Top five accessory considerations

By Katharine Horsman

1. Luggage
Naturally, our luggage requirements varied from ride to ride, although two things remained constant: our desire to keep weight to a minimum and our desire to minimise the surface area the ever-constant New Zealand headwind had to play with. On most day-rides, as long as you can stow water bottles elsewhere, more often than not you can get away with just a Mini O Bag. As we had needed our luggage options to be a bit more flexible we left our Mini O Bags at home, instead we used, in a variety of combinations: an O Bag, S Bag, Rack Sack and two Saddle Bags and Covers.

Whenever possible Richard would take the front luggage, so that he would have to do battle with wind, and I would opt for the Rack Sack so as to give me the best chance of keeping up with him. The Saddle Bags would give us extra space for water bottles and other items we wanted to quick access to. Even on our overnight, coast to coast ride we managed to get away with this configuration of luggage, had we needed more than one change of clothes or sleeping bags we would certainly have needed the S Bag as well.

20140530-111320-40400711.jpg

2. Water bottles and other refreshments
An essential bit of kit on any ride but of particular relevance in New Zealand, shops and cafés are not as frequently available as one might expect, we learnt this on our first day of riding north of Lake Taupo. As a result of this near death experience, we ensured that we both had robust supplies of cereal bars at all times, together with a variety of filled water bottles. The stowing of water bottles depended on the luggage we were using on the ride and personal preference. Richard purchased two bottle mounts during the six weeks we were riding, the first broke on the second day of use, but the second, a Zefal bottle mount, faired much better, seeing out the trip. I preferred to stow my bottles in the back pocket of my jersey, Saddle Bag and the back pockets of the S or O Bags.

3. Covers and transportation
As mentioned already, the Saddle Bag that comes with the bike cover was useful for stowing quick access items, although, as you cannot seal it, you need to be wary of items jumping out. The covers came in handy when we wanted to play-down the existence of the bikes, for instance, when we were hitching back from Springfield we felt it prudent to fold up the bikes and put their covers on so as to reassure any unsuspecting driver that the integrity of his/her car’s interior would not be compromised.

You can also use the cover together with the B Bag to turn your B Bag into a suitcase; if you put the cover on the bike and then put it in the B Bag, you can then pack your clothing around the bike without getting it dirty. This is really handy when travelling by air as it means you can keep within the baggage allowance and only have to deal with one bag.

4. Toolkit and patches
We only had one puncture between the two of us during the six weeks we were there but it definitely required fixing. We didn’t have a Brompton toolkit with us so bought a Topeak Alien 2 locally which had everything we needed. We also ensured we were well stocked with spare tubes and patches.

20140530-111227-40347796.jpg

5. Pump
When touring, or just doing some serious miles on a day ride, it is really important to ensure you have a pump that will return your flattened tyre to peak performance so you can ride on to your destination without losing any more time! We carried a Topeak Race Rocket which did the job of reaching the high pressures required of Kojak tyres, it also had a screw on hose for ease of attachment.

Top five Brompton set-up considerations

By Katharine Horsman

When embarking on a longer ride, on a ride in an environment you aren’t used to or if it has been a while since you were riding regularly, it is definitely worth considering the following set-up options.

1. Suspension – firm or standard block?
This is my top tip, hence it’s position at number one. You won’t know what the road surface is going to be like until you get to your touring location; the roads on the maps of your country of choice may indicate sealed roads, you might make certain assumptions about sealed roads being smooth. You might assume that because you use a ‘firm’ suspension block normally, even on past touring escapades, that you will want a firm one in this instance. My recommendation is to take both a firm suspension block and a standard suspension block, particularly if you have been out of the saddle for a little while. It has transpired that some sealed New Zealand roads are more sealed than others, and it is relatively common for a road to be ‘finished’ with a layer of not-so-fine gravel.

2. Gearing – lowered, standard or raised?
I am frequently told that I grind (high gear turning slowly) too much and don’t spin (low gear turning quickly) enough, apparently spinning more will make climbing easier, reduce the size of my thighs and, overall, have many magical consequences. I usually ride with standard gearing (50 tooth chainring on a 6 speed), in a not too hilly environment, and have enough range to spin or grind more; however, in order to improve my chances of spinning up hill, lowered gearing (a 44 tooth chainring) gives me the most scope for changing down and keeping moving. The downside to committing to lowered gearing is that on the flat you can reach your highest gear too quickly and can’t make the progress you want.

In the Pyrenees we knew from the off that we would be attacking some big hills, therefore we planned to do the crossing with lowered gearing. In New Zealand we didn’t know exactly where we would be going and hadn’t planned our riding in advance, so we started off with standard gearing (a 50 tooth chainring) but made sure we had spare 44 tooth chainrings to swap over if needed, and it was needed. Arthur’s Pass at a sustained 16% gradient was the steepest section of riding we did and it definitely required lowered gearing (see me putting a brave face on it below!).

20140429-180513.jpg

3. Tyres – Kojaks or Brompton?
I usually ride with the Brompton own brand tyre; I ride to and from work in London, pretty much every day, and I have only had three punctures in six years – I could bore you with the details of each one because of the rarity of the occurrence.

Richard by contrast is a big fan of the Kojak, they are lighter than the Brompton tyre and their lightness makes them more efficient. I am not usually one to be swayed by such arguments except that ‘more efficient’ over 50 – 100km, potentially up quite steep ascents, equals quite a lot of efficiency savings that I would otherwise have to make up! The other big benefit of using the Kojak on an extended touring trip is that you can easily take along a spare tyre, they fold up to the size of a glasses case.

4. Grips – Brompton or ‘ergonomic’ (and bar-ends)?
Unfortunately I have weak wrists and find I have to use ergonomic grips for everyday riding because they give me greater support, they certainly weigh more than the Brompton grips and they make the folded package 20mm wider but it means I can pedal around without discomfort so it is a trade I am willing to make.

Bar-ends, however, are a whole new ball game, and, as it turns out, a very worthwhile addition. Previous long distance riding has resulted in numbness and pins and needles in my hands, due to the continual pressure in one place; no matter how much I tried to change my hand position, or shook out my hands, it was really hard to get rid of it. The addition of bar-ends has meant that I can vary my hand position whilst riding which, in turn, minimises the amount of pressure on a single point.
The smoothness of the roads on which you ride can also affect the comfort of your wrists, if the roads are rough your wrists can become numb much faster than they otherwise would.

20140429-180029.jpg

5. Pedals – flat or clip-in?
I haven’t been quick to adopt the clip-in pedal, it was first suggested that it might be of benefit to me over five years ago and I quickly rejected the proposition. I had issues with the idea of being physically attached to something that I could potentially fall off, and to some extent I still have those issues but I have: a) looked at the evidence and realised that ratio of me coming off my bike to the number of years I have been riding regularly, is about 1:2; b) I have experienced ‘falling off’ my bike whilst still clipped in and lived to tell the tale, indeed no damage was sustained by the bike nor me.

And what motivated me to pull myself my together and just get on with it? More efficiency based arguments, I am afraid. When faced with the Pyrenean crossing and 220 miles over three days, I concluded that I could use the assistance of consistently well positioned feet and all the benefits they would bring. Thus far I haven’t regretted it.

Car v. Bike + Trailer?

By Katharine Horsman

New Zealand was always going to be an expensive location to explore, so camping was on the agenda from early on, as was a bit of hiking; the question was, how were we going to transport all this equipment on a bike? Much time was spent mulling this over. Brompton luggage, in the right combination, can be capacious but, alas, there isn’t a Mary Poppins style carpet bag in the range – maybe one for the future?

20140429-174521.jpg

From the relative comfort of our sunshine filled planning location, we mused on the great sense of achievement we would feel, should we designate the New Zealand portion of our trip a ‘cycle only zone’, and thought of the money we could save; the more we thought about it, the more propelling ourselves around the, not insignificant, land masses of the North and South Islands seemed like the challenge we were borne to undertake. The plan, to share one trailer between the two of us, with Richard drawing the short straw of actually pulling it – a handicap, it was felt, that would go some way to making us more equally matched, in terms of performance. All we needed, was a trailer.

Then, we thought about it some more, and we thought about the reality of committing to six weeks on the bikes with a sizeable load. We had done touring before on our Bromptons both individually and together; trips including the Dolomites, the Pyrenees and various other parts of France (Richard had also done Paris to Geneva but as that was supported it doesn’t count for these purposes). But all these adventures were much shorter, well defined journeys where we had been able to carry our loads on the bikes, and were overnighting in B&Bs or hotels, particularly useful after any inclement days on the road. This trepidation about what sort of unknown discomforts could await us, coupled with a very lucky car rental day-rate find (NZ$20 a day), sealed our multi-modal transport fate. And what a good job it did…

The weather has been pretty good; we have had some awesome spells of perfect cycling weather and some days when it has almost been too warm, but then there have been some days when it has really bucketed down. We have tried to use wet days to get some big car mileage checked off, and on those days we have really, really felt for the hardy souls, wrapped up in all manner of waterproof layers, toiling along on their bikes, some with trailers, some without, all looking decidedly damp.

The country is bigger than you think! And, of course, there are a lot of places that you absolutely must see and things that you really, really want to do. We are only half way through our time here, and have got as far south as we will – Milford Sound in Fjordland – and the car’s odometer has racked up over 3000 kilometres. Had we done it just on bikes there is no way we would have been able to cover the distances and been able to access some of the more out of the way places as easily.

20140429-174141.jpg

Of course it would have been a very different trip just pedalling our way around, and we would have gained an enormous sense of achievement from doing it, but it seems likely that we wouldn’t have had the best riding experiences. If we were only focused on getting from A to B, we probably wouldn’t ever get the chance just to explore, to meander through valleys for no purpose other than to enjoy it. We can use the car to lengthen rides for Richard (should he feel the need to show me up), to act as a support vehicle or simply to stow the bikes whilst we go hiking. It also makes camping much more pleasant, allowing for less minimal provisions and equipment (and a cool box for the beers)!

Kapiti & Arthur’s Pass

By Richard Spencer

I’ve never shied away from hills despite being more Kittel sized (80-something kgs) than Quintana sized. The enjoyment and achievement of ticking off some big climbs always seems to offset the pain, plus the quality of scenery is typically proportional to the gradient! New Zealand threw plenty of hills at us and even when I hadn’t intended on climbing, the routes were typically undulating and resulted in around 20,000m of ascent in just 1000km of cycling.

Despite several months off the bike and the brush with pneumonia, my body remembered how to ride quite quickly once we got started, however, as with Kath, the saddle soreness was a big shock. Prior to leaving the UK I’d used a bike for commuting, playing out, or work so consistently for probably 6 years that I’d totally forgotten the discomfort of being saddle sore and it took the best part of 4 weeks to subside (the combination of going straight into 2hr+ rides and rough roads probably to blame)! We rounded off the first week with a tough 100km loop in the Kapiti region, with three sizeable climbs. This circuit has to go down as one of my all time favourite rides, the roads are quiet for the most part, the scenery is fantastic and the challenging climbs set up fabulous descents. I enjoyed it so much that having ridden it with Kath I repeated it the following morning with a slight variation that shaved a couple of km but substituted a bigger middle climb.

It’s great to be out on bikes with Kath and she is an exceptionally strong cyclist given that she is more of a hobbyist than me. Where we can, she will take my wheel and we can up the speed as she benefits from the aerodynamic advantage of being in my wind shadow. On the steeper climbs it’s difficult because I can tend to ride away from her, but she is determined and relentless and never too far behind. She’s fiercely competitive and can’t hide her frustration if she can’t keep up or knows that I’m slowing down, probably why, infuriatingly, she will never give me a shout to drop a gear and slow it down! One of the compromises with the Brompton is that of gearing, not really the range – I’ve always found a 6 speed with a terrain-appropriate Chainwheel completely adequate – but the fact that six gears results in big gaps between them, it is certainly easier to ride in a power-mismatched duo when there is more scope for achieving the same speed at different RPMs using the gears.

20140613-154222-56542156.jpg

After about a month in New Zealand and making our way back north, we rode Arthur’s Pass from west to east with overnight kit in an O Bag on my bike and a Rack Sack on Kath’s. Logistically this ride was a bit tricky, but we really wanted to cycle it and had run out of time for a five or six day loop. We left the car in Greymouth and set off about midday for Arthur’s Pass, where we would stay overnight before continuing to Christchurch, getting a bus back for the car the day after. Following some very wet weather we were lucky to leave Greymouth in the dry and had about 100km ahead of us, nearly all up hill, to Arthur’s Pass YHA. Just 30km in we stopped for lunch and Kath was stung on the neck by a wasp, which wasn’t ideal but she didn’t have a serious reaction and soldiered on. After 60km or so of gentle climbing things start to get a bit more serious and the final kms of the climb, including the rather exposed viaduct, are all out of the saddle first gear (when you have only six) efforts that are truly trying! It was a great ride but didn’t match Kapiti for scenery or riding enjoyment. I had wrongly assumed that after reaching the summit on day 1, day 2 would be a long but mainly downhill route with a finale over the Canterbury Plains, reaching Christchurch in almost exactly 100 miles and ticking the century box for the trip. By the time we got down onto the Plains with 40-odd flat miles still to cover we’d battled a relentless headwind over an undulating landscape accumulating nearly the same ascent as the previous day. Kath was beat, I was not feeling too heroic either and the lack of public transport meant a hitched ride into Christchurch. We had a bite in a Springfield cafe, folded the bikes and covered them, a car stopped within 15 minutes or so of thumb-out roadside optimism and a very friendly local ran us all the way to our hotel, on his way to, of all antipodean social engagements, a barbecue!

20140613-154347-56627494.jpg

The first week with the bikes

By Katharine Horsman

Our first few days in New Zealand were spent on tenter hooks as we negotiated with DHL, in the UK and NZ, and customs to let us have our bikes. After five days of form filling/begging/praying they were miraculously released and we sped off into the sunset (literally, it was late afternoon), desperate to leave Auckland behind us (no offence meant) and make up for lost time. At one time we had lofty plans of cycling all over Northland, the bit north of Auckland, but our recent delay forced us south, at a decent pace. We arrived at our campsite, at the north end of Lake Taupo, that evening; having not ridden a decent bike for the best part of four months (we had ridden some very bad bikes around Angkor Wat for two days), we were very much looking forward to the next day’s riding.

20140309-203415.jpg

The reality of having not ridden a bike for such a long time, particularly when one is used to riding one at speed everyday, is that you realise how much you usually take for granted. Our first foray out into the wilds of the NZ road network involved 35miles of beautiful, golden, undulating landscape, occasionally taking in views of a lake alleged to be the size of Singapore; the sun shone and nobody knocked us off our bikes, who could ask for more? Unfortunately, it seemed, despite the hiking ascent to Everest Base Camp before Christmas, my cardiovascular fitness had diminished somewhat, as the climbs proved, and the saddle-based comfort was not what I recalled. In addition to this, having taken up using clipped in pedals last June, I was far from an uber confident pro when we left the UK and four months without them hadn’t helped my comfort levels. Obviously it’s fine when you are moving, it’s just trying to overcome the panic and actually unclip when you have to stop unexpectedly. Richard, it seemed, had none of these issues, at least, his fitness was still greater than mine so he pedalled on, occasionally doing loops around me, unhindered.

20140310-205734.jpg

We have since done three more rides, two in Taupo, including one lap (half) of the Ironman circuit, and one in the Hutt Valley just north of Wellington. Gradually the fitness is building (although the Strava times are very much at the lower end of the spectrum), the arse is hardening up (not sure if that is necessarily a good thing) and the pedal-based panic is subsiding, although narrow, winding roads and on coming traffic still give me the fear. As I type, Richard is out retracing our steps through the Hutt Valley improving his fitness/time/not having to wait for me; I am on support vehicle duty, ready and waiting to answer an emergency call, I even have my phone ringer switched on and on the loudest setting – I have also been lounging, reading and writing this, such multi-tasking skills!

We have now been on the road with the bikes for exactly one week, when not out gallivanting around the countryside they spend their time, side by side, snuggly packed into the back seat of our rental car, surrounded by various bits of camping, riding and hiking paraphernalia. On the whole the weather has been kind, rain has only scuppered one possible riding day and has left us alone when we have been out and about; the wind, however, has been in our faces pretty much all of the time, even when the route has called for an about-turn the wind has followed suit, I am hoping for some more sheltered riding on the South Island, is it possible?

20140310-205132.jpg

The Rides

Northwest end of Lake Taupo (two rides)
The starting point for both rides was Arcacia Bay, where our campsite was, we were looking for some shortish, circular rides to get back in the saddle. In both cases, we headed out on to Poihipi Road, in an anti-clockwise direction, away from Taupo town. The first route took the left hand Marotiri Road turning and finished up in Kinloch Bay, where we had an awesome fish and chips; the second route took the earlier left hand turning of Mapara Road and looped back on to Arcacia Bay Road. Both routes had some steep climbs and some fun descents; the routes could be could be exposed, at times, with a strong headwind. Great views of the lake were to be had on the shorter circuit. More detailed information on the ride can be found in Rich’s Strava profile.

The Taupo Ironman route AKA the Reporoa Valley
The Taupo Ironman competition was held our second full day in Taupo, it did not look like fun: 3.8km swim, 180km ride and a marathon (40km run); the fastest guys completed in about 8 and a half hours! Having been inspired by these super fit types, we decided to embark on one lap (90km) of the cycling leg.

Leaving Taupo to the northeast on Broadlands Road, you continue out along the Reporoa Valley gradually loosing elevation until you reach Reporoa, once there, I would suggest having lunch, then turn around and make your way back. It doesn’t sound too exciting, put like that, but it was a good recovery ride after climbing all those hills on the previous two days and you are constantly aware of the vast uninterrupted views of the valley and the surrounding mountains, it was actually pretty impressive. More detailed information on the ride can be found in Rich’s Strava profile.

‘The Block’ AKA the Kapiti Cycle Challenge route
Rich found this route when researching the Hutt Valley area, by rights it should start at Waikanae but we started at our campsite in Paekakariki, just before the first ascent begins. The climb continues for about 3miles, not vertically, through pine forests to a look out from which you can see the Kapiti Coast stretching out behind you. There are two further climbs, although they are not as steep, the next is along a busy road but the final one takes in a scenic, winding and undulating back road that gradually climbs for about 14miles before descending quite rapidly back down to the coast and the final slog along highway. More detailed information on the ride can be found in Rich’s Strava profile.

20140310-205338.jpg

Bromptoneering New Zealand

By Richard Spencer

Part winter training camp, part holiday, part cycle tour and camping trip, with a hike or two thrown in for good measure; that’s the plan for New Zealand, where Katharine and I will arrive in late February.  I’ve always been intrigued by adventurous cycling trips, but since I started working at Brompton and quickly decided that I really didn’t need any other bike (although I do often hanker after another mountain bike), I’ve been intrigued by stories of anyone taking their Brompton beyond their commute or short leisure trips.  So first of all a disclaimer.  I think it’s really important to understand that this isn’t a marketing stunt, or encouraged, prescribed or particularly even endorsed by Brompton.  Katharine and I are fortunate to have been offered a sabbatical from Brompton before we take on new roles with responsibility for our growing business in the United States.  The riding that we do in New Zealand is the riding we want to do, and the Brompton is the bike we would choose to do it on.  I won’t justify that here, because the risk is that my first blog post degenerates into a sales pitch when my intention is just the opposite; I’m keen to enthuse about cycling, travelling, the great outdoors and pushing oneself physically to get fitter, faster, stronger, happier.  That’s what sucks me in when I read good travel and cycling stories, not glowing reviews of the kit that it’s done on.  So I will take it as read that if you’re here then the appreciation of the remarkable bike that the team in Brentford make is mutual and I can keep the focus on the riding!

We’ll be in New Zealand for six weeks and plan to do some varied cycling.  The main goal is to explore the country, taking in both the North and South Island, their mountains, passes, coastlines, cities and towns.  This will involve some multi-day tours with luggage, as well as many decent day rides travelling a bit lighter and a bit faster.  I’m also keen to put in some extra miles and get back in good cycling shape after several months out of the saddle.  I’ve been picking out some famous climbs and passes to ride, as well as fun looking stages from some of New Zealand’s annual cycling races, and investigating local clubs that I might join for a club ride.  New Zealand is of particular interest to me because my dad lived here when he was growing up and I’ve never been.  My gran still enthuses about their time there, where, in what was then a very small town in the South Island, my grandfather was the local GP and she his nurse and assistant. That side of the family also shares and has contributed to my love of cycling and the great outdoors.  My father and his brother Jerry were both keen cycle tourists in their younger years, doing some epic mileages as teenagers around France on 10 speed steel road bikes.  My father’s cousins, Nick and Dick Crane, continue to pursue this love of cycling and outdoor adventure and have both written several successful accounts of their trips and escapades.   I read one of their earliest books ‘Bicycles up Kilimanjaro’ as part of a collection of adventure stories as a young boy, and it remains a strong memory of early connection with over-optimistic cycling challenges!  Kath lived and worked in New Zealand, several years ago now after she finished studying, and so is keen to go back and rediscover it.

Personally I’m eager to get back on a bike and face the facts of just how much fitness I’ve given away since September.  Basically a summer of two four-day tours, crossing the Pyrenees and then the Jura on my trusty Brompton, punctuated by countless laps of Richmond and Regents Park as I succumbed to the pressure to be in good shape for the Brompton World Championship took its toll.  The reality is I’m an enthusiast, not a racer – indeed I’ve never raced a ‘proper’ race, nor owned a road bike.  A love of cycling and overtaking people on my commute, combined with a slightly ‘soft’ field in its inaugural year, landed me the surprise honour of being the first ‘Brompton Treble Champion’ at the 2012 BWC and I was really keen not to give the title away without a fight!  In the end the weekend went well, but a bungled Sprint final and a much more competitive field meant the Treble title went to a new home (two in fact, not sure how that works…) and I had to console myself with being the fastest man out there with hair on his legs.  Finding myself feeling strong on the climbs and pretty fit, I decided to round off the summer with ‘The UK’s Toughest Closed Road Sportive’, as Wiggle sell The Etape Cymru.  My first sportive – ‘if it’s worth doing…’ And all that.  I’m not going to argue with them, 88 miles and 8000ft of Welsh hills pretty much did me in.  I set a respectable time, upset a few (about 1000) road cyclists, and then promptly succumbed to a cold, which became a chest infection, which lingered and recurred right up until about January when a self prescribed course of Indian antibiotics finally overthrew it and I began to feel my normal self again!

So New Zealand for me is a wonderful opportunity to see a country that my father and grandmother are very attached to, as well as recapture my love of cycling after a conspicuous absence of Strava times, and get my cycling fitness back.  It’s also going to be part of a remarkable journey with Kath, where we will have seen some fantastic places, met some great people, climbed some big mountains and now, importantly, cycled some fantastic roads and paths through New Zealand’s epic scenery!  If you’d like to follow our adventure, the guys at Brompton will be relaying information occasionally via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Alternatively, you can track our progress by following me on Strava: http://strava.com/athletes/ricspencer and/or look out for our hashtag (cringe): #BromptoneeringNZ