Report on Folder Forum 3, 15 – 17 May 1998

This year A to B’s Folder Forum moved from Weymouth to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight (which, for overseas members, I will explain is just off the south coast of England). Any doubts about the wisdom of changing a successful venue, and going to an island, were soon dispelled. Apart from the island’s hills, which are particularly steep around Ventnor itself, this was an ideal location, with beautiful scenery, plenty of potential rides, and lots of quiet lanes to explore. Into the bargain, the weather was warm and sunny throughout, with little in the way of wind to battle against.

The event proper began on Friday, with a ride starting mid-morning from the Winter Gardens, where the event was based. Arriving early, it was striking that only Bike Fridays and Birdys were to be seen, plus my own AM – not a Brompton in sight, whereas in previous years the Bromptons outnumbered everything else by a huge margin. Nearer the start time Bromptons became more evident, and later in the weekend they established their position as the most common bike at the event, but nevertheless their dominant position has been significantly eroded, the Birdy being particularly noticeable for its substantial increase in numbers. Due to the heat and the hilly terrain, the Friday ride was shortened, and for this reason, and having no great liking for being in a large crowd, fellow Moultoneers Chris Dent, Peter Evans and I set out to do our own ride, the general target being Alum Bay. Chris and Peter were both riding Birdys, fitting in with the folding nature of the event, and simplifying travel by public transport. Later we were joined for part of our ride by an ex-Moultoneer, Paul Stobbs, also riding a Birdy. I’ve never been outnumbered 3 to 1 by Birdys on a ride before! This was a very enjoyable ride of about 45 miles, marred only slightly by the tendency of my AM to drop its chain (which it did throughout the weekend), and the fact that I managed to get trapped in my newly fitted SPD pedals and fall on the road, fortunately with no significant damage.

As usual, Saturday was the day for the trade exhibition, various events based around the event centre (the Winter Gardens), and a dinner in the evening. I spent most of the day on the club stand in the hall, so that I had little opportunity to see anything of the activities outside. My thanks go to Simon Reeve and Sue Blackburn who provided help in running the stand, and also in bringing material over for display. We were kept very busy for most of the day, perhaps partly because the launch of the New Series Moulton had increased interest. We had one of the NS models on our stand for part of the day, the bike being kindly loaned by Shaun Moulton, who had come over for the day. Our stand was next to the Pashley one, which had a good display of APBs (but no T21) and models from the Cresswell range. Phoenix Cycles and Avon Valley Cyclery were also present, the latter having a particularly impressive range of bikes, including an NS Moulton, on display.

Although I didn’t have time to follow closely the various events going on around the exhibition hall, a couple of activities were of particular interest. Firstly, during the exhibition bicycles were being accurately weighed by a Trading Standards Officer. Of these the lightest production bike, and second lightest overall, was Simon Reeve’s AM2, which was recorded at just 19 lbs – lighter than a number of newer competitors which make a particular play of their light weight! I think both Simon and I were rather surprised at such a low weight, but that’s what the records show. Riders were also being timed ascending Zig Zag Road, which is a long, steep, winding road leading out of Ventnor. In this test the Bike Fridays of Hanz Scholz (President of Green Gear, who manufacture the Bike Friday) and Kees jan Heijboer had the quickest times, followed by Richard Grigsby on an NS Moulton.

The Saturday evening dinner at the Botanical Gardens just outside Ventnor this year lacked the formal presentations before and after the meal, but on a dry and reasonably mild evening it was very pleasant.

Sunday was the day designated for the main rides. There were basically three options – a ride around the island on the bus route to try to beat the time of the bus, a more leisurely ride around the island following the official tourist cycle route, and a shorter ride to the steam railway, this last being the one aimed at the majority of riders. I opted for the leisurely ride around the island, and as this was the first to start, I didn’t see anything of the other rides. Of those who set out to beat the bus, two riders completed the course, once again the Bike Friday riders who were fastest on the Zig Zag Challenge. They comfortably beat the bus time, taking 2 hours 45 minutes against 4 hours for the bus, and covering 72.8km. 11 riders started on the leisurely ride around the island, consisting of (if I remember correctly), 5 Bromptons, 3 ‘cumbersomes’ (large wheeled non-folders), 2 Birdys and an AM7 (myself). For various reasons some people shortened the route, and at the end there were only 3 of us left – 1 Birdy, a 3-speed Brompton and myself on the AM. Our total distance was 69.4 miles. It was a very enjoyable ride, on an attractive and well signposted route, for which there is also a brochure and map published giving details. We did feel, however, that the tourist brochure is somewhat optimistic on timing and the ability of many people to complete the fairly hilly ride – the three of us who completed the ride are reasonably fit and regular riders, and although we were riding fairly gently with tea stops and a lunch stop, we started at 9.30am and did not get back to Ventnor until 6.30pm.

As we have come to expect of Folder Forums, this was a very enjoyable and successful event, with excellent organisation. If, as I have been told, this is the last Folder Forum, at least in a formal way, then it ended on a high note. A big thank you is due to David and Jane Henshaw of A to B, Gary Lovell and all the other members of the team involved in the organisation.

FF3 postscript

Since Moultons don’t fold, it’s not surprising that as usual the number of Moultons at the event was fairly small. I recognised quite a lot of the people present as being Moultoneers, but most of these had chosen to ride folding bikes (Bromptons, Birdys and Bike Fridays for the most part) rather than their Moultons on this occasion, as the event was ostensibly more orientated to this type of bike. What was particularly striking was that compared with previous years the Brompton stranglehold has loosened significantly. The numbers of Birdys in particular was much greater than last year.

Those machines which place the priority on folding, like the Brompton, rather than riding (and all folding bicycle design involves compromises, which mean designers must decide where their priorities lie) have a very important place, but although they can be used for longer rides, they aren’t as well suited as some other machines. It was quite significant that of those who started on the leisurely round the island ride, one quarter were riding conventional large-wheeled non-folding bikes, and one other was on an AM, which is strictly not a folder. I must admit that if I hadn’t been on the MBC stand at the event, I would have been tempted to take a folder rather than the AM. In previous years I have taken camping gear, which has meant a substantial load to carry, and although this year I was using B&B, I still chose to book the bike on a train and pay the £3 each way rather than bag it. However, once I was on the island, the advantages of the AM made the extra effort and cost well worthwhile. I spent 6 days on the island riding around, and I was able to cover higher mileages in much more comfort than if I had had the Brompton (or even a Birdy). Another Moultoneer commented to me that if he had brought his AM rather than a folder, he would have probably done the leisurely round the island ride on the Sunday, rather than the short ride.

Dr Moulton has been quoted as saying he would never design a folder, and I can understand and respect his reasons. It is still a pity though, because there does seem to be a need (or at least a market) for a bicycle with the ride quality of a Moulton but which can be used more readily with public transport, and if anyone could design such a machine, it is surely Dr Moulton.