Lessons on Brompton Bike Touring

I like to tour between towns on a bike and the six-speed Brompton has become my steed of choice. Many people have come to the same conclusion and explained on YouTube how this versatile folder is worth some modest cycling compromises. Yes, a Rivendell rides better — but the pain of getting a full-sized bike and luggage in and out of planes, trains, cars, and busses can overwhelm a trip - or worse, define it. (To calibrate: I am in my late sixties, big, and prefer multi-modal touring between mid-size cities. I ride 30–45 miles a day, stay in hotels, and carry 10–12kg of gear. Your mileage will vary.)

Bromptons have improved steadily over the two decades I have toured and commuted with them. Here is what I learned setting up my most recent bike for a two-week tour.

I started with a standard Brompton setup: an H6L (High bars, 6 speeds, no rack) with dyno hub lighting. I added a pretty Nitto rack and TPW Easy Wheels (these use bearings not bushings to let the Brompton roll so easily on its rack that it makes you grin. Highly recommended). I ran Schwalbe Marathon plus tires, a 25L Borough bag, Ergon GP3 grips, and a Brooks Cambium saddle. The logic of these parts is widely shared online — they may or may not be right for you.

Brompton bikes have spawned a rich industry of “upgrades”, but many of them can degrade the bike. Be especially cautious about titanium parts that purport to be stronger than the originals. I tested pedals, a toolkit, a rear frame clip, seat clamp, and several other titanium parts that turned out to be weaker than the originals.

I made some non-standard equipment choices that have worked out well and are worth considering.

  • A 40T H&H chainring, which I highly recommend for touring. To me, gears are for climbing up hills, not for going fast down them, so I value low gears more than high ones. A standard six-speed Brompton has a 50T chainring and gears ranging from 33–100 inches. Brompton offers a 44T chainring, which yields a range of 29–88 inches (and this seems to work for many people). Many touring bikes feature “granny gears” below 20 gear inches however, so the 40T chainring, which yields a 26.6–80.4 inch range, seems sensible to me. At a cadence of 83 RPM the bike travels 20 MPH in its top gear, which is fast enough for me on a loaded Brompton.
  • A 12L Frost and Seker saddlebag. The magic of this bag is that it pops on and off the bike easily, once you swap out the weak elastic seatpost strap. It makes a good shoulder bag and works well for day rides when you can leave the large front bag at the hotel or B&B.
  • A Spurcycle Compact Bell. The bell on modern a Brompton is polite, but meek. When it’s not enough, the Spurcycle announces your arrival with authority. The compact one fits easily on a Brompton.
  • Rivendell-designed quick-release MKS EZ Lambda pedals. I love these pedals. It’s not just that every bike needs a bit of Grant Peterson/Rivendell mojo, it’s that having a big grippy pedal under my feet is sweet. Not only that, but they pop off easily when you need to lock the bike. I rarely lock the Brommie when touring, but it can be unavoidable in cases like museums that only offer tiny daypack size lockers. Pick a high-traffic zone in daylight, toss the pedals and saddle into a travel backpack (btw, quick saddle removal is the best reason for a telescoping seatpost) and secure the bike with a 15 oz TiGr Lock.
  • On security, I did hide an AirTag on my Brompton, but I’d give only 25% odds that it would help recover a stolen bike. Etsy has dozens of 3-D printed AirTag holders for bikes. Tucking an AirTag in the luggage block also works. Do not put an AirTag inside a steel tube — it blocks it from working. Which it probably won’t do anyway.
  • I used the new Brompton Quadlock mount with a Quadlock case for my phone. This setup will become increasingly common as phones displace GPS devices. It requires 4G+ to work well, so when I tour overseas, I buy either a high speed SIM or 15G of LTE/4G coverage to have Google Maps and Komoot live and fast at all times. See pros/cons below. This setup is great if you travel to any place with complex routing (most cities, but also countries like France or Netherlands with robust small road and bike lane infrastructure that requires frequent turns).
  • Having GPS on all the time uses a lot of power, so I tucked a power bank in a Brompton Metro Zip pouch, a small bag that faces backwards on the front bars. Unfortunately, the pouch has a flaw thanks to sloppy product design. Although Brompton already makes a rear saddlebag, they decided to make the Zip Pouch mountable either front or rear. This dictated narrow straps spaced for Brooks saddle loops. But when mounted in front, these straps are incompatible with Brompton’s Quadlock mount. The fix is to design the pouch to mount only in front and use strong, wide Velcro straps like every other Brompton bag does. I plan to modify my Metro Pouch and am using Rivendell’s XS Sackville in the meantime.

Navigating with Google Maps is brilliant. In bike mode, it displays speed, distance, and turns and will give you voice directions if you want. It’s unbeatable in cities and quickly reroutes you if you decide to explore a new neighborhood or take a new path.

But Google’s utilitarian route planning is not always ideal for touring. It will reliably find an efficient bike route from point A to point B. It is happy to use obscure bike paths and seems to be learning more all the time — but it starts with the fastest route. This is fine for commuting. But when touring, I’d prefer to pedal 10% further to enjoy beautiful backroads or to avoid a major highway. I like trails through fields and woods, but also enjoy parks, neighborhoods, and industrial areas — a preference not shared by every cyclist or easily accommodated by Google.

For route planning, I turned to Komoot, the German outdoor mapping utility that is especially strong in Western Europe. As a route planner, Komoot is the opposite of Google Maps. It uses the preferences of its cycling members to suggest attractive routes. In the Netherlands recently, Google charted the same route perhaps half of the time. Of course, sometimes Komoot tries to send you out of the way because a few riders liked a windmill or found a 2km stretch of dirt road especially compelling. Komoot also sent me down two small roads that were closed after a few km. So I used Komoot to build routes each day and transfer them to Google Maps. I rode some amazing backroads and obscure paths and was never lost for long. (Using Komoot itself to navigate is a nonstarter for me. It is vastly inferior to Google Maps as a navigation tool, even if it has advantages as a route planner.)

My packing list was unsurprising. Gianni Filippini, who writes the Brompton Traveler, is a Brompton touring God, so I tested the Keen Clearwater CNX sandals he recommends. They are great for daily rides, although I ended up glad for a pair of lightweight walking shoes for walking excursions and evenings.

When I fly round trip, I use the Vincita Sightseer travel case, which wheels easily and lets you protect your bike with your clothing, bags, and gear. I did not use the included garment bag. (The Sightseer is large enough that you may bump up against weight limits, depending on your airline.) For lighter weight options or open jaw routes, Ikea’s legendary Dimpa bags work well, although it does not protect the bike as fully.

Most packing instructions undervalue the use of lightweight crush protectors laterally inside your case or Dimpa bag. For vertical protection (including protecting vulnerable rack stays), I pushed a .5” wood dowel down the seat tube, knocked out the rubber seat tube bung, and exposed 1” of dowel at the bottom. Clamp it tight and protect the top with a sliced tennis ball. These crush protectors are light, quick to unpack, and help protect your bike from baggage drops.

Once a machinist, union guy, McKinseyist, Assist Sec of Labor. Co-founder and ex CEO Alibris, RedLink. Author: A Better Bargain. Contradictions are personal IP.