Bicycles boats

Folding boat towed by folding bicycle

The Fliptail 7 towed behind a Brompton folding bike

Maybe it’s because I live on a boat that the idea of things that reduce in size for easy storage appeal. After all, if I didn’t have a Brompton, I wouldn’t be able to have a bicycle aboard. For that matter, if I didn’t have a folding dinghy, I wouldn’t have space for a tender either.

It seems amazing to me now that I have waited so long to get this idea together as it’s so obvious I wonder that I didn’t think of it before. The marriage of a human powered bicycle and a human (or wind) powered boat is just great.

The Fliptail 7 from weighs about 18 kilos which is no problem at all for the Brompton. On the stem of the Fliptail there is an eye bolt and on the aft end of the Brompton rack is a pin which the eye is simply dropped onto. The weight of the boat keeps it in place. There is plenty of ground clearance and the turning circle isn’t bad for a vehicle which is over 10 feet long either.

The pin on the rack doesn’t make the Brompton’s folded size any bigger but it does interfere with the bike when the swing arm is swung around. The bike still stands on its own but is not as stable as when all 4 rack wheels are on the ground. The answer I suppose is some sort of easily removed bracket.

The trailer attachment is made of alloy tube and is light and also folds away for easy stowage. It can be used equally for the road or even for launching and retrieving the boat. The Fliptail can be folded or unfolded with the trailer in place. It simply attaches to the boat’s transom where the outboard motor would normally go and could be fitted to any boat so long as it has a flat transom whatever its thickness.

This combination is perfect and I see no reason why you couldn’t go quite a long distance with the boat behind the bike. You can feel the weight when you first start to pedal but you soon forget the bike is there, at least on a level surface. The oars rest naturally in the boat and you could just as easily also add the mast and sails etc to the boat as well making the Fliptail 7 amazingly versatile.

When you get to the camp site you can even use the erected dinghy as shelter to sleep below. The folded Brompton takes up little space inside the boat so you could peddle up stream, put the boat and bike in the water and paddle or sail downstream. When you get where you are going you simply haul the boat out of the water, fold it and hitch it to the Brompton and off you go again. This is camping luxury!

The best bit is that there is no pollution! A bicycle and a row boat. Wow. Talk about setting a good example. Everywhere I go, people look and stare. And I’m not surprised really, it’s not something that you see everyday. More’s the pity.

The trailer attachment is not yet available, though Woodenwidget will soon be offering plans to enable a DIYer to make their own. If you are interested, please drop them a line, maybe if there is a lot of interest, they can be persuaded to speed things up a bit?

If you want to know more about the Woodenwidget range of dinghies for the spatially challenged, please visit and check out their range of clever little boats.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote about the Brompton that you might enjoy too.


Cycle lane to St Tropez

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Cycle lane to St Tropez. Leica M9, 21mm Summilux

In the spring I often find myself working in St Tropez. It’s about 6 kms from the boat and there is a cycle lane all the way now. They built it a few years ago. It was certainly needed. Before the cycle lane you would have had to have been mad to want to go to St Tropez on a bicycle. I used to use a scooter as taking the car is out of the question. Apart from appalling traffic the costs of parking are shocking. The car park in St Tropez makes 3,000,000 Euros a year I am told.

Frankly now that the cycle lane is there I can’t understand why anyone would drive there. The weather is generally good and there are no steep hills to deal with. The clincher is that on most days riding a bicycle is quicker by far. When will people give up their cars? It seems idiotic to me as I ride past an endless line of practically stationary traffic on my beloved and quite brilliant Brompton folding bike.

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‘Cyclists roulez au pastis’. Someone has a sense of humour! Leica M9, 21mm Summilux.

The cycle lane is pretty good but not without it’s issues. It’s separated from the traffic by a concrete curb about a foot high which worries me a bit. If you fell off your bike onto that you’d know all about it! But at least it keeps the traffic out of the cycle lane so it’s just one of those things.

The biggest problem are the pedestrians who also use it. After all it is for sharing but they are a dozy bunch for the most part and they seem so utterly surprised and not a little indignant when you pass them, if they have left you enough room to pass that is. Every day I surprise someone who is dawdling along and paying no attention or worse has earphones in and is oblivious to the world around them.

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Bikes and people must share. These pedestrians seem aware of bicycles but this is a rare situation. Mostly they are oblivious and always surprised to see a bike! Leica M9 21mm Summilux.

The solution to this was to fit a loud horn to warn them that I am coming. They still seem surprised to see a bicycle however. I don’t know what can be done about this. I don’t mind sharing the route with pedestrians and I am courteous and patient with them but I do not feel that it is reciprocated. It would be nice if we could all have our own path to use but there’s not much chance of that.

Not every cyclist uses the path and that could be because it’s often in need of sweeping. Dead leaves, dust and broken glass can often be found along with puddles of standing water where the path was badly made. The worst aspect are the drains which some berk in their wisdom placed in line with the path so if you have small narrow wheels on your bicycle, beware!

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Not helpful. Drains facing the wrong way. Since they are square it would be no hardship to turn them through 90 degrees! Leica M9, 21mm Summilux.

Despite these few issues the cycle lane is fabulous and I am happy to use it. I am constantly amazed how few bikes use it. On a typical day in May I might see only half a dozen other bikes. It’s a big shame that it is not used more because for every bike on the path it’s another car off the road.

Using the path every day you become aware of one thing; the stupidity and lazyness of people in their cars. Are they even aware that they are in traffic? They don’t seem to mind, everyone seems very calm and resigned. When driving, I can’t stand traffic and it makes me feel like a freak and an idiot. What am I doing sitting in this metal box polluting the environment and hardly moving?

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Lovely views of the bay of St Tropez from the cycle path. Leica M9, 21mm Summilux.

What is so wrong with cycling? Would people really rather sit in their car not moving than get some exercise and fresh air AND get to their destination faster? Never mind the pollution. It is very sad that the council have provided this cycle lane in an effort to reduce traffic yet people still prefer to take the car. Bikes are brilliant. When I get where I am going, there is no worries about parking, no fees to pay. If I was to park in St Tropez, I might still have a good ten minute walk to get into town from the car park. Cars are supposed to save time are they not?

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Riding in to St Tropez in the morning. Note the stationary traffic on the way in. Most days are like this. It’s much quicker by bike. Leica M9, 21mm Summilux.

I can do this 6 kms in about 15 minutes and often I pass EVERY car. That same journey in a car can take an hour or more. Why do people do it? I just can’t work it out. If there was no cycle lane I could understand it but there is. Who was it who said that they had hope for humanity every time they saw an adult riding a bicycle. I feel that way too. Every time I see another cyclist I think; here is someone who ‘gets it’ and prefers to ride for free without polluting. Good for them.

Although the cycle lane is not used as much as it could be I feel that I am setting an example. The more people that use the cycle lane, the more those idiot car drivers would realise that there IS an alternative. It’s a no brainer! No cost. Keeps you fit. Faster. No pollution. No parking. And on top of that it’s much more pleasant on a bicycle. The views of the bay from the cycle path are lovely. The only real down side of the cycle lane is the sheer noise from the traffic. Of course it’s better when it’s stationary but there is a never ending stream of noisy scooters constantly overtaking.

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Sadly road side memorials like this are far too common. A bicycle is a far safer way to get to St Tropez than a scooter. Leica M9, 21 Summilux.

The scooter is the way that most people beat the traffic but they drive like idiots and every week there is an accident on this road. People are so impatient and overtake even if the traffic is moving at a reasonable pace. A scooter is better for the environment than a car for sure but a bicycle is better and a hell of a lot safer too!

If you are thinking of going to St Tropez in the summer, do your self a favour and hire a bicycle and ride in. You’ll have a much better experience. There are plenty of people renting bikes but perhaps the most interesting is one called Beach Kulture who rent the funkiest types of bikes and scooters. They can be found on Facebook and are located at Marines de Cogolin.

I have made my self a T Shirt that I wear sometimes. On the back in big bold letters it says:

Zero Pollution & Plus vite que vous! (zero pollution and faster than you!)

Leica m9

In the footsteps of Cartier Bresson


If the photo above seems familiar that’s because it’s a modern interpretation of a very old and famous photograph taken by Henri Cartier Bresson. He was always one of my favourite photographers and a great influence. I loved his style. His pictures spoke of real life. He was able to take the most mundane subjects and turn them into iconic images. The picture below was taken in Hyeres in the south of France in 1932, it’s just a bit of a spiral staircase with a guy on a bike riding past yet it’s brilliant.


Experts will tell you that he only ever used a 50mm lens, they will also tell you he never set shots up and caught images by chance. Like the famous image of a guy jumping across a puddle. They say that he simply stuck the lens through a hole in the fence and took a picture. It was sheer good luck that there was a bloke in the perfect place at the perfect time. If this is true, then it seems I will never get near to Cartier Bresson as a photographer as I don’t have anywhere near the same degree of luck!

For many years I wanted to see if I could find the place where he took that picture in Hyeres. Soon after I bought the M9 I decided to go and have a look since I was passing anyway. Hyeres is a lovely town and very old indeed. Surprisingly after just an hour wandering, I came across the same spot.

It hasn’t changed dramatically in 80 years. You can still see without any doubt that when I took the picture, I was standing in practically the same spot Cartier Bresson had done all those years ago. I used a 50mm lens and a shutter speed of 60th sec to capture the image but there’s a little less showing in my picture.

I tried the same shot (sans velo) with the 21mm lens but it was way too wide. I almost got away with the 50mm but not quite. It was not possible to stand farther back or higher up. I’ll have to try it again with a 35mm. Perhaps he took the shot with a 35mm and cropped a little afterwards.

All I know is I felt very happy to have found the same spot and to try and replicate it, albeit in a modern way. True, I have used a girl and a folding Brompton bicycle with smaller wheels but the movement is similar. The stairs and rails were not the original ones. I image that they would have been cut down and melted down for use during the war. It is fortunate indeed that they made the new railings at least similar to the originals although it’s a shame they are now white and not black. The tiles have been replaced on the steps and the road has obviously been re-covered but apart from that it’s pretty close and little changed in 80 years.

I dedicate this photo the memory of Henri.


Brompton Folding Bicycle


Leica Digilux 2. Brompton folding bike at the town of Erice above Trapani, Sicily, summer 2007

Bicycles are brilliant. They must be one of the best ever inventions that humans can be proud of. Now that we’re getting wise to pollution more and more bicycle lanes are being constructed and this is good news.

Because we live on a small boat, space is at a premium and the bikes we need have to be small enough to be stowed in a cockpit locker. This seriously limits our choice of bike. Before we bought a pair of Bromptons I researched the market and soon discovered that there are not many bikes that fold to a package small enough to allow us to put them away when not in use.

The Brompton is a design classic. It is simply brilliant in every respect. The 16” Wheels are smaller than a mountain bikes but don’t let that put you off. The wheels are small enough to allow a compact folded package but big enough to be completely usable in the real world. The tyres are pumped up to 100 psi which means you can really get some speed up on a Brompton. I simply love passing other bikes on my folding bike, they are always surprised.

The fold is fantastic, I think the record is about 8 seconds which is extraordinary but it will take most people a bit longer than that. Here’s a video showing one being unfolded in about 12 seconds. This is perfectly obtainable by anyone with practice.

One of the best features of the Brompton is the way the rear end swings around for folding. This has the added bonus of being able to park your bike without the need for a tree, lamp post or bike stand. Some say that it’s annoying when you lift the assembled bike because the swinging arm folds under. However it’s really not difficult to hold it by the swinging arm and lift from there. That stops it swinging around. The advantages this system gives you far out weigh any slight inconvenience.


There are loads of options for the Brompton but even a standard bike will surprise you with it’s speed. Even if the Brompton didn’t fold it would still be a great bike. Made in the Uk with quality parts the Brompton could not be described as cheap but it is very good value for money.

You can personalise your Brompton when you order it. Various paint options are available and you can mix and match. You could have a red frame with black swinging arm for example. Or if you’re feeling flush, get the Titanium version finished in varnish with the hand braised welds visible. This will save you almost a kilo.

The Brompton might fold to one of the smallest bike packages in the world but the practicality doesn’t stop there. Oh no. You can buy any number of clever bags which simply drop into place on a plastic bracket on the frame. This is brilliant because the weight is low down on the frame and not the handle bars so even if it’s full of heavy things the bike remains stable. The bag locks on and is easily released by pressing a clip.

Having a bag at the front is very helpful but you can also get a rear rack which can take a lot of weight. There are of course bag options for the rack too but it works very well on it’s own with it’s built in bungee cords. There is even a little bag under the saddle that is perfect for carrying the bike padlock and puncture repair kit. It really is quite incredible just how much stuff you can load up on a Brompton.


A Brompton in my Homage to Cartier Bresson.

They say that the Brompton is not an off road bike but I can tell you that they are surprisingly competent even off the smooth stuff and the rear suspension helps to absorb the bumps. We have even used them to cycle around islands and as usual find ourselves catching up and overtaking  mountain bikes.

Our versions have mudguards and 6 speeds which makes them pretty versatile. The Brompton is a brilliantly conceived and highly evolved bicycle. It’s no wonder they are becoming ever more popular in our over populated and crowded world.

The Brompton does have a few minor niggles. The standard seat is simply dreadful and the sooner you invest in a leather Brooks saddle the better. The peddles are not too great either and wear out fast.

Obviously the cables are long and follow a fairly torturous route around the frame to allow the bike to fold and the front brake’s cable comes up from underneath so water will eventually get into the cable and seize it up. There’s not much you can do about this really, it’s just one of the compromises that such a clever folding bike must have. Cables are cheap and easy to replace so this isn’t a reason to not buy one!

The alloy rims have stainless spokes which I commend, living by the sea as I do. The brakes don’t work very well in the wet and squeal in the dry. No doubt this could be solved with a different set of pads but I’m not replacing the original ones until they are worn out.


Leica M9, 21mm f2.8 Asph 160 ISO f8 @125 sec

Riding a Brompton is nice. It’s a very upright riding position but this is wise when riding in traffic as you can see further ahead of you. Much of your weight is at the back of the bike and this tends to make the front end quite light. This and the bikes geometry means you need to take a bit of care on slippery surfaces such as gravel. Once you’re aware of this it’s no longer a problem. One thing about this which is good is that when you come to a curb, it’s dead easy to lift the front wheel a few inches and mount it. I have ridden other folding bikes which won’t do this and frankly I think that’s dangerous. It’s essential to be able to lift the front wheel up when going along. Quite good wheelies can be done with a Brompton!

You could go far on a Brompton, it’s quite capable of long distances and as the Brompton becomes ever more popular more and more people are offering options for it. There is a very tidy 8 speed Sturmey Archer conversion and even an electric version with a small motor fitted to the front wheel. The battery is held in the front bag and it connects automatically.

We’ve had our Bromptons for a couple of years now and after 2000 miles of all sorts of varied riding I can confidently recommend one. Everyone is amazed when they see how it parks and they are even more astonished when they see the speed at which it folds and the tiny space it takes up.

I love to improve things and can usually see ways to make most things better but the Brompton has foxed me. The only thing I would like to see are markings on the seat post so it can always be set up in the right position rather than trial and error.

Conclusion: A brilliant bike even if it didn’t fold. Fun to ride and surprisingly fast with excellent luggage carrying capabilities. On the down side, most parts not available locally but can all be easily ordered online from companies like BikePlus

You might also enjoy the post about the Brompton and the cycle lane to St Tropez