About 10 years ago I bought a Brompton from a friend who had won it in a raffle and didn’t want it. I love the Brompton, but up until this year I had used the two gear folder for visits and to the shops on Combe Down, riding down to meetings in the City and riding across London from Paddington to Smith Square in Westminster for Local Government Association meetings. I return from town either on the bus or on rare occasions pushing the bike up Ralph Allen Drive. Using the Brompton is an alternative, when I am not feeling fit or if the weather is not good, to riding my hybrid bike down and back up the hill. I have also done a Waitrose shop using the C bag. This special Brompton bag clicks in and out and has a shoulder strap, which enables it to be carried comfortably.
Last summer my partner Nic Rattle borrowed my Brompton to get her the two miles or so, from Worcester Railway Station to the Worcestershire County Council building once a week, when she was working there. Nic was so impressed that she ordered a six geared Brompton from AVC in Bath. She chose the colour scheme and her new Brompton is pictured – certainly a thing of beauty.
Both now being the proud owners of Bromptons we decided to be more adventurous in their use, so on 17th October 2015 we took our Bromptons to the south of France by train. This was not because we would be doing any serious cycling, but as a means of transport when we reached our destinations and for short cycle trips.
First of all we stayed two nights in Marseilles, then three nights in Sanary sur Mer and finally a week in Aix en Provence, where we shared a house with eight others and played Petanque in the villages around Aix en Provence.
We had to severely restrict our baggage to one bag each. A special Brompton C bag that fixes on the front of the Brompton, as described above, and a small backpack. The bag is well designed as I would expect with Brompton and even adds to stability, remaining front facing on its base when the rider turns the handlebars.
An essential part of our luggage was some all purpose washing liquid to minimise on the amount of clothes carried. The bags when filled were very heavy because they contained our boules (weighing more than 2kg) before packing anything else. It is a good discipline when space is limited not to take unnecessary stuff. My packing was mainly 3 Tshirts, 5 underpants, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shirts, a pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, 1 thin sweater, waterproofs and basic toiletries, as well as the clothes I was wearing, which comprised one pair of comfortable trainers, a thick sweater over Tshirt and shirt and a pair of long light summer trousers. I was unable to find room for a jacket. We carried 4 books between us. There was not much room left in the bags to bring much back, but the bags do expand quite a bit.
We took the 0713 train from Bath to Paddington after riding down to the station. The Bromptons and bags were packed away easily. On arrival at Paddington we rode along the Euston Road to St Pancras station in plenty of time to get the Eurostar leaving at 0930. It was a bit more difficult to fit our bikes and bags on to the Eurostar because of the amount of luggage people were taking. We were able to fold the bikes on the platform and put them into our light Brompton bike bags. The bike bags were not really necessary, but we used them on a few occasions, when the bikes were folded.
We decided not to ride between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon, so took a taxi. Getting bikes on the TGV for Marseilles was again quite comfortable, although we found it best to assemble the Bromptons, rather than wheel them on the small back wheels, when going to TGV carriage 16. This was probably because of the weight of our bags. We stayed two nights in Marseilles and didn’t use the Bromptons.
Our next move was to get the train from Marseilles to Sanary sur Mer, where we stayed for three days. The station is about 2 km from the centre of Sanary and our hotel was another kilometre further on. This was where we found the Bromptons really useful and we were soon drinking a lunchtime beer on the seafront in the sunshine. My thick sweater was now in the bag!
We saw a couple of other Bromptons in Sanary as we rode in.
We easily found the hotel, where our bikes were perfectly safe and didn’t need to be folded or taken inside, as there was a security gate and they were also out of site. We cycled down to the beach, very close, but quite a pull back up. Nic found her six gears pretty useful and I managed to get back up with some effort even with two gears.
In the three evenings that we stayed there we rode our bikes into Sanary to eat at some good quality restaurants. I had bought new rechargeable lights for the Bromptons and the first evening they gave out on the way back. However since that first charge the lights last much longer.
On our second day we decided to ride to the east along a seafront segregated shared path to a couple of islands. Lovely day and the ride of about 12 miles was very pleasant and mostly flat.
This ride was ideal for Bromptons, and probably the furthest that I have ridden a Brompton, beating my 8 miles across London. Riding in Sanary in good weather showed the Bromptons off at their best. Even on some of the hills along the coast to the west riding was quite comfortable with six gears, but more challenging with only two.
After our three days in Sanary we packed our bags again, now heavier because our travelling clothes were now packed and had been replaced in the lovely weather by Tshirt and shorts.
We rode the three kilometres from the hotel to the railway station and took the train to Aix en Provence via Marseilles.
From Aix station we rode to our accommodation to play Petanque in the villages around Aix for the next week. It was quite a pull up through Aix with heavy bags, but we managed to ride all the way up to Avenue Violette and parked the bikes right next to the room we stayed in on a patio next to a table tennis table, so again the Bromptons did not need to be fully folded .
We mainly used our Bromptons to get shopping and to ride into Aix en Provence for breakfast and coffee. Public transport to the villages was regular and cheap and we often returned after dark.
Returning by train was again quite easy. We rode to Aix bus station and took a coach to the TGV station about 10 kilometres away and then caught the TGV to Lille to pick up the Eurostar. It was more difficult getting luggage on the TGV in Aix than it had been coming down, but it was also difficult with ordinary luggage because of the number of passengers.
Coming through customs at Lille we were unusual British passengers, on Bromptons and carrying boules in our baggage. Not the normal returning British holidaymakers. Customs officers insisted on seeing the boules.
When we arrived at St Pancras we cycled to Paddington during rush hour and in the dark. The ride is mostly in bus lanes, but nevertheless it is not easy, especially when passing the entrance to Regents Park. It would be useful if riding between railway stations was made safer, and although some segregated cycle lanes are being installed, motor traffic in London remains high and cyclists have to take their chance with other less vulnerable road users.
We have travelled with ordinary touring bikes many times, mostly to Italy by air and then by Italian trains to get to the south, with problems, mostly posed by poor baggage handling at Bristol airport, but travelling with Brompton folders by train proved to be hassle free and having the bikes almost within touching distance meant the bikes were not damaged.
The feeling of independence in terms of travel when you arrive at your destination is of great value. It also opens new horizons, where public transport is not very good and it means that we make little environmental impact on the area that we are visiting. then of course there is the joy of cycling in beautiful surroundings. The Bromptons were ideal for us on a holiday such as this and Bromptons are as easy to take on French trains as they are on British trains.
Overall the experience of travelling with Bromptons is one which we would be happy to repeat.