Saturday 14 November 2020


When I bought my Brompton back in 2016-2017 (to be really honest, I can't remember what year it was, but Brompton geeks will would know as it's the year they moved the gear levers from pointing out the top, to hanging out the bottom), I decided to treat myself (well, parts of myself) to a Brooks saddle (a black B17 for saddle geeks - on the Internet there's an XYZ geek for any value of XYZ).

These traditional leather saddles have a reputation for lasting a lifetime and also being incredibly comfortable after an initial "breaking in" phase. Being made from a natural material, these saddles need looking after which entails treating them with a waterproofing substance (Brooks call their treatment "Proofide") and if the leather becomes a little sagged, tightening a bolt at the front of the saddle a little to take up the slack. I'd been carefully attending to the needs of the saddle for the past 3-4 years, although I think I've only had to turn the bolt a little twice since I got it.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I was riding the Brompton, and I noticed that it was beginning to make some strange creaking noises. Now, the Brompton to me is very much a utility vehicle, and the occasional rattle or creak is acceptable, but this noise was ever present when cycling, most noticable when peddling or going over the not so smooth roads in Essex.  My initial suspicion was there was something wrong with the suspension block at the back, but after much examination and adjustment, this was ruled out. As was loose spokes in the back wheel that had been recently rebuilt after the rim had worn out.

Broken underside of the B17 Saddle
Turns out that the part of the Brompton making all of the noise was the Brooks saddle. The leather had sagged a little since I last checked, but not by a huge amount. Thinking that this is just a case of tightening up the bolt a little, I got the appropriate spanner and went to work. What I saw was quite unexpected. The bolt at the front of the saddle had snapped! I'd be the first to admit that I'm probably not the lightest of riders, but certainly not the biggest, and for a steel bolt to break was certainly a surprise. After much muttering of profanities at having broken the saddle "that'll last you a lifetime" (as I'd been told by many), I decided that I have to get a replacement. No great rush as the old saddle was still ridable, it just complained with every movement I made on it.

Off I go to the Internet to get a new saddle. 

I would normally have gone down to my local bike shop where I get looked after very well, but since they've been taken over by Sports Direct, things have changed, and they've not been able to get much stock in - so the choice is very limited. There's possibly a rant about bike shops coming up in the near future, once I've distilled the rants and profanities into something close to legible English.  

The default would have been to get the same saddle again - it had served me well, and indeed, I went to the Brooks website with the full intention of ordering another leather saddle. I was then intrigued by another type of saddle that Brooks make - the "Cambium". Over the next couple of days, trawling the Internet for reviews, it seems that this "new" (since around 2014 it turns out) type of saddle from Brooks is almost universally loved, with mostly positive reviews from trustworthy sources. 

Order placed for a "C-19 Carved".

Brooks seems to make a big thing about being English - they have "Brooks England 1866" all over their website, and their website even uses the domain... which caused me much confusion then I got a shipping notice that my new saddle had been dispatch from Venice.

Yes, Venice! 

A quick check of Google Maps and O-Level geography memories confirmed my suspicion that Venice is a reasonable distance from the Brooks factory in Smethwick... so far infact that even Ryan Air would, if there was an airport in Smethwick, not have the cheek to refer to it as "Smethwick Venice International" - yes, really far.

DHL tracking the journey of the new saddle
A little research later and I'm more informed - Brooks itself has had a checkered past, being owned by Raleigh in the 1960s, went bust when Raleigh also did in 1999, before being resurrected and then sold to Selle Royal - an Italian company... and that is why my "Brooks England" saddle was travelling from Italy. By the time the new saddle arrived in Essex it had travelled across northern Italy, to Germany, and finally into the UK. 

My new saddle had done more travelling in 2 days than most people have done this year!

Today the new Brooks Cambium C19 Carved is sitting proudly on the Brompton, and after taking a few short rides out I think it was a good investment. The creaking noises have been banished to a distant memory and the Brompton is running almost silent. The saddle itself is slightly firmer then the old leather one, but it's comfortable and I think I'll get used to it.

We're not quite done yet though. I'm now staring at the broken old saddle. 

Brooks offer an out of warranty repair service which I thought I'd investigate. 

As an aside, they offer a 10 year guarantee on their leather saddles if you register your saddle within 3 months of purchase - something I just found out! 

Being quite happy with my new saddle I don't really need the old saddle, but it's a shame to just throw it away if it can be economically repaired. Off goes a photo of the broken saddle to Brooks through their website. 8 days later I get an email back indicating that yes indeed they can fix my saddle, it'd be £40, and by the way, we don't take credit cards, you should pay your money into this account and send us the saddle. 

Now I’m left pondering whether I should go ahead. £40 is a reasonable sum to pay for a repair to something that I have no immediate need for. 

I'll sleep on it for a while.

Oh, and Smethwick is the Venice of the West Midlands - it also has canals!

Thursday 29 October 2020


The Ortlieb O-Bag mounted on my Brompton

There comes a time when planning any trip that you have to decide what to take with you. This is probably the hardest task for me to complete as I've got a habit of trying to cover every possibility, and then taking the right kit for each of them. On my recent trip to Scotland this included taking a full size track pump in case I really wanted to get the Brompton tyres up to 100PSI - it went unused, and a 4G home broadband router which would be deployed if the internet connectivity provided by the resort wasn't up to scratch - it wasn't and the 4G ended being used quite a bit. If I had my sensible head on I would have left these at home and saved a few kilos of weight, but the temptation of having a big bag meant I could take them.

So, on this trip I'm going to try to get away with the least possible luggage, but not so little that the trip becomes an adventure in me getting kicked out of places because I've began to smell a little too gamy!

The Brompton bike has an embarrassingly large selection of luggage that can be connected to the little carrier block on the front. Some very practical, others are quite pricey fashion statements.

Shortly after I bought my Brompton I splashed out quite a tidy sum (although less than they currently sell for) on a nice Ortlieb "O Bag" which has been used and abused for a few years to carry laptops, spare clothes, and pretty much everything else a cycling commuter needs during all four seasons. This bag has stood up to pretty much everything the British weather can throw at it, so will definitely be coming on the big trip. That bag, while really useful, isn't big enough to carry everything I need for what could be a couple of weeks.

Fortunately on the back of my Brompton I have a rack that can hold "stuff", and over the years I've had all sorts of "stuff" on it - bottles of wine, pizzas, bags of gravel... so, "stuff".

One things the rack is really bad for is wide stuff - this is because, unlike bikes with bigger wheels, the rack is very close to the pedals. The downside of this is when you pedal, your heals hit whatever is on the rack that's too wide... this means you either hurt your heals on a bag of gravel, or the pizza you've just picked up from the shop gets unceremoniously dumped on the road. So, whatever is going to be carried on the back must be quite narrow.

By far the majority of the clobber that I'll be taking with me will be clothes - at least a couple of changes - I plan to do some washing along the way. So the rear luggage must be capable of keeping the clean clothes dry even in the event that the British summer weather becomes very British.

Many years ago, after a particularly good dose of the weather exhibiting it's Britishness while on a hike in Snowdonia, I was introduced to "dry bags". I'm not sure how I'd been completely ignorant of their existence for the proceeding 40 odd years, but they completely changed the way I travel. Everything now gets packed in them and all the air squeezed out before closing them up - ensuring that they take up minimal space, and in the event the luggage gets wet, my clothes stay dry.

So, for the trip I think a reasonably large dry bag may do the trick when mounted on the rear rack of the Brompton with a couple of bungee cords. Hopping on to
The dry-bag receipt from Amazon
The Everything Store, I found a huge array of possible solutions at almost every price point, eventually settling for one listed at £21.99, which after a "promotional" discount and application of "reward" points, I bagged (see what I did there? ...sorry!) a 25L capacity one for £1.96.

That is the first purchase for the trip, and may possibly turn out to be the best.

Here's the bag on Amazon:

Wednesday 28 October 2020

28th October 2015

Five years ago today I was walking in Nepal and arrived at Namche Bazaar in the Khumbu region.

The trip to Nepal changed my outlook on life completely, and made me want to get outside and travel slowly, not whizz from airport to airport - something I seem to have spent much of the previous years doing for work.

I urge everyone if they are able, to make a similar journey, it’s very therapeutic for the mind. The Nepalese people are kind, generous, and friendly... well, except one particularly grumpy taxi driver in Kathmandu.

The company I used for the trip was Jagged Globe - very experienced in the region and all round great people.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Avoiding the Obvious Route

Suggested Google Maps Route

Looking at the full trip, Google Maps suggests that the route end-to-end is about 460 miles, but it looks like a lot of that is on major roads, and avoiding the really nice bits of the country.

So, thinking about starting the trip with a big day, taking in what looks like some very nice bits of Cornwall that I haven't been through before.

After making my way down to Land's End by train to Penzance, I'll spend the night somewhere near Land's End itself so there's not too much back-tracking in the morning.

On the first morning proper, after leaving Land's End, head immediately away from the A30 and then take some small roads to Penzance for a bit of breakfast.

After breakfast, head off through the heart of Cornwall towards Falmouth. Think I'll have a spot of lunch there and then get the ferry across to St. Mawes.

The last leg of the day is then off up to St. Austell, probably stopping off at The Lost Gardens of Heligan for an afternoon tea - had a great one there in 2019.

Staying somewhere in or around St. Austell at the end of day 1.

Think that's a good rough plan for the first day - I'll look into the exact route in more detail closer to the time when I get around to programming my GPS - but that's a post for another day.

The Beginning

2015, I was in my mid forties and having sat behind a desk most of my life writing software, I got out and trekked to Everest Base Camp. This was hard for a relatively unfit bloke with short legs, but gave me a taste for the outdoors and seeing the world very slowly.

Within a month of coming back from Nepal my father passed away suddenly.

So I did what anybody would do in such a situation, I bought a folding bike with small wheels!  OK, so maybe not everybody.

Since then, my little Brompton bike has gone to most places with me. It's been on business trips to The Netherlands, commuting in London, and even as far afield as the frozen aisle in my local Sainsbury's to do a shop.


Brompton on a dyke in The Netherlands

September 2020 saw the Brompton and me go up to Scotland for a week. This was the first time I'd really gone away with just the bike for a whole week. Being inexperienced, over-ambitious, and a little stupid, I packed far too much.

Overloaded Brompton on a train, heading into London
It's not as if I was camping - I was staying in quite a nice apartment that was fully equipped. Long story short, the 40 mile cycle from Edinburgh to Auchteradar was a bit of a challenge. Definitely a day full of type-2 fun. (see Types of Fun)

So now, it's almost November 2020, the slight mental scaring from the trip to Scotland having mostly healed, I'm thinking about what to do next. I quite fancy a long distance trip but can't spare the amount of time it'd take to do the Land's End to John o'Groats route (at my speed it'd probably take 3-4 weeks)...

My current thinking is to go from Land's End to Ness Point, the most westerly and easterly extremes in mainland England. The route will be about 500 miles, something that is probably very achievable in 2 weeks, and do it during June in 2021 when there's maximum daylight.

On this blog I'll post details about the planning for the trip, various decisions (crazy and otherwise) that I'm making, as well as the route that I'll be planning to take and no doubt deviating from along the way.

Hopefully by posting all of the details I'll maybe encourage or inspire others to get out on their bikes, of whatever wheel size, and enjoy the outdoors.


When I bought my Brompton back in 2016-2017 (to be really honest, I can't remember what year it was, but Brompton geeks will would know ...