Brompton is a British folding bicycle that has been in continuous production since 1987 and has remained largely unchanged since. You can read about the history here. There are many folding bikes on the market these days, but the Brompton is said to offer the most compact and easiest fold, with the durability and speed of a full-sized bike. The Brompton has 16" wheels and a hinged "unitube" frame. The construction is brazed steel, with the option of titanium extremities (fork and rear triangle) occasionally available via special order. The bike is optimised to carry a front load with low-trail geometry. The frames are hand-made in Brompton's factory near London. The wheels are built in Wolverhampton. Components are sourced from a variety of manufacturers including Sturmey Archer and SKS, 80% of the components being Brompton-specific in design. A selection of colours, handlebar setups, gearing options and accessories is available.
love the look. Going with the 6-speed gearing option and choosing the lowered (-12%) gearing was a decision based on the advice of Todd from Clever Cycles in Oregon, who has toured on his own Brompton extensively. We did not want to make our bikes touring-specific, but we wanted the option of riding them in hilly areas.
We chose the M-type model, because we both prefer upright handlebars when riding for transportation. Since handlebar height is mostly non-adjustable once you choose the model, the rider's positioning on the bike depends on saddle placement. I am just under 5'7" and with the M model my handlebars are almost 2" above saddle height. He is just over 6' and his handlebars are ever so slightly below saddle height, for a more aggressive position.
shopping basket and each have a Carradice City Folder front bag. The shopping basket is a big, open container with handles. The Carradice City Folder is a large office bag, with a padded laptop compartment, plenty of room for other things such as books, clothing and camera equipment, and two rider-facing pockets each large enough to fit a water bottle (or coffee cup!). I have lots more to say about this bag and will post a review soon. But no matter which Brompton bag one chooses, the system is easy to use. A front block must be installed on the bicycle's frame, and the bag or basket simply clicks onto it via an internal rack-like frame structure. The attachment system - consisting of the block, the "socket" that accepts the block, and the rack-like frame that extends from the socket - is rigid and solid. The bag does not budge once attached. We opted not to install rear racks, figuring the front bags - supplemented with saddlebags when necessary - would meet our needs. We can always add rear racks later if we feel it necessary.
suitable for travel like no other folding bike.
The compactness isn't just for travel and multi-modal commuting. The bike is light (compared to other city bikes) and easy to carry in and out of the house even in its unfolded state, which is especially practical for city dwellers who live up several flights of stairs and for those who wish to keep their bike in their office instead of parked outdoors for hours in an unsafe neighbourhood. I very rarely do multi-modal commuting unless I am traveling, but I still find the compactness useful for these reasons. Somehow, a small bike is an easy bike and I am enjoying this much more than I anticipated.
Of course, I am taking advantage of the fold as well. We have not owned a car for close to two years now, and it hasn't been simple to travel with two full sized bikes. The Bromptons will fit into any Zipcar without requiring bike racks or an oversized car, and they can go on any train, even at the most crowded of times.
Then there is the cargo capacity. The Brompton can carry a surprising amount of stuff in the front, with no detectable impact on handling. I can carry all of my camera equipment - medium format clunkers, flash units, whatever - on the bike in a way that feels stable, safe and comfortable, not precarious or dis-balancing. Ditto with art supplies - heavy paint, primer, stacks of wooden panels. No problem. It just works and my balance on the bike is not affected. Essentially I now own a cargo bike that is sufficient for my needs.
It is a common complaint that small wheel bikes feel harsh. I was concerned about this, and together with the MTB-style hand position of the Brompton's handlebars, it just seemed like asking for trouble. I have nerve damage in my hands and am usually unable to ride in this hand position, especially if a bike's ride quality is harsh. I could just imagine my hands going numb after 10 miles (it has happened on other bikes after much shorter distances). However, I have experienced no problems with harshness or numbness on the Brompton, and do not know how to explain why not. I do not think it is attributable entirely to the Ti bits, but it could be the combination of that and the geometry. In any case, my longest single Brompton ride so far has been 45 miles (sandwiched between two 30-mile days) and I have yet to experience any discomfort so far.
While my husband does not have as many miles on his bike as I do on mine, he has been commuting on it more or less daily, with his 3-year old Pashley Roadster now an inclement weather/ winter bike. Like me, he likes the Brompton's handling and ride quality more than he expected to, and the more he rides it the more he likes it. He is also very happy that he can easily keep the Brompton in his office and take it with him everywhere he goes. He hates leaving his bike locked up outside, and now he does not have to. The Brompton has little wheels that allow it to be rolled around in "grocery cart mode," but when grocery shopping he often just rolls the bike in unfolded, piles food into the basket, and checks out and rides off, without anyone objecting (not all stores permit this, but the one next to our house does). Like me, he is impressed by the front load system - its carry capacity, simplicity, lack of extra weight and bulk, and low to the ground positioning. He agrees that carrying weight on this bike has no effect on steering or handling. He likes how the bike rides off-road. They've been resurfacing streets in our neighbourhood, leaving stretches of road without asphalt for days, and the Brompton rides nicely over the baselayer. He finds the bike maneuverable, easily able to make sharp turns and go around obstacles, hop curbs (I can't vouch for that one). In a general sense, what he likes is that performance-wise the Brompton does not feel to him like a compromise compared to a full sized bike. The one exception he is not crazy about, is the downhill handling - which he says is "more fun" on his full-sized bikes - though personally I do not feel that way.
One unexpected outcome of owning the Bromptons, is that we feel well-matched on them in terms of riding style. We are finding that it's easier to ride together on these bikes than either to go roadcycling or to ride our full-sizd city bikes together. So after a break of many months we've started doing recreational rides together again. The Bromptons handle hills well enough for us to do the same routes as we would on roadbikes, only slower. Now we ride side by side and talk more than we ever used to. I am not sure what about these bikes is causing this harmony exactly, but possibly it's the handling.
As far as quality, malfunctions, and things of that nature, it is probably too early to tell. Both of us had issues with seatposts slipping when we first got the bikes. In my case, simply tightening the clamp resolved this (the quick release is harder to use now, but still doable). The husband uses an anti-slip paste in addition to having tightened the clamp. During my stay in Ireland, my gears went out of adjustment and a couple of clamps rattled loose, possibly during one of my off-road rides. Chris Sharp of the VCC Northern Ireland (who owns a Brompton as well) was kind enough to re-tighten everything for me. He tells me this is not uncommon in his experience, and that he uses Loctite or similar on his own bike.
Then there is the "clown bike" aspect of it. While I find the Brompton to be adorable, in a cartoony forest animal kind of way, I am pretty sure that I look ridiculous riding it. Unfortunately I have lost all sense of perspective at this stage. Worse, I really don't think I care.
As a bike that's a mechanical curiosity, the Brompton invites elaborate technical analysis, but I've tried to steer away from that here. While I appreciate that aspect of the Brompton, it is only one of the things that attracts me to it. I like it not just for its multimodal commuting and easy-travel properties, but as a regular bike. That is what I most wanted to communicate at this stage.