me to take a train, plane or bus anywhere, including a lightweight camping set-up but with a minimum of the normal packing and luggage hassles that often go along with taking a touring bike and all the associated gear on public transport.

The moment of truth arrived when my cycling friends – Friedel, Andrew and Shane – conjured up the plan to take folding bikes out on a camping trip. The company that makes the Chubby, Radical Design, was kind enough to lend us one for the occasion. I picked it up a few days before the trip, so I had my chance to give it a test.

Basic Chubby Touring Setup
The total weight of a Brompton with a Chubby trailer and a bit of gear comes in at around 20 kilograms. That’s 10-14kg of Brompton bicycle (depending on the model), the Chubby itself (6kg) and your tent and sleeping bag (4kg). This is light enough to pass as regular check-in luggage with most airlines, and you can still carry the trailer (complete with bike and gear inside) by its shoulder strap over short distances. This video shows how it all works.

Any other camping kit or other gear has to be carried in a day pack (as carry-on) or in a small duffle bag (as additional check-in luggage).

Quality And Durability
The heritage of Radical Design’s Cyclone trailer (first produced in 1997), means the Chubby has a long and thorough design evolution behind it. The whole trailer oozes quality and durability. I might even go so far as to say that it’s slightly over-engineered in places, even though it’s considerably lighter compared to many other bike trailers on the market like the B.O.B, Burley trailers and Monoporter. The Extrawheel is perhaps the exception, but that’s a bit of a different proposition.

The overall robustness of the trailer shines through in the Chubby bag. It weighs in at a hefty 4kg (two thirds of the total weight) but equally will take a lot of abuse as it’s made from Cordura 1000 Fabric. Since the bag is there to protect the Brompton, it warrants the weight penalty of this heavy fabric to a large extent. The bag has a beefy, lockable YKK zipper and is reinforced in places where it matters, with extra padding to protect a folded bike inside.

From an engineering point of view I love the all-stainless steel, ball joint and quality Polyoxymethylene (POM) hitch construction. It’s one of the best and most elegant I’ve come across so far while looking for a bicycle trailer, in terms of sturdiness and one-hand ease of use.

Chubby ball hitch

The wheels are easily removed by pressing a button at the center of the hubs, which releases a quick-lock mechanism. They can be used in one of two positions: in the cycling position or in a second location further back on the Chubby, which then turns it into a walking trailer.

The hubs themselves are aluminum with industrial style sealed ball bearings on a steel axle, laced with stainless steel spokes into Brompton-size rims. This means a good selections of tires is available to suit any need and will match up nicely with whatever you are running on your Brompton.

Chubby hubs

Stable Cycling
After giving the Chubby a look over, I decided to take it for a ride around town. As with my Cyclone trailer, I noticed that the two-wheel design made it relatively easy to move around by itself and hitch on/off compared to single-wheeled trailers. This two wheel design makes it inherently more stable, which makes cycling with it a lot less nervous and it can handle higher payloads then most single wheeled trailers. 

Once rolling in cycling mode, it becomes apparent how well-mannered this trailer is. When not loaded too heavily, one hardly notices that it’s there. Due to the fact that it has two wheels, it doesn’t negatively influence the stability of the bike and it’s even possible to rock the bike from side to side going up steeper inclines, much like you would an unloaded bike. One might think it would introduce more rolling resistance, but this is hardly noticeable and I suspect this is due to the relatively light loads the trailer tires need to support.

The only downside to the design might be that two wheels instead of one don’t track as well when on rough terrain or when mountain biking but I wasn’t planning on taking the Brompton on that sort of trip anyway.

Another big revelation was how easy it is to pack and unpack all the gear from a single hold-all style baffle bag. There is an inherent ease of having all your gear behind just the one zip and the amount of space is a dangerous luxury.

Loads of Space

Conclusion
Ultimately, I didn’t get the chance to put the Chubby through a full touring test. The weather forecast for our Easter tour was miserable and I didn’t want to return a completely mud-covered Chubby to Radical Design. That means this test and review won’t be truly complete until I can take the Chubby on a longer ride but my first impression was very favorable.

That said, I did take my Cyclone along for the weekend ride and this confirmed my suspicions about a trailer and Brompton being a perfect combination for touring. I’ll definitely be taking my Cyclone further afield this summer, and maybe one day I’ll add a Chubby to my collection as well.

***

Thanks to Stijn for sharing this review. More thoughts about using a Brompton for touring (based on our Easter trip) have been shared by Shane.

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14 Responses to “Brompton Folding Bike + Trailer: A Perfect Touring Combination?”

  1. Shane says:

    Nice review Stijn,

    I’m seriously thinking about getting a problem solver too :)

  2. Janine says:

    Thanks for the review. I have been considering the Bike Friday for touring just because it has the case the converts to a trailer, but it is great to see that there are other options out there.

    • Stijn says:

      Hi Janine, I looked at that option too some time ago. But I do like the Brompton for it’s compactness.

  3. Brilliant system/solution. That’s an attractive option to trying to fly with a full size bike plus racks and panniers. Of course, if you don’t already have a Brompton (or similar foldy), its quite an investment to get started with this.

  4. Gerardo says:

    I think this is an utopie to travel with a brompton and fly,what about your clothes tools spare parts etc you will have more then 20kg and to fly with the bike on the bag… with out protection???.I own a Bike Friday that have 20″ wheels and on bad roads you need to ride slowly than a normal bike. so how is with a brompton 16″ wheels?The reason I bought a Bike Friday was exactly like you talked on the review but airlines are always change their policies and this really sacks.My trailer is a carry freedom small but I never used to travel with my bike friday.You can also see some images on my web or
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/8178
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/11682

    • Stijn says:

      Gerardo, my Brompton is a lightweight version so the bags packed shown above where within (most) normal airline weight limits and that included a lightweight camping/touring packing list, so not easy but possible. Your right, the small wheels do have their limitations on rougher roads.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the review – your timing was perfect. I’m looking at getting a Bike Friday folding bike, but also wanted a trailer/case so that I can fly with it as I commute between Ottawa and Mountain View. I like the idea of this case much better than the hard shell cases you get at Bike Friday!

  6. NYCeWheels says:

    Great overview! My appetite is whetted for a full on tour review of a Brompton-stuffed Radical. I love learning about all the bike-based solutions people use to replace their cars.
    -Miles

  7. Jerry says:

    We used the Radical design trailer (cyclone 3) with our Bromptons for a 200Kms trip along the Garonne in France last year. We had quite a lot of luggage with work conference clothing required. I have since bought a chubby which works even better as can pack my bike inside. Highly recommend this set-up. Easy getting on and off planes and trains, so very versatile.

  8. Tom Allen says:

    I’ve been testing a Tern folding bike for touring over the last few months, and just published a full write-up here. It uses panniers and a barbag instead of a trailer and seems to be a really good option for folding touring.

  9. Trundlebug says:

    Very nice. Bought a folding rig for the Tasmanian route available on this site, but mine was a lot cheaper. Hasa Minimax ($500AU), Cyclops trailer ($100AU). Subsequently used it for the Murray to Mountain rail trail and side trips, and a substantial New South Wales/Queensland tour. It’s suffering a bit now and I don’t know I’d trust either on a substantial ride now but it’s a brilliant way to get around. When I was in Tasmania, I did the Overland Trail on foot and was able to snap down the bike and the trailer, send it up to Launceston cheaply in the bottom of a bus, catch up with it later, throw my pack in and hit the road without the tortuous boxing and unboxing. Similar story for freighting it out and collecting in Victoria when it proved easier to get back by plane than ferry. There’s a picture at http://www.melbournecyclist.com/profiles/blog/list?user=0pp7bblyvdnmc. I warn you, it’s not as pretty as the Brompton/Radical rig but does the job and a great way to dip a toe if you’re not sure about that sort of investment.

  10. Joe Morin says:

    I am exploring multimodal transportation with a folder. I have been towing my solo canoe behind my Daho Mu. Once I get to the lake, I fold it up and put my bike in the canoe and do some fly fishing. Check it out on ratzfeet.blogspot.com

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