Prioritizing my bike budget.

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A picture of my moto and Brompton I posted on my Instagram account on 10/04/19.

I commented on the above picture on Instagram yesterday that I had a dilemma. First let me say I have 5 bicycles and 1 motorcycle. All of which I’m very happy with. They all have a purpose and a specific use that fills a need of mine. For the first time in more than a decade I don’t have a strong desire for any new bikes. The ones I have get the job done. I must also say that nearly all of my disposable income since about 2005 has been devoted to my passion for two wheeled vehicles. Without a need to buy a new bike, I turn my bike budget spending thoughts towards upgrades I would like to do on my existing bikes. There is something on every one of them I’d like to upgrade. The two bikes above are the two I have much bigger dreams about. Major upgrades that would require substantial cash outlays.

Here’s the dilemma. If I decide to go ahead with these projects, I could only realistically afford to do one in 2020. Let me explain the two projects.

Honda CB500XA Rally Raid Conversion

I bought my motorcycle new in 2015. It is the first motorcycle I’ve ever owned. I was a beginner motorcyclist at the age of 52 when I purchased it. When I bought it I hadn’t owned a car for 13 years. I got everywhere by bicycle. All of my human powered adventures stated from my front door. My world was very small and I wanted to expand it. I also was aging out of the everyday bike commute. Commuting everyday left me too tired to go on adventures on the weekends. I don’t recover like I used to. The motorcycle would allow me to take some days off from the bicycle commute during the summer weeks. I also hoped to do some exploring and camping by motorcycle in the nearby National Forests. Maybe use it to scout routes for bikepacking trips.

The CB500XA is categorized by Honda as an “Adventure” bike. After buying it I realized it could only do light gravel and was designed for 90% road use / 10% gravel or dirt. It’s a entry level budget bike. It has the great Honda engineering and reliability but many entry level parts and suspension components.

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Taking a shady break to cool off while bikepacking in the Superior National Forest, August 2019.

I discovered this summer I was having increased difficulty acclimating to heat as I age. On the bikepacking trips I did this summer I was getting sick from the heat and found my limit was about 30 miles of loaded touring per day on gravel in moderate heat. On the trip in the photo above we stopped at a junction of forest roads and talked with three guys riding dualsport motorcycles. I decided right then that I should explore the possibility of doing some trips on my motorcycle. I wanted to do what they were doing.

I was aware there is a U.K. based company called Rally Raid that makes a conversion kit specifically for the Honda CB500X. It provides a kit to upgrade the front and rear suspension. It adds suspension travel and the ability to adjust the suspension to the terrain and load. The kit includes strong, spoked, off road wheels that replace the original cast aluminum wheels. It increases the front wheel diameter from 19″ to 21″. It also include an engine guard with bash plates.

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A picture of a 2015 CB500X, just like mine, but with the Rally Raid upgrades. Note the spoked wheels, chunky tires and engine guard.

What the kit essentially does is turn a great budget commuter bike into a very capable off-road bike. Not a true dirt bike, but a bike that can handle gravel and dirt roads as well as some serious non-maintained forest service roads. This is an upgrade I seriously would like to do. I would use it to explore the several million acres of National Forest lands that lie within a 90 minute drive from my home. There are hundreds of miles of forest service roads traversing these lands and National Forest campgrounds. I foresee overnight trips by motorcycle.

2013 Brompton S6L

The other upgrade project I’m excited to be considering involves my Brompton folding bike. The above pictures are what it looked like the weekend I bought it in January of 2013. I bought it as a fascination. I was intrigued by the incredible feat of engineering that allows the Brompton to not only be the folding bike with the smallest and fastest fold, but it is super friendly and a joy to ride. It is built to take a lot of abuse and last a really long time.

Despite the high quality build with many proprietary parts.  I discovered early on there are a lot of aftermarket parts available to help personalize and upgrade a Brompton. I was interested in replacing some of the plastic proprietary parts that come on it with higher quality Ti parts or CNC’d aluminum parts.

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Some of the aftermarket upgrades from Brompfication.
New bits for the Brompton 002
Beautiful CNC’d chain tensioner that replaced the all plastic original tensioner. Also from Brompfication.

 

n 2014 I challenged myself to see if I could ride more than 1,000 miles on the Brompton. The first year I had had the Brompton I only rode it 400 miles. I ended up riding 1,400 miles, mostly commuting miles during the summer months. I learned a lot about the Brompton that summer. I found I really enjoyed riding it. It made a great commuting bike. I also enjoyed longer rides on it. The longest being 42 miles. I learned a few things I’d change if there was a way. I never liked the gearing. It has a three speed IGH with a 2 speed derailleur. It took me about 500 miles before I could shift without really thinking about it. It’s not the best design for ease of use. I ordered mine with the “lowered gearing” for hilly areas. I would have liked more gear range and a lower “low” gear for the Duluth hills. The proprietary side-pull brakes are extremely squishy. The bike is stable enough that I would routinely hit speeds of 35-40 mph going down Duluth hills. I never felt unsafe at those speeds…until I had to stop at the bottom of the hill for a stop sign. I never felt the brakes were sufficient or strong enough. Taking either wheel off to fix a flat or for routine maintenance is tricky. Every time I do it I have to re-watch a YouTube video to refresh me on the steps involved. There is nothing quick release or easy with wheel removal. The brakes don’t even have a quick release. You have to loosen the brake cable to open the calipers enough to drop the wheel out.

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Brompton conversion with a Rohloff IGH and disc brakes. Image from Kinetics-UK.

 

The good news. I found a solution to every one of the things I would change about the Brompton to make it an even better designed bike. Ben Cooper owns Kinetics in Glasgow, Scotland. He specializes in the following: Folding Bikes, Recumbent Bikes & Trikes, Electric Bikes, Cargo Bikes, Tandems, Custom Framebuilding. He makes a kit that allows you to use Rohloff IGH and disc brakes on a Brompton. In order to do this he makes a new rear frame triangle that has wider hub spacing to accommodate a Rohloff hub and a disc brake. He makes a new fork to accommodate a front disc brake. This would solve every issue I stated in the previous paragraph. Wider and lower gearing, improved stopping power and ease of maintenance with quick release wheels. This is my dream Brompton. It comes at a hefty price. Anyone that knows anything about Rohloffs know they aren’t cheap. I have a Rohloff geared bike already and I wouldn’t hesitate to have a second Rohloff geared bike in the house.

I’m very excited to make both of these projects a reality. It’s difficult to decide which one to do first. Any thoughts?