What Options to Transport:
There are many options to travel on the plane with a Brompton. You can get a suitcase or a hard case that is designed for a folding bike, you can box it up at home or at the airport, you can also try gate-checking, or bring it on the plane as a carry-on. I took a combined approach. Because I wanted to be able to ride to and from the airports and not having to rely on taxis or transits, I decided to get a portable transport bag and checked in my Brompton. Moreover, I already have enough stress as it is from flying, I didn’t want the extra stress from dealing with TSA and gate-checking staffs.
From SFO to Schiphol Airport:
I took my Brompton along with a Brompton C Bag and a Carradice Nelson saddlebag to the BART station and arrived at SFO. The C Bag was big enough to fill 3-4 days worth of clothes and a laptop, while the saddlebag is filled with electronics, bike repair kits, and a transport bag. I have the Nelson saddlebag hooked up to a quick release clamp for easy on/off the saddle. Traveling during the rainy and cold season for a month requires some extra gears and because I wanted to blog while I was there, extra electronics were needed as well. These extra things made both bags very heavy and bulky, and a real hassle to bring my Brompton as a carry-on.
When I arrived at SFO, I whipped out the transport bag and put my Brompton in at one of few shrink-wrapping stations. I didn’t remove anything from the bike and just tightened the hinge clamps. Then I stuffed my 3 separate plastic bags of clothes, two on both sides and one on top of the Brompton, all to protect the frame. And had the clerk shrink-wrapped it to keep everything in place. I asked the clerk whether he has a fragile sticker and he didn’t. The cost of shrink-wrapping was around $10-20. You can also have it bubble-wrapped too before putting it in the transport bag but that would cost extra.
After arriving in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, I unwrapped near the baggage claim where there is a nearby desk for assistance. I asked for a scissor and started cutting the shrink-wrappings away. And my bike came out in one piece!
As I walked around the airport, I scanned for anything that would serve people on bikes well. I saw this escalator that could be possibly for people with bikes. The ramp escalator can be activated to move in either direction. The incline is not as steep as a regular escalator and no steps which make it perfect to roll your bike up and down the ramp. Ingenious! I want to call this a “bike escalator” because this type of escalator is used in a few bike garages else where in the Netherlands.
If you ever come riding to the airport sweating, there are showers that you can use. I don’t know how much it cost, but I am sure your flight mates would appreciate you not smelling. Moreover, in the basement floor of the airport, there are medium and large sized lockers that you can store your Brompton. The medium sized locker costs 7 euros/24 hrs which can fit your folded Brompton easily. The large sized costs about 9 euros/24 hrs. Either locker can be used up a maximum of 7 days which then your baggage will be stored in the baggage depot nearby at the same rate. The baggage depot carries boxes for bikes but they are for regular sized bikes. You can just cut it up to turn it into a smaller box.
Taking my Brompton on Transits:
When I arrived in Amsterdam I was too tired to ride to Leiden which was my original intention. So instead, I rode the NS Intercity train which is conveniently connected to the airport below ground level. You can buy fares at a counter or at a machine. If you bring on a full sized bike, you will be charged 7-8 euros extra on a trip. A few times I brought my bike unfolded onto trains without any question asked. However, I folded partially when there are people around. A nice thing about Brompton is that you don’t have to remove any bag when folded partially.
The NS trains go through every cities and stop conveniently in the heart of city centers. Huge bike parking garages are right there when you exit the stations. These are secured parking with staffs and bike repair booths. And there are charging stations for e-bikes! There are large sized lockers at these stations too that have enough space to store your Brompton or heavy baggage overnight (around 6 euros) or longer at an increasing sliding rate. I can say that very few passengers take their bikes on trains and which by design, space for bikes on train is limited, barely fitting a couple of bikes per bike-dedicated car.
The Netherlands are known for their water ways but not everywhere are served by bridges. To help with crossings, water buses are strategically located. Some are free but many charge a fee of around 2 – 3 euros. No worries if you don’t know how to use the ticket machine. Just pay the staff when you are on the water bus. These water buses are nice and comfortable, and they have bike racks for both small and regular sized bikes, which are located in the front of the ferry.
On the Fietspad:
During the November in the Netherlands, I was fortunate to have only a few days rained on me while riding. I rode to 13 some cities via some small villages and took transit to 4 cities. On bike, I did about 300 miles and it was pure satisfaction! Where there’s pavement, the bike path is smooth. Where there’s no pavement, it only happens in rare occasions. I got a chance to ask Mark at BicycleDutch, when was the last time he got a flat tire on his bike. He said about 20 years ago! Yep, if I had known that, I would have lightened my bag by leaving some bike parts at home.
The cycle tracks are constantly flanked by both sides of tall autumn trees and green pastures. More often than not, water ditches line between bike paths and the cows and horses grazing. In these water ditches, I saw swans, ducks, and geese. I saw a lot of ponies and I was wondering if ponies are one of Dutch favorite pets. And I still wonder. There were instances where I rode for at least 10 miles without sharing any road space with cars. Sometimes, I find my bike chain noise was the most annoying noise on the cycle track. Sometimes, I passed several groups of kids on bikes riding home from school far away from my destinations.
Biking to Schiphol Airport:
Getting to Schiphol Airport by bike from Amsterdam is as easy as riding anywhere in the Netherlands. Most of the way was consisted of cycle tracks and some through shared side roads with cars. As usual, I relied on Google Maps on my I-Phone which was accurate 95% of the time. The other 5% I relied on street signs on cycle paths which are color red coded, different than the blue signs for cars.
Again, I didn’t bother with bringing my bike on the plane or gate-checking it. I went the safe route by wrapping the bike with clothes. The packaging booth doesn’t shrink wrap or carry bubble wraps because of security restrictions, so I had to buy a strap from them to keep my clothes attached to the bike. That’s something to think about when you are flying out of Amsterdam. I do recommend two straps for more secured packing. The plastic wrapping costs about 10 euros. The good thing is that they have “fragile” labels if you ask.
I would do this again with my Brompton. It complements bike touring the Netherlands very well. Because it’s flat and easy to ride around, I didn’t have any difficulty with 16 inch tires and 2 speeds. Some hotels have very small and some even don’t have elevators with steep narrow stairs, but I didn’t have trouble managing it. Flashing bike lights are illegal, so bring spare lights, extra batteries, chargers, etc. Bring music too! The only complaint I have about the trip was that my baggages were too heavy to go any faster and longer.
The Netherlands is a beautiful place for cycling. Wherever you are, a bike path is footsteps away. The air is always fresh and pleasant, and you are away from car exhaust fumes. The built environment, whether the manicured trees or the row of brick houses, is intimate and human-scaled. It’s really safe, as expected. Drivers are considerate and mindful because they are also cyclists. I didn’t bring my helmet and rode everywhere without one. From the first day to the last day of my trip, I was just as amazed and awestruck. The cycle bridges are true wonders, the cycle tracks are long-lasting, and the number of people riding are like music to my ears.
I would like to review our Brompton folding bikes because I think folding bikes can meet most bicyclist’s needs. Many people don’t consider purchasing folding bikes because they are small, awkward-looking, may have an uncomfortable ride, or can be perceived as expensive. Although my first bike was not a folding one, I can tell you after owning one that it is the most versatile and well-rounded bike that I own. I use it for almost everything except for very long distance rides.
Folding bikes make commuting on transit and traveling much more convenient. In San Francisco, the MUNI light rail does not allow bikes at any time and BART only allows partial access. This is because a regular-sized bike usually takes the space of 2-4 people, so to make space for the greatest number of people bikes are not allowed. Also, carrying your bike on your shoulder, down the narrow escalator and through the turnstile to board the transit car is just too cumbersome. Elevators are crammed and slow and far too few. So, using a folding bike is a great way to bring your bike with you onto transit since you can fold it up and bring it on any transit line, even those that restrict full-sized bikes. Just make sure to fold it before you get on.
When we traveled to Copenhagen, we planned on using their bike share system to get around and did not realize how difficult it would be for us to do so. Although it’s been called the bike capital of the world alongside Amsterdam, their bike share program City Bikes was not very good. I don’t fault them for that though because their bike share came out 18 years ago and every Dane already has his/her own bike so the system is old and there is little need to improve it very much. The Danish are very tall people and so all of their bike shares are for tall people. Nellie could not find a single bike share she could fit on, even when adjusting the seats all the way down. Also, the bike shares were very heavy with only one speed. They did not come with locks and the social agreement there seems to be if you see one laying around, just grab it even if someone is already using it and is just setting it aside for a second. My bike share was taken from me when I wasn’t looking twice. So then, we tried renting bikes from our hotel, and their bikes still didn’t fit Nellie either. We asked for a child’s bike but it was too small. Eventually, we did find a bike rental shop but we had already wasted so much time. We told ourselves that the next time we travel, we are going to bring our own bikes!
Our criteria for folding bikes are that they have to be compact, light, and have the ride-ability of a full-sized bicycle. I want compactness so that they can fit through the airport scanner, light enough to carry them from check-in-counter to gate-check, and they have to have a comfortable ride. I read many positive testimonials about Brompton folding bikes. They have been handmade in London since 1981. They have received numerous awards such as Bike of the Year in 1996, Award for Innovation, and Bike Biz Brand of the Year in 2010. There was one blog, The Path Less Pedaled, where Russ and Laura reported on their tour around the country on Brompton folding bikes. I thought that if this couple could endure 5,000 miles (8046 km) on them, these folders must be downright awesome! So, when we went to Portland for another bicycling adventure, we paid a visit to Clever Cycles, an authorized dealership for Bromptons. We went there because they have a full array of Bromptons in stock, and Portland doesn’t have sales tax! We bought both of our folding bikes from them with travel cases to boot. The great thing about Brompton folders are that they are pretty customizable to your specific needs. We decided to get the M Type handlebar for a more upright position, standard 3 speed version, fenders, EZ wheels and a front carrier block for mounting Brompton bags. Turkish green for me and hot pink for Nellie. The cost came out to be $1345 USD each.
As the video demonstrates, the bike can be folded in less than 15 seconds. You don’t want a folder to be complicated when you’re in a hurry.
Our first test for traveling with these bikes was when we brought them with us to Strasbourg, bike capital of France. We were not mistaken as to how convenient and enjoyable it would be for us! It was our favorite city to ride in. You got the beautiful parks and rivers all over the city, bistros and brasseries around every corner, charming pedestrian bridges and historical buildings to inspire your curiosity, and calm streets that make riding as enjoyable as it can be. Much of the exploring and getting lost requires frequent stops but these Bromptons made it simple. The wheelbase is similar to a full-sized bike which makes it as stable as riding a regular bike; but the small 16 in (40.6 cm) wheels brings the size of the bike smaller by 20 inches (50 cm) in length which makes it not intrusive to pedestrians on sidewalks, and the expended energy from having to stop and go is not noticeable. The frame being that low to the ground makes getting on and off the bike super easy. Furthermore, we didn’t experience bumpiness from such small wheels (maybe it’s the steel frame configuration that is dampening the bumpiness).
In an old town like Strasbourg, the older hotels usually have small elevators. But at our hotel, with our folding bikes we were able to fit the two of us and our folding bikes just fine.
Each bike comes with a Zefal bike pump which I find to be pretty decent. I am not a strong person but I am able to get enough air in the tires to be ride-able using it. I don’t recommend getting the EZ wheels because they are actually not so “EZ “to roll on.
The standard gear ratio is too high for us but you can request a lower gear ratio at no cost. Nellie and I rarely use the highest gear- it is actually kind of hard to pedal. You can always opt for 6 speed but that comes at an extra charge and additonal weight. The small front tire makes steering very sensitive but you will get used to it. Another issue I have is that although it weighs 26 lbs (11.8 kg), it gets heavy when you have to carry it over a long distance.
If you don’t like the hassle of getting your bike gate-checked at the airport (you will have to check with your airline if they allow folding bikes at gate check), you can get a luggage to transport it. I find the Tern Airporter Mini to be perfect. The Airporter has integrated TSA combination locks, two rolling wheels and a telescopic handle. It is of airline regulation size at 11.4 × 22.4 × 28 in (29 × 57 × 71 cm). The saddle from the bike has to be removed in order to fit. Not a big deal – just make sure to bring your tools to screw it back on. However, if you order a bike with a rear rack, it will not fit (update 10/23/16 – thanks to a reader – Nenad, the rear rack on a Brompton will fit). The combined weight of both folder and luggage at around 45 lbs (20 kg) is well within the 50 lbs (22.7 kg) limit. Price is $250 USD.
We will be taking our folding bikes to Amsterdam on our next trip, and we will not bring the Airporters luggage. Since we are flying on KLM, a Dutch airline, hopefully they will understand and I have heard of people gate-checking their Bromptons without any problem. One person even brought their Brompton onto an airplane and stowed it in the overhead cabinet (Boeing 777 or larger).
Overall, we love these durable, well-made, stylish, and adorable bikes and have no regrets about purchasing them.
One last piece of advice: When ordering, the wait time is 6-9 weeks but expect at least 8 weeks. If you are planning a trip using them, make sure to order your bike way ahead in advance.
Ideas of places to ride your Brompton folding bike: