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Brompton Folding Bike + Trailer: A Perfect Touring Combination?

Posted May 2nd, 2013

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.

Our Easter Tour: On Folding Bikes In The Freezing Cold

Posted April 2nd, 2013

Over Easter we went on a short bike tour through the east of the Netherlands with several friends. There were six of us in total, riding four folding bikes and two ‘big wheel’ touring bikes.

Easter cycling Tour

It was unseasonably cold (barely above freezing during the day) but despite the chilly weather we had a super time riding from Arnhem to Roermond. Below you’ll find the short film (in an English and a Dutch version) to tell the story.

Thanks to our friends Stijn, Shane and Marieke & Anthony for the great company, and to the lovely owners of the Landgoed Geijsteren and Raayerhof campgrounds, where we stayed in trekkers huts so that we wouldn’t have to suffer through sub-zero temperatures at night.

Here’s the film in English:

And in Dutch:

One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part V)

Posted March 27th, 2013

Our Bicycling Cuba book assures us that the ride from Sancti Spiritus to Trinidad is one of the most beautiful in Cuba, and it’s not wrong.

Before long, we’ve cleared the city limits of Sancti Spiritus and we’re cycling on blissfully quiet and wide-open roads. Only a few Cuban cyclists, and the occasional car, keep us company.

Local cyclist in Cuba

The mountains in the distance grow closer, and we’re almost tempted to follow one of them into the foothills. In another time and place (without a baby, and on full-sized touring bikes) we might have done just that. This time, however, we settle for a picture in front of the mountains.

Group shot!

After several shots, this is the closest we get to all of us looking at the camera at the same time. Luke has actually been distracted by a passing motorbike and turns his head at the critical moment. That’s okay. Group pictures are nice to have but this road is even better! Look at those blue skies. Gorgeous.

Cycling to Trinidad from Sancti Spiritus

About halfway down the road, we stop for something to eat in a roadside village. We order the vegetarian pizza, and when we spot this box near the restaurant we’re happy we avoided the meat!

"Meat For Tourists". Eeeewwwww.

Tinned Meat For Tourists? What in the world is that about? We’re not sure that we really want to know. What we are sure about is that we don’t want to try any ‘Fiambre de Cerdo Turista’ – imported from Poland to Cuba.

We finish our pizza instead, and top up with some cookies and a generous drink of water. Luke is now interested in the water bottle, so we spend quite some time teaching him how to drink from it.

Luke learns to drink from a water bottle

Around 4pm we roll into Trinidad, with its colourful houses. For the first time on this trip, the guesthouse of our choice is full, so Andrew has to wait by the curbside with Luke for a few minutes, while Friedel goes in search of accommodation. It’s not a problem. Within 15 minutes we’ve found a nice room, just around the corner.

Waiting....

We get cleaned up and go out for another pizza. It’s rapidly becoming our staple food. While we’re waiting, Luke practices his waving skills with the daughter of the pizza shop owner.

Waiting....

We’re comfortable here, and still taking things easy so we plan to spend a few days in Trinidad and the surrounding area before turning north towards Havana to complete our trip.

*This is the fifth in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. See the first entry, the secondthe third and the fourth. More coming soon!

Cuba’s Bicycle Culture In Photos

Posted March 25th, 2013

One of the great things about touring in Cuba is seeing all the ways bicycles are used in daily life, and how much is done with so little. 

Bicycles are a key method of transport for the average Cuban, whether they’re taking their kids to school or selling produce at a street market. Here are just some of the photos we snapped of Cubans and their bikes…

This carrot seller was spotted in the central city of Cienfuegos.

Carrots For Sale By Bicycle

He wasn’t the only one selling food by bike. We encountered this man near Viñales, taking bok choy and spring onions to market on a bicycle that wouldn’t look out of place back home in the Netherlands.

Bok Choy seller and his delivery bicycle

This man was selling apples in Santa Clara.

Bicycle apple seller in Santa Clara

Even cakes were being transported by bicycle!

Trinidad cake seller

Also in the streets of Santa Clara, we saw this lady taking her daughter across town.

Cyclists in Santa Clara, Cuba

She was using a bike seat like this. We saw thousands of these wooden children’s seats on bikes across Cuba.

Bike with a child's seat (very popular in Cuba)

Wood was also used to create make-do pedals.

Wooden pedals!

Such repairs were probably done by a road-side bike mechanic, like this one in Trinidad.

Bike Mechanic in Trinidad, Cuba

Or possibly by one of these guys, who were selling bike parts at a market.

Bike parts stall at a market in Trinidad, Cuba

They didn’t have anything fancy to sell, but they did have a basic selection of parts including gear cables, bearings and pedals.

Bike parts stall at a market in Trinidad, Cuba

Back to people selling (and carrying) things by bike, we were impressed by this very large box on the back rack of a bike in Santa Clara. We don’t think the bike was actually carrying a washing machine – probably the box was filled with something lighter. We often saw such boxes being used to carry multiple loaves of bread, for example.

Cuban cargo bike

We also took note of this fellow, who had his hands full as he cycled through Trinidad!

Cyclist in Trinidad

And finally, this Bici Taxi driver showed us how hard he worked for his fare in Havana. We hired him for a ride to a local restaurant and marvelled as he propelled all of us – plus his heavy bicycle – through the traffic.

Bici Taxi

Kudos to the cyclists of Cuba!

One Month Bike Tour Of Cuba (Part IV)

Posted March 25th, 2013

After two weeks of very slow cycling (thanks to our wobbly start and the antibiotics that followed), we’re about halfway through our bike tour of Cuba and the towns of Santa Clara and Remedios are next on our agenda.

First up is Santa Clara, a city made famous by the fact that the last battle of the Cuban Revolution took place here in 1958. This momentous occasion is marked by a huge monument to Che Guevara.

Che monument in Santa Clara

Santa Clara is about 80km from Cienfuegos so we pack up early. We’re not sure if we can make the distance. There might be a headwind and we’re not always very quick with a baby on board. As we load up the bikes, the friendly B&B owner comes out to entertain Luke. Cubans simply love kids.

Leaving Cienfuegos

The road is fairly flat and – to be frank – a bit boring. We try (and fail) to figure out the many revolutionary slogans, and we gaze at the endless fields of sugar care alongside the road.

Cycling towards Santa Clara

There are no real tourist attractions but we make our own fun at roadside drinks stalls. Keys always put a smile on Luke’s face, and almost everyone is willing to lend him a set when we stop.

Andrew & Luke at a roadside cafe

To our amazement, we make Santa Clara by the end of the afternoon without feeling rushed. We strike a ridiculous pose in front of the famous monument (actually, it’s just Friedel looking ridiculous in this photo – why didn’t anyone tell her??) and head into town.

In front of the Che Monument, Santa Clara

Santa Clara, as we soon find out, is a bike photographer’s dream! Here’s just one of the cool bicycles we spotted. This one is a moveable market stall.

Vegetable seller

And the local people are displaying some bike skills that make us quite nostalgic for home in the Netherlands!

Cyclists in Santa Clara, Cuba

Another day, and a few more kilometers down the road, Friedel gets the chance to try a Cuban bike. The back-pedal brakes barely work and the chain is rusty but it puts a smile on her face!

Friedel on Jose's bike (in Remedios)

Luke, meanwhile, is more interested in the retro 1950s playgrounds and their squeaking swings.

Luke at a Cuban playground

Next up for us will be the city of Sancti Spiritus, and a ride that’s reputed to be the most beautiful in Cuba!

*This is the fourth in a series of journal entries about our one-month, 750km tour of Cuba. See the first entry, the second and the third. More coming soon!