Sunday, October 4, 2020

... and now the reveal!

 I felt a little silly keeping people in suspense.

Well that ends now.

The answer (Sonja was closest-ish), is that Susan and I have ordered Bromptons.

I realize that for those of you who aren't already familiar, it sounds like we have bought some kind of bespoke rubber boots or umbrellas made in London.

It's true that our Bromptons are in fact being handmade for us in London, but they aren't galoshes or brollies, they're bicycles.

To be more specific (and this may be of interest to those camper-converts among you - which it seems a lot of you are, actually), Brompton only makes one bicycle, in, so they say, hundreds and hundreds of flavours. That means that you can order a Brompton that is best suited to your needs: from Sunday riders, to serious tourers, to world travellers.

How the heck did we stumble on buying Bromptons?

Susan and I have long been walkers. Not speed walkers, but definitely walkers. I once walked so far, on a whim, about nine kilometres, in office shoes, that I overstretched my left arch and it took more than a month to heal. We have walked in London, Geneva, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Sorrento, Madrid, Athens, Marbella... but mostly in our neighbourhoods in Montreal and Toronto. Usually in the evening, and now in semi-retirement, pleasant afternoon neighbourhood walks.

We keep ourselves busy on neighbourhood walks in a curious way.

We award imaginary prizes to homeowners for curb appeal ranging on a five-point scale from "I really like that, good job", to "yeah, it's not bad", to "meh", to "oh that is hideous", to "bulldozer!"

On an eight-hour drive to Ogunquit many years ago, Susan and I fantasized about starting a reality TV show for hideous homes where Susan bulldozes the most hideous house, and the loser (winning!) gets a brand new home with genuine bourgeois curb appeal.

So we walk and judge; and we judge and walk.

That's got to be healthy on at least a few levels, right?

That's what I thought too.

Well, happenstance upset that apple cart.

It started with a piece in the New York Times in early September: For Successful Aging, Pick Up the Pace or Mix It Up.

It makes sense that running or cycling is going to be healthier than walking, but I was surprised that all our walking wasn't really that helpful. Our judgey fake awards on the other hand did wonders for our self-righteous satisfaction, but... we're never going to be runners and nothing is going to change that.

But cyclists? That got me thinking.

We have two amazing bikes (my Norco, and my father's Specialized bike I inherited {thanks Dad} and the City of Toronto has an amazing expansive network of bike paths.

The paths follow the deep ravines along the Don and Humber rivers and their tributaries, running many winding kilometres from the north, south to Lake Ontario.

It's not that Toronto deserves much urban planning credit.

The ravines are too steep and too narrow to warrant development as anything more than parkland. The closest to urban development the ravines have come is the Don Valley Parkway, some golf courses, and Hogg's Hollow just to the south of us.

And there you have, all at once, the wonder, and the rub.

The closest path to the Don Valley ravine parkland is at Lawrence Park just south and east of Lawrence Avenue and Yonge Street. While that is only six kilometres due south of us, getting there on a bicycle, especially for Susan who has a lot less experience cycling, is very dangerous. Yonge Street is extremely busy with tight lanes, swerving cars, parked cars on both sides of the street... it's even money whether you get hit or 'doored'.

All the other paths are even less accessible, at great distances to the south and west.

That means that it we are going to cycle, have fun doing it, and stay safe, our bikes have to travel with us by car.

We live in a condo development with typical indoor parking. If I install a roof rack for the bikes we have, I know that it is only a question of time before I drive into the garage with the bikes on the roof and damage the overhead door, destroy the bikes, the rack, the massive sunroof and the rest-of-the-roof. Yikes! I can hear the dollars in damages winding up like the spinny things on a Vegas slot machine, and our bank accounts emptying like a cascade of coins but pouring in the wrong direction.

So no roof rack then. Besides, I'd need a crane to get the bikes up there.

That means a hitch carrier.

Sounds easy, but... How many cars do you see driving around with empty hitch carriers hanging off the back? I know that would be us too. And every time we would need to open the hatch there would be frustration and cursing. Not to mention the cost of installing a hitch on Susan's beloved but seven-year-old Beemer X3. I think it requires cosmetic surgery at the dealer. Ouch! And, as much as we both love that car, we have been talking about succession planning lately... definitely not the time to 'invest' in a hitch.

So how the heck do we cycle?

We obviously need folding bikes that will easily fit in the trunk of course!

And that revelation led me to...

In short order I found this gem! A couple who travel in their Smart Car with two, two, two Bromptons in the trunk of their tiny car plus luggage! 

That almost clinched it for me.

Yet how could bikes so tiny, and that triple-jointed, be any good for riding?

And that's when I discovered the many, many, many devoted Brompton cult-followers. I won't link to all of them, just one, Victor Sabioni of the Everyday Cycling YouTube channel because Victor says all there is to say, and all there is to know about Bromptons.


Now I was hooked.

But would Susan go along?

If she did, this would be our first real two-wheeled adventure together (Susan has only once been a passenger on my Vespa - and not for want of invitations).

We had been for a walk in the Taylor Creek ravine this summer and I think Susan saw the charm as cyclists of all ages, sizes, abilities, and sexes rolled by.

The real test was whether I could convince Susan to visit Curbside Cycle with me. Curbside Cycle is Toronto's Brompton dealer.

Well... she did, and we did.

Susan was very impressed with what she saw and experienced.

While the Bromptons are in great demand so there is no such thing as inventory, the shop keeps a number of Bromptons as demonstrators and rental bikes. Timm Harding, Curbside's Director of Operations and Bromtpon Guru (a richly-deserved title) was generous with his time and patiently introduced us:

Susan, meet Brompton; Brompton meet Susan...

Susan's mask masks her obvious enthusiasm remarkably well. Suffice to say that by the time we left the shop we had placed our orders: one black lacquer Brompton for me, one bright red Brompton for Susan.

Now we just have to wait patiently until March or April. In the meantime, our specially-ordered Bromptons are booked in the 2021 production run in London.

I was debating whether to mention this... but... in the interest of full-disclosure and transparency, guess where else our two Bromptons will fit, other than in the trunk of our car?

Imagine this next bit in the cadence of Dr. Seuss:
in our front hall closet; 
in our ancient but still-viable Samsonite hard-sided suitcases and from there on a plane to anywhere;
on buses;
on subways;
in an Uber;
in a taxi;
on a boat (even a kayak or a canoe);
under my desk;
under our bed;
in a hotel with the concierge, or in our room;
in an AirBnB in Paris;
on a train to Normandie;
in a shopping mall;
in grocery stores (where folded and with a bag clipped on the front they become shopping carts!);
in our kids' guest bedroom under our bed, in Vancouver;
in a museum at the coat-check;
in a restaurant (not that they're open);
[drum rolL... DRRRRRRRR!]

All you camper-van and camper-bus addicts, even those of you who may have tiny microscopic restored vintage VW campers, yes two will fit.


SonjaM said...

We have been eying those Bromptons myself since we bought our camper van. They would be ideal for us but come with a price tag that we are not yet willing to pay. So far we are still good to put a bike rack on our tow bar and drag our "real bikes" along. I am looking forward to cour Brompton adventures. The lead times are tough tough.

SonjaM said...

Sorry for the typos, note to self: don't comment before first coffee in the morning ;-)

WhenIRide said...

I've been an avid cyclist all my life. I've even taken my beloved Storck Road bike on a cruise to Bermuda where I thoroughly road myself exhausted around the island. I've done this on 3 other cruises to that little gem in the Atlantic. Note: Cycling in Bermuda is not for the faint of heart.... and not flat.

I've had roof racks and back racks on my SUV's and trucks in the past and have never had a problem. For those with the garage and the roof rack, an acquaintance installed a mirror above his garage door so he could see his roof as he approached. Hitch racks are a nuisance. For those that tow a utility trailer from time to time, there's no place for the bikes. A tailgate or trunk rack allows you to put the bikes on the hitch and still lift the hitch if you need to get in there. You just can't lift it up very high, but just enough to get something in there.

The Bromptons are cool and all, and I suppose for the urban life and devout traveler they might be okay, but I'll stick with my full size rides thank you very much. There's even a company out there that makes bicycle racks to put on motorcycles. Not for a scooter though, I think that might be slightly silly.

Good luck David and ride safely!!

Unknown said...

Hi David
You will enjoy the Bromptons, I acquired one in order to travel with a bike and a Mini Cooper. It fits in the boot behind the rear seats. You and the wife can have fun with the unfolding and folding contests. I haven't tried it on the Vespa but the photo you show of them paired has given me inspiration.

David Masse said...

I know Sonja, it’s quite a wait and the cost is not negligible.

There is a bicycle shortage and selling our existing bikes will help the price issue.

As for the wait, it’s like that old Heinz Ketchup commercial “A n t i c i p a t i o n”

David Masse said...

@WhenIRide. thank you for that comment.

As you can see, I may be serious about some things, and I have ridden many many miles on my various bicycles, and bicycles definitely transformed my life, but my hat's off to you, those are remarkable accomoplishments.

We are nothing if not urban, and I really think our Bromptons will be transformative for us.

Ride safely as well :)

David Masse said...

@Doug, as I am sure you realize that white Vespa and that Brompton are not mine, they belong to a fellow member of the forum, who is a stranger to me.

In the spring those folding contests will surely begin.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, much appreciated.

David Masse said...

@Sonja, what typos?

And check out my comment to @WhenIRide, there's a whopper for you!

That's the real way we prove our humanity, not by picking out crosswalks in grainy photos :)

SonjaM said...

Nice one, David. ;-)

Canajun said...

Interesting two-wheeler for sure; I'd never heard of Bromptons before.

I grew up riding a bicycle. I cycled to work, to school, up hills, down hills (often way too fast), and suffered all the usual cuts and scrapes of a young boy doing young boy (i.e. stupid) stuff on two wheels.

Then I discovered the internal combustion engine and how it could miraculously convert those two wheel into two wheels that could go REALLY FAST. And that was the end of my bicycling career.

I have tried a few times to get back into it, for all the reasons mentioned, exercise being the foremost. But it never took, as several dusty old bikes in the back of the garage can attest.

Hopefully the wait isn't too agonising and your new bikes live up to the expectations.


David Masse said...

Hi David, great to read your comment.

I truly think that this is going to be a game changer for us, primarily giving us another way to enjoy the outdoors together.

I also expect that it is going to be a shift on the blog and vlog that adds another dimension that revitalizes a creative outlet for me.

I trust that all is well with you and yours in these difficult times.

ToadMama said...

I'd never heard of Bromptons either. And I did not know there's a bicycle shortage in Canada. If only I were allowed to drive into Canada, I could bring a trailer full of bikes! (I haven't been reading much news lately, so honestly have no idea if the border is still closed.)

I look forward to the days when you have tiny little folding bikes to ride around town.

David Masse said...

Hi Kathy, yes the border is closed, and I have to say, though we have very dear friends in the US, as well as family we love and cherish, I certainly hope it stays clamped shut.

Right now we in Ontario are in the midst of a second wave of exponential infection. The most worrisome thing is ICU capacity. ICUs were free of Covid cases about a month ago and now things are going the wrong way.

I look forward to the day when we don't need to do Covid Calculus daily.

Oh well... this too shall pass.

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.