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Posted on 02 December 2016

Brompton on a Boat - USA

Alan “Stormy” Oberlander

Boat (currently in San Juan Island, WA)

Photo by Adam Nash


How would you describe cycling from your boat?

It's a game changer for the sailor. My boat is my home. I explore far and wide, but before I had my Brompton, my exploration was limited to the coastal regions of the literally hundreds of islands I have visited. With my bike in tow, a quick 5 or 50 miles opens my world to being fully immersed in the places I visit. I also find it slows my pace and I often stay in each place I visit longer, getting to know the locals better and making deeper connections as I work my way in larger and larger concentric rings with my Brompton, but that's just a very small benefit of my bike.

Eight years ago I decided to try and go car-less for one year. Honestly, I didn't think I would survive the first week but I not only survived, I thrived. I sold my car for almost exactly what I paid for my boat. Now I live debt free, work a tenth as much and always have time to explore by both land and sea. It was the boat that brought me to the Brompton after riding three other folders into the ground and ruining countless other full sized bikes by leaving them tied outside on the boat in the constant rain. My boat is small (22') but the Brompton fits perfectly under the small steps into my cabin. My bike has paid for itself 10 fold, not only financially but it keeps me fit and healthy. I've logged about 2500 miles on my Brompton in the year I've owned her, including an accidental Hawaii bike tour and riding from the Canadian border in the San Juan Islands down to Newport Oregon for a free glass of wine – that's right, 512 miles for a free glass of wine. While I never intended to use the bike for touring, she is perfect. But that's not why I have her. She is my grocery getter, island transport and all around beach cruiser but more importantly the last piece of the puzzle in my transformation to living a simple, minimalist life. One of my favorite things is that while my boat travels free with a lift from nature, the Brompton makes me earn every trip. I can honestly say that I am in the best shape of my life both mentally and physically all because I love riding my bike from each new place I visit in my movable home. Every day is a small adventure and they all add up to a very reasonable life. 

How do you use your Brompton?

I'm a bit of an odd duck but I honestly get almost as much joy tinkering with my bike as I do riding it. I'm up at dawn most days with my camera riding down quiet country roads searching for beautiful island settings to photograph. The funny thing is that my Brompton often becomes the subject draped in the quiet island life I love so much. When I'm not playing with my camera, I'm out just meditating from the cockpit while the miles slowly drift by. Last summer a helicopter landed at the resort I live at and I rode up to ask if I could photograph my bike in front of it. The pilot fell in love with my Brompton and it even fitted in the small compartment on the side. An hour later we took off together and he flew me to Roche Harbor, bike and all. I guess where I'm going with this is my bike is great for making new friends, striking up conversations and getting a free lift from one adventure to the next. I have used it as a cross transport many times from ferry to bus to train to plane etc. in the end it's all just for fun and that's what my Brompton is, pure fun.

How did you become a cyclist?

I think we all learned to ride a bike the same way, being pushed by our mother or father down the driveway. You can only do something for the first time once. For me it's still one of my fondest memories and I would compare it to what the Wright brothers must have experienced when they had their first successful flight, although mine was a very small step. I remember the cool fall mountain air of Squaw Valley, the smell of hard wood burning off in our small cabin and the precise moment my father let go of the bike as I pedaled off down the hill. I slowly lost momentum and got the wobbles before drifting into a tree and crashing in the soft pine duff. I was hooked for life from that moment on.

What advice would you give someone considering sailing with a bike?

Do it and you will never look back.  Resupply towns are half a mile and often more from the safest anchorages. Carting fresh veggies and cold beer is a chore on foot and strains the body in many ways. On the Brompton, it's an adventure. I always fold my bike and put it in the cart, getting smiles and stares and lots of funny questions from the locals I meet. The bike makes the trip for supplies a treat, but it also saves a ton on cab rides and I'll never have to try and cram all by fragile grocery bags on a city bus again, or sit waiting for hours as all my food sits melting in the hot sun. One of the biggest bonuses of having the bike on board is that it's so small and easy to fold that it's never an issue. I see people trying to do the same with their full sized bikes as I used to do. It's so difficult to get them on and off the boat that they never get used and are always in the way, not to mention getting ruined by the harsh salt spray. I've literally met dozens of boaters with Bromptons on board and we all share the same stories as told by the smiles we wear on our faces as we walk the bike down the dock to continue the adventure.

What are your favorite places to visit by bike?

Because I live in such a quiet and remote area, I love to visit cities. Seattle, Bellingham, Portland, Eugene to name a few. I love zooming in and out of traffic, finding the perfect little coffee shop and exploring all of the amazing things each new city has to offer. I've always dreamed of living in a big city just because there is so much to explore. I love beer and wine sampling and always find the best wineries, micro-breweries and tasting rooms. In short, I love city life and those short trips I make a few times a month during the winter are often some of my favorite things. Each time I fold my Brompton and climb aboard a train or plane I get so excited as I immerse myself in the journey which begun the second I pedaled away from my little sailboat. I never have to wait till I get there as it's all equally fun from beginning to end.

If you could go on any one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?

Unfair, I can only choose one? Boo, I want to do them all from riding through the Pyrenees to puddle jumping the Caribbean. If I can only choose one "for now ;)" it would be to do a self-supported minimalist tour through the Mediterranean coast living off wine, fresh veggies and of course the wonderful cheese and bread the region is so well known for producing. I love all the old world sailing boats there and who doesn't love warm crystal clear water, endless sunny days and balmy breezes? When I'm riding and exploring I often forget I'm on a folding bike, but as soon as I find a train station my mouth starts watering for the easy miles that are just a thirty-second fold away. While I'm sure I violated every warranty and use that this wonderful little bike was created for within the first month of ownership, at the end of the day I adopted her for the main reason that she is easily folded and transported and that is why she fits my life so well. I don't love my Brompton because I own it, I own It because I love it and the simple freedom it affords me.


Photo by Adam Nash


Read more about Stormy’s travels on his blog, Art of Hookie.