Well, what a weekend that's been! This weekend was the Brompton World Championships. It's the third year it's been run and the first time it's been run in the UK.
It's being held at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and features about a 13Km ride around the grounds. Brompton are hoping to have around 500 entries. The rules are fairly simple - it's timed rather than based on position and you have to wear a suit.
I did a similar race back in June around Smithfield Market (photos here) - so followed the same sort of preperations (to the bike, my preperations in terms of training was limited - though I think I am in better shape at the moment, than I have been for a long time - 3 weeks cycling in the Hebrides in August and a week at high altitude in Colorado (only on static bikes in a gym sadly though)). I run a larger front chain ring anyway on my Brompton (54 tooth) and have slick tyres (Schwalbe Stelvio) on anyway; but I did a little more weight saving by taking off the mudguards and for a final bit of power, I put my Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals onto the Brompton.
I was hoping that my new bottom bracket would have arrived by now - but it is still on order. I seem to be able to break Brompton bottom brackets at quite a rate (2 a year). I am not heavy (10 stone), ride only about 4 miles a day, but I still manage to break them. This ones been clicking and squeaking a while now - but I decided to splash out on a TA Axix titanium unit. Lightweight and hopefully a bit better lasting than the FAG units Brompton use.
Anyway - no new bottom bracket, so I will have to hope that this one holds out and put up with it's squeaking.
Brompton has organised a get-together for the Saturday prior to the World Championships. The plan is to meet in town and then ride (via the tourist sites) to the factory to have a look around, enjoy a bit of food and music. I had been to the factory before (photos here), but this sounded like a fun day.
It was a beautiful sunny day and I headed into town. I got there a little early to hopefully meet up with Cass and grab a coffee before riding. There were a couple of people there already, and soon, more and more people turned up. There were all sorts of shapes and sizes of Bromptons - some very interesting modifications etc. More and more people kept on coming - but no Cass! Finally she arrived, having got a little lost. It was a little awkward as Cass was one of only a couple of people not on a Brompton - but we put up with the funny looks!
After a good poke around everyone's bikes, we headed off - there must have been around 70 or 80 Bromptons in convoy! We got a lot of looks from people! The ride was typical for a loosely organised trip through London - i.e. a little on the scary side!
The group got split up a few times and a couple of wrong turns - but finally, we were cruising down Chiswick High Road and into the factory.
They'd really pulled out all the stops today - as well as an opportunity for their customers (i.e. us) to go to the factory, they were also giving their staff the opportunity to bring their families into the factory etc. So, they had a large marquee over the carpark with a bar, hog roast, jazz band etc.! It was great to see the rows of Bromptons parked back at the mothership where they were built.
After enjoying a cooling drink and some lovely roasted lamb, it was good to have a look around the factory.
Brompton truly are a company driven by engineering excellence. Around 70% of the parts they use are designed by and for their bikes only. The frames are all hand-brazed in London, then sent off to various paint factories, before returning to London to be built into a bike.
Every Brompton is built to specification - you get to choose everything from colour, gearing, handlebar style etc.
So about half the factory is devoted to assembly bays, where the bikes are built up.
It was great to see the factory and re-affirm my views on Brompton's quality. We headed off fairly early - I needed to prepare for the Worlds tomorrow! So, carbo-loading and an early night was what I needed. However, it was more fun to head into town for a mate's birthday, not eat properly and get to bed about 12:30 instead!
Early start on Sunday - met Cass at the coffee shop and then drove up to Blenheim Palace.
We registered and then looked around a while - there were loads of bikes, and most of them Bromptons! There were other (more serious) races going on (time trials etc.) and I did wonder what on earth the competitors in these must have thought of hundreds of be-suited ladies and gents on little-wheeled bikes!
The weather was playing nice again - beautiful clear day.
As time to race approached, we had to put our bikes into their allocated slots on the start field. I was in the first 100 group - which I think was a small advantage. However right next to me was Roberto Heras, a three-time winner of the Tour Of Spain - he was hot favourite having been brought over the Spanish distributor to retain the crown for Spain.
After a briefing we had to step away from our folded bikes and get to the start line.
At the horn, we ran to our bikes and unfolded them before joining the course.
I was not expecting the course to be quite as hilly as it was - there were some tough little climbs in there. I thought I was making pretty good going until the afore-mentioned Roberto Heras came screaming past at speeds that simply should not be possible on a Brompton!
The race was great with people cheering us on around the track - especially in the finish straight. My aerobic fitness was letting me down on the climbs - I know I'd set off too fast, so needed to recover a bit. Luckily, there were a couple of long downhills to catch my breath!
I got round in 25 minutes and 58 seconds - it was good enough for 64th position - I was quite pleased! In the end, the Spanish were thwarted in their attempts to retain the world championships by a chap called Alastair Kay (who won a new Brompton for his efforts!).
It was a great race and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
After the race, a little bit of lunch and recovery was in order - before heading around the route with Cass (at less ferocious pace this time!). It was amazing how little I had noticed of the scenery on the race - it really was a beautiful route and it was nice to take our time and enjoy the views this time!
After the lap, an ice cream was in order, before another lap.
And then off home!
It was a great day - the whole weekend had been superb and well-organised. It was great to see so many Bromptons (including Steve Parry's amazing Brompton tandem) and such a wide range of people enjoying the riding and racing. I can't wait until next year - even if it's not held in the UK, I will do my best to get there as it was so much fun.