Last week, I took my most ambitious trip yet with my Brompton — I biked to LAX and flew to Europe for a conference.
It was the culmination of months of research and tweaks, because the first time I tried to carry my Brompton on board, it didn’t go so well.
Let me start with my setup — everything was the stock bike, except what I noted below:
- Bike: Brompton T Line Urban Edition (4 gears).
- Seat: Telescopic seatpost snap-fit — really key; the bike with the seat in is too tall to fit in the bag or in the overhead bin. With the telescopic seat post, I was able to remove the seat post in 5 seconds with no tools; I carried the seat post in the Borough Bag.
- Grips/mirror: Ergon GP1 grips with a Corky Urban Bike Mirror.
- Lights: Brompton Front Light and Cateye Rapid Mini rear light.
- Phone holder: Peak Design Out Front Bike Mount — this was a lifesaver, as I could turn on Google Maps biking directions and have them right in front of me without worrying about the phone falling.
- Brompton Metro Waterproof Pouch — mounted on the front, it carried a spare battery, sun protection, and an Allen Key in case I needed to adjust my grips. The positioning of it even allowed me to charge my phone with my portable battery pack while not removing it from the Peak bike mount.
- Brompton Borough Roll Top Large Bag — my “suitcase” that carried all my clothes, toiletries, chargers, and water bottle, which clipped into the front carrier block. This is the largest bag possible to put on there.
- Carradice folding bike case — this great case folds up and goes into a storage pouch that attaches to the seat post. This case let me fold the Brompton and wear it as a backpack. I am convinced this bag made all the difference, as gate agents don’t usually measure a backpack to make sure it conforms to carry on size limits (the Brompton is just a little too tall); if I had been carrying the bike naked or this bag around my shoulder, it would have invited more scrutiny.
I biked from my house to LAX using my usual route. When I got inside the international terminal, I folded up the bike, unhooked the Carradice bag from the seat post, opened it, and put the folded bike (sans seat) inside and zipped it up. I then threw the Carradice bag over my shoulders and wore the bike like a backpack. At security, they asked me if it was a stroller, and I said it was a “mobility device” — this wording is key, as nearly all airlines will allow mobility devices on board (but not necessarily bikes).
When I got to the gate (flying on Air Tahiti Nui to Paris), I just walked on board confidently, and was asked no questions. The backpack is a bit wide, so be careful when walking down the plane aisles (I got stuck briefly and had to take it off my back and carry it to my seat) — I put it in the overhead bin and took at seat. No one said anything and we took off without anyone asking me anything.
Upon landing in Paris, I again wore it as a backpack. If I were to do this again, I would have unpacked the bike as soon as I was off the plane and rolled it, it’s much easier. Went through customs and walked to the RER, the awesome Metrolink-like system that connects central Paris to far flung suburbs. I kept the bike in the bag while on the train (I was paranoid about security), transferred trains at Les Halles, and got off at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and biked to where where I was staying.
Later on that first day, I biked to Central Paris from my buddy’s house — about an hour and a half, mostly on bike lanes or paths. I stopped by the Paris Brompton Junction, caught up with some friends, and had dinner at a friend’s house. I was blown away by Paris’ transformation; nearly every street has a 2-way cycle track, and bikes were absolutely everywhere. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is my hero (and her re-election campaign ad is still my favorite political ad of all time).
After spending the weekend in Chambourcy, outside the city, I biked to the RER station, went to Gare du Nord, and took a Thalys train to the Netherlands. Thalys is happy to have folding bikes on board, but they have to be in an enclosure; again, the Carradice bag was a lifesaver.
I got to Utrecht and cycled to the Dutch Cycling Embassy to meet with their Executive Director; their office is situated on a main drag next to a canal, just minutes from the central train station; I saw people swimming and sun bathing along the canal. I was shocked to learn that that canal used to be a highway through the center of Utrecht, and that they finally tore the highway down and restored the natural canal only a few years ago. What a massive difference — and eye opening for possibilities in LA (I have my eye on the 90 freeway). After my meeting, I cycled from Utrecht to Amsterdam along some of the most beautiful bike paths I’ve ever seen through the Dutch countryside.
I biked to dinner in Amsterdam and went back to my hotel; just this simple, normal activity was delightful on traffic calmed streets or sidewalk level bike paths. The Dutch truly don’t know how good they have it.
The next day, I biked from Amsterdam to Haarlem (about an hour) and met with an American planner living in Haarlem. He gave me a tour and showed me around the city. Again, light years ahead of Los Angeles. After that, I took the train back to Amsterdam (comes every 10 minutes and only takes 20!) and then took the Eurostar to London. The Eurostar also allows folding bikes on board, but they must be in an enclosure (again, Carradice bag FTW).
On arrival at St. Pancras in London, I biked to my hotel in Kensington. While London has gotten a lot better over the last few years under Sadiq Khan’s leadership, it still has a long way to go. Many of the bike lanes are actually bus lanes that bikes are allowed in — which would be fine, except that taxis are also allowed, and many drive like they could care less if you live or die.
The next day I biked to a bunch of meetings around London and basically encircled the city, before boarding a train to Oxfordshire where my conference was — the amazing Founder’s Forum London, hands down my favorite conference in the world.
After attending the conference the following day, I rode with a friend (one of the very few times I was in a car — was 60+ miles, too far to bike at night) to a hotel next to Heathrow, where I was flying out the next day.
While my hotel was only a couple of miles from the terminal, cycling to the terminal is prohibited through a tunnel that goes under the runway because of construction (although it looks like for a good reason — they seem to be building a protected 2-way cycletrack to the terminal). I decided to risk it, although I was more worried about impatient drivers than getting in trouble with the authorities.
I folded up the bike outside the terminal, put the backpack on, and went to the check in counter (this time, American Airlines). “Do you have any checked bags?” “Nope.” No questions, boarding pass given. At security, the bag barely fit through the X-ray machine, the guy had to kind of angle it a bit, but it worked. At the gate, just walked on to the jet bridge, no questions asked, and stored the bike and borough bag in the overhead bin. Cycled home from LAX in less than an hour after landing.
It felt great to be able to successfully do this trip; I finally got the benefit of the Brompton, the convenience of carrying everything on, and the comfort of having my bike in 3 foreign countries. Since I struggled to find information like this before my trip, I hope this post helps others. Below is a map of most of the rides. All in, it was 175 miles in 7 days, across 4 countries. The Brompton is truly a magical freedom machine, and the Carradice bag is the icing on the cake that makes it all work.