Gearing for a Brompton: Update

On second thoughts, looking more closely at the rear sprockets, I don’t think there is room between where a bigger sprocket would go and the frame. I might just get a smaller chain wheel instead. It will mean my top speed comes down a bit, but I don’t know how often I would use top gear while towing all my stuff in a trailer anyway.

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Time Flies!

Gosh time goes quickly when trying to work enough to save money, plan for a major trip and have a life! I just noticed the countdown timer on my front page reads 139 days, and there is still so much left to do!

The planning, though, is coming on well. I pretty much know my route through Europe, the Middle East to Israel, and through India. I’ve also been buying lots of equipment and my trailer has arrived. More details on specific equipment in the next post.

Trailer

After much deliberation, and many discussions with Nick from Carry Freedom, I’ve ordered my trailer. It’s based on a Y-Frame Small, and has a Zarges K470 lockable shipping box on it. The tyres are Big Apples, and it has stainless steel axles and much stronger hitch where it connects to the bike.

I’m pretty excited, and can’t wait until it arrives! I’ll post a full update on it once I’ve got it and taken it for a few rides.

Trailers

Stanfords still don’t have the final Greece map I need, so i’ll keep things rolling by writing about my thoughts and indecision over trailers.

I have basically narrowed it down to two options. The Burley Nomad, or the Carry Freedom Y-Frame. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, neither is perfect, and I can’t decide which to get. The Nomad is a mass production trailer, designed with sides and top so it has a closed luggage space, however, it is still not waterproof and the hitch to the bike may be a problem, especially for a Brompton. The Y-Frame is a simple flat bed trailer, with nothing but a flat area with no sides for luggage, however it is simple and apparently very tough, and the hitch I know will work with my Brompton. To show how equal they are, here’s a detailed description of how I would use each one, with both strengths and weaknesses of both.

The Nomad attaches to the bike with a hitch I can’t find many details of. From what I’ve heard it isn’t as well designed as the Carry Freedom hitch, is fiddly, and uses rubber to allow full rotational movement, which can be unreliable over time. The luggage space is enclosed, meaning I could just throw bulky items in without packing them in bags first. But even so, the luggage area is not waterproof, and so any items that had to stay dry (clothes, sleeping bag, documents, etc.) would still need to be in a waterproof bag. It has a cargo rack, basically a rack above the cover so it is possible to attach more items on top – maybe a daypack so it’s easily accessible. But from what I’ve read the Nomad isn’t as durable as the Y-Frame, only taking weights up to 40kg, and Nic and Sedef, the Nuts on Bents, managed to buckle the frame of theirs.

The Y-Frame attaches with an ingeniously simple hitch that I know will work very well with the Brompton, and looks to be very durable – there doesn’t appear to be much that can go wrong with it. The luggage space is unenclosed, as it is just a flat piece of plywood with grip material on. This means that everything would need packing into bags, but the Ortlieb Rack-Packs are perfect for this. It also allows for modifications, for example I could add a frame so one bag would go straight on the base, then another above similar to the cargo rack on the Nomad. It allows for more options, but could be less convenient having to store everything in bags. Looking at the construction of the Y-Frame, it seems to be built to be very tough. The large version can carry 90kg, and the small apparently 45kg, although the large is simply a scaled up small using the same grade of materials, so one would presume it is able carry the same weight. Indeed there are numerous photo’s of heavy loads on the small, including people.

So that is the choice – more convenient but maybe less durable, or less convenient but maybe more durable. I just can’t decide. Dilemma.

Practicalities

While I wait for Stanfords to order in the third map I need for Greece, I thought I’d write about some practicalities of my trip. This applies more to the European leg as I know more what to expect, I’ll work out India and the Far East as I get there!
First, accommodation. I will be camping most of the time to save money and give me greater flexibility and options of where to stay. I’ll either know which campsite I’m going to go to beforehand, or stop when I reach a campsite at about the right distance, or stop anywhere with a bit of grass for the night. Taking a tent means I have all options available to me. If I’m staying in a city, I can find a nice cheap hostel and have a hot shower and proper food, or if the worst comes to the worst, I can pitch my tent in a field by the road and find civilisation the next day.

Food: Most of the time I’ll eat food I’ve cooked myself on a camping stove or made in the morning before the days cycling, such as sandwiches. This will be much cheaper, and since most campsites have good basic shops, just as practical as eating in restaurants. Breakfast I’m really looking forward to in France and Italy, known for their croissants and pastries.

Luggage: I’m taking a trailer, maybe the Burley Nomad with a cargo rack, but I still have to work out how it would attach to my bike. The cargo rack can be used to put a solar panel on to charge things like a mobile phone or camera. This trailer isn’t waterproof, and isn’t the perfect trailer I envisage in my head, but it is pretty close to it, and gets very good reviews online. The alternative is the Carry Freedom Y-Frame, which is a simple flat bed, but I could build up whatever trailer I wanted on top of it.

Medical and Visas: I’ve made a list of countries I’m going to, and am going to the doctors soon to see which vaccinations I need. I’m also researching which visas to apply for, and where to apply for them in case they expire before I reach the country. In Europe I’ll have my EHIC card, and for the rest of the world I’ll take out comprehensive medical insurance.

Contact: Everywhere now has internet cafes, and I’ll be using these to keep in touch by updating the blog and website and uploading photo’s to them. Select people may also get the occasional postcard sent to them. I’ll also have my mobile phone, and to save money and battery (since I’m camping) I’ll have it turned off most of the time, only turning it on every evening to see if there are any urgent texts.

Sponsorship: This isn’t a cheap trip, and so I’m going to write to various companies asking for sponsorship as money or goods or services. For example, companies may like to sponsor me in return for me talking up their products and services, or putting their logo on my trailer, website and blog. If you know of anyone that might want their logo on my trailer, website and blog as part of a sponsorship deal, get in touch!

Now I just hope that Stanfords gets the Greece map in soon so I can finish that route, blog it, and buy the Turkish maps I need.

Planning Overview

Since it’s been two or three weeks since I decided to go on this adventure, I’ve already started planning. Here’s what I’ve decided so far.

The biggest question is what route I’m going to take to Sydney and then on through the Americas. Well, the general route is through France, across Switzerland and the Alps to Italy, then to Brindisi where I’ll get the ferry to Greece, then through Turkey to Ankara where I’ll fly to either Pakistan or India, then since most of Myanmar is still not accessible to tourists, I’ll fly to Bangkok and cycle down Thailand and Indonesia, island hopping to Darwin, then finally right through the middle of Australia via Uluru and the big south eastern cities to Sydney. In Sydney I’ll work for a year to earn some more money, before flying across the pacific either to South America to cycle up Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and through central America to the US and New York, or I’ll fly to San Francisco and cycle across just the US.

The next biggest consideration is where to stay each night. I can probably cycle on the relatively flat about 50 to 60 miles per day, six days a week, occasionally pushing it to 70 or 80 miles if I need to. I can either stay in hotels or hostels and not have as much luggage (although a Brompton will still need a trailer), or take camping things. Any trailer I get will have ample space to also take camping equipment, the only difference being the weight, but the difference in cost between staying in hostels and cheap hotels or camping will make a huge difference on how much extra spending money I have for touristy things. So on that basis, I’m going to spend most of the time camping, only staying in hostels or hotels in big cities where campsites are a long way out of the centre. Or when I feel like a bit of relative luxury and a hot shower!

Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden is an excellent resource for world maps, stocking maps from just about every country in the world. In the haste of excitement following my initial decision I went and bought maps for France, and got the cycling specific 1:100,000 maps. These are great, except I ended up needing about twelve of them to plan the full journey across to Switzerland. At £5 each that’s the sort of money I was hoping not to spend. So for Italy I bought the ‘touring’ 1:400,000 scale maps, which also included the parts of Switzerland I need. These are adequate for my needs, showing the minor roads as well as the major ones I’d rather not cycle down.

Using the France and Italy maps I’ve planned my entire route day by day from London to Brindisi in the ‘heal’ of Italy. Details to follow in the next post soon.

Starting out…

So, I’ve made the decision to cycle around the world on a Brompton. But why?

A long, world cycle trip, is a seemingly unattainable dream I’ve had for a few years since I started reading travel biographies in Ottakars bookshop in Carlisle, and happened to stumble upon Anne Mustoe‘s “A Bike Ride”. Since then I’ve also looked on with great envy and interest as others, like Nic and Sedef, the “Nuts on Bents,” have completed similar journeys. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago and the realisation of where various paths in my life are going (or not going as the case may be), and a few specific other events, that the impossible dream suddenly looked very possible indeed with a bit of planning.

In June of this year I graduated with an upper-second class honours degree in Human Geography and Third World Studies, a degree that is very interesting and intellectually stimulating and which I have enjoyed immensely, but one that opens very few employment paths, and none that I am particularly interested in. So I got a job for a temp agency earning decent enough money on a year contract. At the same time I moved into a new shared house and signed a year contract. While moving I was appalled at how many possessions I had accumulated over the past three years of my degree, to the point that I ended up needing to rent a van to move all of my “stuff”! This came as a big shock. Although I happily admit I like the comforts of life, I’d never realised, until the clear light of having to move them all across London, quite how many items I’ve accumulated. I didn’t like thinking of myself as someone that reliant on the material things in life, and I wanted to change my ways.

A few weeks later it was time for the London Bikeathon – 26 miles on a bike from Royal Hospital Chelsea, through central London, to Thames Barrier park and back again. I participate as much for the enjoyable atmosphere as for the charity cause, and again this year I cycled the extra distance between my house and the start/end point, making for a total of 45 miles cycled that day. Normally I would do such an event on my older bike, a Trek hybrid that I have put thin road tyres on, which conventional thinking says is much more suitable for a longer ride. But it was stolen from my brothers flat just weeks earlier leaving me with no choice but to participate riding my new Brompton, an S6L in deep blue (James says it’s as blue as my “Tory soul”). I was expecting to be much more tired than normal after that distance on a folding, but I wasn’t. In fact I felt fine, as if I could go on cycling the same distance again.

I realised then that with a trailer for luggage it was perfect for touring, especially since its fold-ability meant any uncyclable parts became much easier (a flight over Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan for example). Then I looked in my calendar. I have a dentist appointment in September and my graduation ceremony in December, and literally nothing else. So the factors coming together are: my only long term commitments both ending simultaneously a year from now; a want to get away from my material lifestyle; for the first time the ability to earn and save enough money; and the realisation that I could complete it on my Brompton.

So I’ve set a date approximately a year in the future, Sunday the 27th July 2008, and started planning.