Big bikes, little bikes

This is a guest post written by Jen Cooper. I met Jen a few years ago on a writing course at the Queensland Writers Centre and since then we’ve shared many good conversations about writing as well as bicycles. This is the first of two bicycle stories from Jen… 

For years we had tried to find a solution to the problem of how to carry all our toys when we went travelling. We had the van (a fold-down camper), the kayaks on the roof of the car, and the snorkelling gear and body boards inside.

Where could we fit the bikes? There were so many great places where we could cycle. North Queensland country towns, the Eurobodalla coast of New South Wales, the rail trails of Victoria. If we hadn’t been there, we certainly wanted to go to these places – and further!

The tyre rack on the back of the van could be converted and the tyre stored in the back of the Subaru – but that would displace the snorkelling gear and the body boards. Perhaps bikes on the bed in the van? Ah, but imagine the challenge of brief overnight stays and the hassle, especially if it was pouring with rain. The front towing frame for the van? No, too short. The roof of the van? That would interfere with the folding mechanism.

We just left it alone for six months.

Folding bikes! It’s difficult to remember from where the idea first came. It didn’t stick initially – I found an internet article comparing folding bikes and how they handled. The concept was alien – think of how many more times you would have to turn the pedals to go the same distance. They all seemed to have tiny little wheels. They weren’t real bikes! How strange they looked.

We left it alone for another six to twelve months.

There came a tipping point, that critical moment when the desire to find a solution outweighed the inertia of doing something about it. I researched a couple of names – Brompton, Tern, Dyson, Dahon. Then there was an article by a Brompton enthusiast. He wrote in such an appealing way about the function and the charm of a Brompton, and all the extra things you can do with them, like stowing in the overhead locker on a flight from New York to London and then cycling into the city instead of having to wait in the taxi queue. Did he really do that?

In our partnership, things happen like this: I get the good idea and enthuse for long enough that my partner Noel has to do some research. He is very good at research. I’ve never worked out whether it is to show me that my great idea is not so great and stop me carrying on, or whether he is taken with the idea but doesn’t want to make a hasty and potentially expensive decision.

The research in this case led us to Epic Cycles in Paddington (Brisbane). It wasn’t clear on their website at the time, but they might have Bromptons and Terns.

Do you know, sometimes these things are meant to be. The team at Epic know the Bromptons well – one rides a Brompton, they all know how to open and fold them in quick time, and another has actually been to the Brompton factory outside London.

We rode the Bromptons on that first day – they felt strange. With the long seat stem and the little wheels, I felt top heavy. The handle bars were narrow, and steering seemed awkward. The ones we borrowed had three gears, and that seemed too basic to have a comfortable ride over variable terrain. They felt bumpy rolling over sticks on sidewalks with no apparent shock absorption to match the hybrid bikes that we already had.

What really attracted us was how small they folded. Amazing! They would fit in the foot well of the Subaru’s back seat. Even better than we had hoped. We went away, constructed our ideal using the Brompton website and adjusted to the idea. After further discussions by email and another visit to the store, we found there was a special release model that had most of the features we wanted, so we bought them.

Now it was time to learn to ride them.

Jen Cooper is a part time writer with an interest in all things outdoors, and indoors she is researching and writing a narrative non-fiction based on family history.


Narrow handlebars


Bromptons are cleverly designed. With the back wheel folded, the bicycle stands on its own.


Two Bromptons folded for travelling.


One Brompton in footwell behind each seat in the Subaru.


18 Comments on “Big bikes, little bikes

  1. Bromptons are wonderful for their quick fold. However, we’re wedded to our personally made Bike Fridays, designed to pack into a suitcase for air travel. My road-style Pocket Rocket Pro rides superbly – better than my old Specialised Dolce road bike. The pocket rocket has done 70,000 km including many long rides, lots of hills and dales. Bike Friday have all styles of bikes available from real adventure touring models that will carry lots of gear, to off road bikes, serious racing models and hybrid-style bikes that suit trails and road. The latest is a cargo styles bike. We currently have three Bike Fridays – a quick fold Tikit – similar in folding to the Brompton and a most enjoyable ride, John’s Pocket Crusoe – a hybrid and a joy to ride, and my road-style pocket rocket pro.
    Incidentally, I’ve yet to make that air trip. Our car was bought because the bikes fit safely and securely inside! Keep those pedals turning, Helen

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Helen

      Wow, you’ve really done some distance! Thanks for letting us know about another folding bike option. I went straight to google Bike Friday. They are really neat. The off road model and the option of a suitcase, particularly for air travel, sound great. I agree, the car is very important – when we consider a new one it will have to accommodate our bikes or no sale. Happy cycling to you! Jen

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for mentioning the Bike Friday, Helen. I’ve heard of them but know very little about them. A friend mentioned them a couple of months ago and then the week after, when I was visiting Brisbane, I saw a Bike Friday parked in Brisbane Square. There’s a photo of it in my Instagram feed. It looks pretty neat and terrific in that the bike is personally measured for the rider. It’s great to know how your folding bikes fit into your lifestyle Helen… 70,000 kms says it all! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I spotted right away it was a blog involving a Brompton, and thought maybe Gail had gone and done it…?! 😉
    Nice post Jen! I have a 2016 Blue black edition as my backup Brompton, but I would have been torn if our local dealer (Velo Electric & Folding) had’ve had a H6L lime at the time.
    I ride mine – everywhere! To work, shopping, social rides. There are so many reasons I love it, but I don’t want to get too carried away (further carried away) on Gail’s blog.
    If you’re ever in Melbourne please do get in touch with us at the Melbourne Brompton Club (WordPress, Twitter or Facebook). We’re always keen for a ride. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Dayna What a great invitation, I will get in touch when we are heading your way. I have read your blog with interest and wondered if you or your readers have tried any of the rail trails. And…. it is easy to get carried away. 🙂 Jen

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, a number of Bromptoneers I’ve met have done some of the well-known ones. I’ve ridden part of one at Ballarat (can’t remember the proper name of it). There are quite a few to choose from.
        🙂 Dayna


      • Yes I have Dayna. These photos are of Jen and Noel’s Bromptons. Jen brought the bikes to the Gold Coast and we had a ride together along the Oceanway on the Southern Gold Coast. The steering felt unusual and a little unstable at first but within 500 metres, I’d stopped noticing that and just loved riding along!

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Twitchy” is the word commonly used to describe the steering, but as you say it’s not hard to adapt to. Very practical for city riding – which is precisely what they are designed for. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dayna Thanks for the feedback on cycle trails – I’ll keep planning, which is half the fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great solution, Jen! I know others who swear by their folding bikes. One takes hers on big city public transport to enjoy trails farther afield. Nice to meet your guest blogger Gail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn – yes Noel and I are pleased with our solution, as I mentioned to Gina. I suspect we are yet to realise all the benefits of our Bromptons. When we stop at camping areas outside larger cities, I can see the value of catching the train with our bikes rather than driving in heavy traffic. And it’s lovely to have the opportunity to work with Gail. Jen

      Liked by 2 people

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