Test riding Brompton bicycles in Oak Park, Illinois

Brompton SL2 outside Element Cyclesport in Oak Park, Illinois. The front bag attaches to a mounting block on the head tube. It doesn't turn with the handlebars and front wheel.

Brompton SL2 outside Element Cyclesport in Oak Park, Illinois. The front bag attaches to a mounting block on the head tube. It doesn’t affect steering because it doesn’t turn with the handlebars.

I started writing 16incheswestofpeoria after I bought my Bike Friday tikit. Sixteen-inch wheels are pretty unusual; I thought I might find something to pass along to readers. Surprisingly, not so much.

Yes, the tikit is a bit odd compared to the typical offerings of central Illinois bike shops, but the oddness is pretty much limited to its appearance. It’s a bit quicker steering than a bike with larger wheels but the brakes and derailleur work the same way. In three years, I’ve covered the tikit’s construction in Eugene, Oregon, and the replacement under warranty of the folding riser. That’s about it, though I have to add it’s the first bicycle I’ve transported in the passenger seat of a Mazda Miata.

With a lot less personal experience, I could say the same about the Brompton folding bicycle made in London. Sixteen-inch wheels, yep, a little strange. But as far as the mission is concerned, it’s the same: get on and pedal. The last time I rode a Brompton, several years ago at Calhoun Cyclery in Minneapolis, it had a shorter wheelbase. That machine was definitely optimized for the fold, not so much the ride.

Brompton M6R. Note the telescoping seatpost, a necessity for taller riders, and the pump fitted to the seatstay.

Brompton M6R. Note the telescoping seatpost, a necessity for taller riders, and the pump fitted to the seatstay.

Today, the Brompton’s wheels are a bit farther apart, which increases stability, and many of the parts, including rims (double-walled), cranks (bolt-on chainring) and brakes (dual pivot), have been upgraded.

This past weekend, I rode two Bromptons from Element Cyclesport in Oak Park, Illinois. A blue SL2–the designation indicates straight bars, fenders and two-speed drivetrain–and the store’s Brompton Demonstrator, which is a white MR6–rise bars, rear rack, six-speed–with a Demonstrator decal.

The SL2 was parked in the folded position when I first saw it. It’s been a while since I handled a Brompton. I couldn’t remember the first step to unfolding it. But I’m okay with staring vacantly until the answer pops into mind.

You have to raise the seatpost. Ah, yes: the bicycle unfurls. Now, it’s just a matter of flipping the rear end of the bike into place, tightening a couple of twiddly knobs and you’re off to the races. Well, not the races, unless you were in Washington, D.C. recently, but definitely the neighborhood.

Thoughts based on two admittedly short, flat test rides: the 2-speed derailleur is a sweet shifting unit. That’s the benefit of having only two cogs: flick the shifter to one cog or the other; no finesse necessary.

The six speed is just as nice a setup. The same derailleur used with the SL2 is combined with Brompton’s BWR internal 3-speed hub, a Sturmey-Archer variant. Intellectually, I know the BWR adds a bit of weight and probably some internal resistance, but I didn’t notice either issue on the flats, and I’m going to guess that the lower gear ratios of the 6-speed more than make up for the weight when it comes time to climb hills.

Handlebars? The flat bar  of the SL2 is tempting. It’s a very clean look, but the sit-up-and-beg position of the M-style handlebars (or H-style, they could have been the tallest handlebars Brompton offers) on the 6-speed Brompton is a great match for city riding–and my personal flexibility. I’m not faster with one bar than the other, so as far as I’m concerned, there’s no downside to taller bars.

I really liked the rear rack. With the bike half folded, the rack makes a dandy kickstand. Fully folded, you roll the bike on the small parking wheels.

I really liked the rear rack. With the bike half folded, the rack makes a dandy kickstand. Fully folded, the bike rolls on four small parking wheels.

What surprised me? I really like the rear rack on the Demonstrator. It makes for a great kickstand when the bike is half folded. Or maybe I should say I don’t like not having the rack. Without it, you have three parking wheels, two behind the seat and one on the fender, which isn’t really a stable parking solution, more of a pointed reminder that you should have bought the rack and picked up that all-important fourth parking wheel.

Here’s the other thing about the rack–it eases the transition from unfolded to folded. When you release the rear end of the bike, via a lever near the seat post quick release, and lift, the seatstays, chainstays and wheel pivot around the bottom bracket, and the wheels at the back of the rack engage the ground first. It’s a smoother operation than my tikit, which needs a little foot action to avoid beating up the back fender.

Element Cyclesport occupies an attractive corner store front in Oak Park. Once I saw the location, I had to agree with the online commentator who bemoaned the store’s prior occupant. It is amazing that a realty company would reserve some of the town’s best real estate for itself. A bicycle shop is a much better use of the space. Especially a shop with smiling employees who greet customers right away.

With a half hour to spare, I only had time to review the Bromptons and buy a pair of gloves. But the shop is definitely worth another visit. If you go, consider combining your journey with a visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It’s one to three minutes down Chicago Avenue, depending on whether you ride or walk.

Note: If you drive and want to make the same ridiculous mistake I did, try motoring during the week from Palos Heights to Oak Park along Harlem Avenue. If that doesn’t have you despairing of the sad state of the built environment and condemning the solipsistic ignorance of the phrase “America’s love affair with the car,” nothing will.

Post Note: Check out The Brompton Diaries’ coverage of the 2014 Brompton US Championship. The colorful owners are definitely fans of the brand.

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Word on the street: Per Ellingson

per ellingsonIt’s all about efficiency.

Before companies in the greater Peoria area install energy-efficient electric and gas equipment, they often apply for cash incentives offered by the local utility company, Ameren Illinois, through its ActOnEnergy program.

Energy Engineer Per Ellingson performs the technical review of those applications.

And because he’s interested in personal efficiency as well as professional, Per, who lives about two miles from work, commutes by bicycle and bus. His Downtube folder also makes it easy to accept the occasional rides from car-driving friends. Just fold and go.

One thing’s for sure, this Bike Peoria advocate is easy on equipment. In six years of ownership, he’s replaced the rear derailleur cable and housing. That’s it.

“Bike Peoria is important to me because it’s making this form of transportation easier for Peorians.  I love this city, and supporting access to alternate modes of transportation is a key to local economic opportunity as well as responsible energy accountability.”



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In the mountains of Peru: cargo tricycle


When Melanie Martin took this picture and sent it to me, she wrote that she and her husband John were on their way to the Colca Valley to see Andean condors. The valley also contains the Colca Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States.

This is not the Colca Canyon. The lady in the picture is pulling her single-speed cargo tricycle along a Peruvian road at 14,000 feet.

If an Andean condor landed on the handlebars Phillip-Petit style, one foot in front of the other, its 10-foot wingspan would overhang the wheelbase.

Which, while diverting, would be of no help to the tricycle’s operator.

Thanks for the picture, Melanie.


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Lean it here in Lima: bicycle rack


My friends Melanie and John Martin just hiked to Peru’s Machu Picchu. Given its 15th century origins, the Incan site is sadly lacking in ancient bicycle-related artifacts. Which means Lima, the country’s capital, has something that Machu Picchu does not: this flower-bedecked bicycle rack.

And that, friends, is the advantage of being founded in the 16th century.

Thanks for the picture, Melanie.

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Modified with Arkel: Eclipse pannier


I use two panniers when commuting to work: an Arkel Bug, which doubles as a backpack and contains work in progress, digital tools, lunch, cap, spare shirt and small towel; and an old Eclipse bag for pump, tools, spare tube, U-lock and cable.

The handle on the Eclipse bag failed at one of two junctions with the bag, leaving me with a strap instead of a handle. Unfortunately, the handle was more than a nicety; I needed an intact handle to install and remove the bag and carry it around with me off the bike.

IMG_2034Why did the handle fail? Probably because it was sewn only to the thin nylon material at the top of the bag. A better strategy would have been to extend the handle behind the top hooks and bolt the hooks and the handle to the internal plastic stiffener.

IMG_1973Here’s what the back of the Eclipse bag looks like from the factory: two steel hooks at the top and a spring-and-hook assembly at the bottom. With the exception of the handle, it’s a robust design.

The stiffener was also broken, though that failure didn’t affect functionality. I set the bag aside, and switched to its mate, which was in much better condition.

However, I knew the handle was still the weak spot.  I had a few options: I could 1) use the replacement until its handle failed, 2) remove the original handle in favor of a rear-mount handle of my own design, or 3) update the bag’s entire mounting system.

I’m a big fan of how easy it is to install and remove the Arkel Bug, so I chose Alternative 3 and bought an 8-inch Arkel cam-lock hook kit (it also comes in a 10-inch version for larger bags). Cost: $24.99, plus shipping.


Here are the tools I used to update the Eclipse. Note the locking pliers, which are holding a nail. I used this because I didn’t have an awl.


Before I removed the original hardware, I positioned the new hooks over the old hooks and made a mark on both sides of the back of the bag. These marks ensured the new hooks would hang at the same height as the original ones.


Here’s the bag side of the Arkel system (hooks facing away, toward the rack). It’s normally held together by the two mounting bolts just outside the D-rings in this picture. From top: the upper hook assembly with handle, the handle’s retaining strap, and the bottom hook assembly.


The old hardware has been removed. The original Eclipse handle (top) remains; I’m leaving it on for now. You’re looking at the rack side of the upper hook assembly. The hooks are bolted to a crossbar, and just below the hooks are spring-loaded cams. The handle is out of position in this picture–it will end up between the top hooks.

Here’s how the system works. You capture the bottom of the rack on your bicycle with the hook near the bottom of the bag and pull up on the handle. When you pull on the handle, the cams rotate below the top hooks. You set the hooks on the top rail of the rack and release the handle: the cams then rotate in the opposite direction, trapping the top rail.

Note that I’ve marked the position of the crossbar mounting holes.


Here, I’ve peeled back the shell of the bag to reveal one end of the plastic stiffener. I made the hole on the far left for one end of the Arkel mount. The other four holes are original. Eclipse used the same stiffener for the left and right bags and mounted its hooks in one set of holes or the other to ensure the correct set-back on the rack.

Need to shift a bag with an Arkel mount forward or backward on the rack? The hooks slide along the aluminum crossbar. All you need is a small Allen wrench.


Here’s the completed assembly. Disregard the two loops of black strap at the top of the bag–those are the original handle, snapped in place against the bag.

I heated a nail to melt four new holes through the nylon shell and plastic stiffener: two for the Arkel mount and two for the bottom hook retainer, which I fashioned from an old nylon toe strap (Arkel doesn’t supply a retainer with its aftermarket kits). Heat melts the nylon, which prevents fraying. I opened up the holes at the top of the stiffener with a 1/4-inch drill bit.

Then I glued the top of the Eclipse black bag protector to the bag’s shell.

That thing about measuring twice, cutting once? I’m going to try that sometime. You’ll note an unused hole in the bag just below midpoint that went uncovered when I somehow shifted the protector to the right.


Here’s the installation. The black and white bungee cord leads to the bottom hook, already in place. I’m pulling up on the handle and the cams are rotated.


And…we’re done. The top rail of the rack is trapped between hook and cam.

Just like it works in the video.




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Word on the street: Tim Beeney

IMG_1374Tim Beeney works at the Children’s Home and Bike Peoria Co-op. The latter is “a place where people can work on their bikes, with assistance, if they want it.”

He has two trailer hitches on his bike. One allows him to pull a single-wheel Bob trailer; the other mates to a 6-foot-long hauler for carrying heavier stuff, like his mobile bike shop.IMG_1371

“At a minimum, I ride about 20 miles a day plus whatever I do outside of getting to and from work.”


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Word on the street: Greg Lynn

IMG_1368Ten years ago, Greg Lynn worked for Bushwhacker, “Peoria’s original outdoor store.” That’s where he bought his road bike. Today he has his own web design and development company and leads the Epiphany Anglican Mission in Peoria.

“This is mainly my commuter. I’m a mountain biker for fun. My favorite place to ride is Wildlife Prairie Park.”

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