Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rare Old Beast: a Very Early Brompton

Early Brompton
Brompton folding bikes have remained virtually unchanged since they entered into production in the late 1980s. But before that happened, there was a small pilot run and the machines from this early batch were just a tad different. Only several hundred of these were made. Two of those recently ended up passing through Harris Cyclery on their way to the Brompton museum. And one of those I had the opportunity to photograph and ride. Pictured here is the 358th Brompton ever produced. Red and black 3-speed with upright handlebars, dynamo lighting, rear rack and fenders. 

Early Brompton
The most striking difference between the Brompton we know today and this early model is the "humpback" frame construction. As the Brompton history page explains it, "this feature had come about for the simple reason that standard pipe-bending tools could not produce the gentle radius desired. Change would only come with expensive retooling." By the time the bikes went into full production, the capital investment required for this had been secured and the bend of the main tube became more elegant.

Early Brompton
Other differences are more subtle. For instance, the handlebars are welded(?) to the stem.

Early Brompton
Here is a close-up. I take it this means the early handlebars were steel. 

Early Brompton
Likewise, the rear carrier is welded to the rear triangle.

Early Brompton
Like so.

Early Brompton
The bike comes with a wide, sprung plastic Brooks saddle.

Early Brompton
Fitted onto a set-forward seatpost.

Early Brompton
The dynamo lighting functions via a bottle generator on the rear wheel. The rear fender has a special cut-out to accommodate it.

Early Brompton
The cable routing is interesting.

Early Brompton
If I understand this correctly, it appears that several cables are gathered into the same housing and secured to the frame and stem at various points to facilitate the fold?

Early Brompton
Here it is passing over the bottom bracket. 

Early Brompton
The fold itself is mostly identical. Same process, with similar bolts on the frame and stem as on the current production model.

Early Brompton
Only the pedal fold is different. 

Early Brompton
Levers are involved; it is more complicated and bulky than the current snap-fold.

Early Brompton
Finally, it looks to me as if the frame construction itself is different in places - the way the tubes are joined. The other differences are mainly in the components. The retro lights. The fender stay attachment. There is no front block system, and instead some of the early models were fitted with front racks. Brompton experts will no doubt notice a myriad of other differences that I haven't picked up on. As far as weight, the bicycle felt a bit heavier to pick up than current production models built up with equivalent specs, but not by much. 

Early Brompton
I rode the older bicycle carefully and briefly - not wanting to ruin its pristine condition (it had barely been ridden by the previous owner). The first thing I noticed was that there was much less room in the "cockpit" compared to my own Brompton; it felt a bit cramped. The difference seemed too great to be explained by the older bike's saddle being more forward; it seemed that the frame itself was shorter. Later I asked about this at Harris and was told it was indeed the case. Unfortunately I had no time to measure the two bikes, but it appears that when they got rid of the bend in the main tube, they also lengthened it.

Early Brompton
However, the front-end handling of the older bike felt very similar, if not identical to modern Bromptons. Overall, riding it felt like riding an older and more upright version of the same bike. Reading Brompton's history and hearing about it firsthand from those in the know, it is striking how little the bicycle has been tweaked since its initial development. Aside from straightening out the bend after the pilot production run, they've mostly just worked on getting the weight down a bit and improving the components. The fold and the handling have remained the same.

Early Brompton
For locals who'd like to see the pair of early Bromptons, they will remain on temporary display at Harris Cyclery until September. Many thanks for the opportunity to photograph and ride the #358! You can view more close-ups of it here, and Elton Pope-Lance has photographed both bicycles here.

35 comments:

  1. aesthetically, moving that bend makes all the difference (looks the result of an accident on the original), only brooks could make a saddle both butt ugly and deeply intriguing, with those sprungs, it all supports what i always feel - that brompton design is the result of painstaking evolution, it looks elegantly simple, but is probably result of much painstaking development, great post

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  2. This is possibly a wildly stupid question - but how exactly does a rear rack work on a Brompton? It seems like it would be too close to the ground to hang panniers on, at least without them getting filthy dirty and soaked at the first encounter with a puddle.

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    1. something like this?

      http://www.stows.co.uk/index.php?_a=viewProd&productId=801

      http://bingbing.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/brompton_world_championship_2008-4.jpg

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    2. You can get a rack-top bag/basket as pictured in Tina's links, or lash stuff directly on top of the rack. However,all of this will affect the fold (the rack ends up under the bike when the Brompton is folded in "sit" mode). All in all, I prefer not to have a rack on my bike and to carry everything via the front block & click-in bag system.

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    3. you can also get your other half to stand on it while cycling back from a pub afte a few drinks(as long as she's not way above seven stone or so, it works, and its not a long way to fall..)

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  3. Is it me or is the rear rack here tilted down?

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  4. Thanks for sharing this, further proof that Bromptons were pretty inspired from the jump.

    The condition of that bike is fantastic, at first I thought "Big deal, it's not like they're antiques or anything" and then I thought a bit more and realized just how long they appeared and wished my old machines were as nicely preserved.

    I wonder how many buyers could be tempted to pay a bit extra for a limited edition with the old style kinked toptube...

    Spindizzy

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    1. The bikes are almost NOS, still have some of the original clear plastic clinging to them. If I remember the story correctly, the original owners (a couple) bought them for a road trip that never materialised, so the bikes remained mostly unused.

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  5. It looks like you can turn the seat post / saddle interface 180-degrees to gain more "cockpit" room.

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    1. Sure, but it would affect your position in relation to the pedals.

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  6. Any idea how much one of these is worth today?

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    1. I remember a very similar looking folder came up for sale a few years back. The seller knew nothing about it, said it had belonged to his late uncle. He was asking $300. I thought the bike had been in an accident, so I passed. Kicking myself now!

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  7. Anybody know what year they began offering the 3 handlebar options? Were each of them welded to the stem originally?

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    1. looks like 2005

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    2. The stem and handlebars were only connected on the pilot run models, as far as I can tell.

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  8. according to Brompton's history page, the wheelbase was increased in 2003:

    ".....Some re-engineering and re-tooling in 2003 allowed the company to extend the wheel-base by a few centimetres, further increasing the stability of the ride without compromising the size of the folded package"

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    1. If I understand correctly, they expanded the frame twice - once right after the pilot run and again in 2003. The current model feels just right to me with the M handlebars, but the P-bar bike I test rode last summer felt a bit too stretched out.

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    2. You bring up an excellent point here, one that any prospective Brompton buyer should heed. Each of the four current handlebar positions puts your hands in a different position, both vertically and horizontally, so it's essential to try all four options to get the right fit. I love the way my P-type fits me, and when I parked it next to my custom-built touring bike, discovered why... the hand position is basically identical! So if you're shopping for a Brommie, make sure you try the M, P, S, and H-bars all.

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    3. There is a picture of me riding the P-type bike last summer, and the fit looks altogether off and awkward. On my own M-type bike the fit looks (and feels) much more natural and normal. This is odd, because I'd thought the upper portion of the P-bars is on the same level as the M-bars, so it should be similar. I'll have to measure the different bikes next time I see them side-by-side.

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  9. Really interesting to see these. The evolution of the design is pretty subtle, indeed.
    I had to look twice to realize that the dynamo and headlight are virtually the same as the Soubitez units on my early 70s ROG Pony folder.

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  10. Interesting that you thought it hadn't changed much. I read somewhere that they try to make sure that new/ improved parts are still compatible with old bikes ie no built in obsolescence. I don't have one, so this isn't from personal experience.

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    1. Absolutely true! For instance, when they introduced a latch to keep the rear frame from trying to fold whenever you pick up the bike, they made it retrofittable to all Bromptons. We've converted at least a half dozen older bikes that way in the past couple of years.

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    2. The concept between Mark I and Mark IV is the same but if you look more closely at the bike, there are many small changes.
      I can say from A. Ritchie itself that he can't do anything for me if you ask to him some remplacement parts for my Mark I's! ;)

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  11. Two others Mark I: http://www.bromptonforum.net/t4816-mon-nouveau-brompton

    with history research, pictures, restoration...in french

    Pictures and somes comments in english: http://www.flickr.com/photos/69214402@N04/6977166749/in/set-72157629629826821/ (Tribute to Andrew Ritchie and Julian Vereker)

    Abeillaud [Bromptonforum.net]
    Olivier (Belgium)

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    1. There is a Brompton forum...
      and it's in French!

      Thank you for sharing this : )

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    2. There's also the BromptonTalk Yahoo group:

      http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/BromptonTalk/

      They're great bikes. We (bikes@vienna, in Vienna, VA) have sold them since 2008, and I've owned mine since 2009, and just love the bikes.

      Tim

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  12. A very nice bit of history and a cool bit to boot!

    Sorry I haven't been here to read/comment lately,had to move house for the second time in two summers (no house fire this time,only hopes and dreams burned this time,LOL!),the only real bad part,however,is less biking for transportation opportunities,I miss that.

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  13. I have not seen such lovely photos of the Mark I before, thank you!

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  14. I guess I am alone here, but I like the humpback frame! Did the shorter wheelbase make the fold of the older model smaller?

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  15. @Nat: Me too, you're not alone.

    Not really. This curve is called "sharper dog-leg curve" (Henshaw, Brompton bicycle, 2011,p.), because " Ritchie ad been forced to use a standard pipe bending tool, as the company couldn't afford the custom tooling to produce a smoother curve." (Ib.)

    Yes, ~3 cm shorter that the Mark IV but really not shorter folded. In fact, this sharper dog-leg curve doesn't influence the compactness

    Other pictures of a Mark I:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeillaud_bromptonforum/sets/72157629629826821/

    Meeting with Andrew Ritchie at Blenheim with a Mark I during the Q and A session (2012): http://www.bromptonforum.net/t2427p360-j-ai-croise-un-bromptonien-sympa#77721

    Olivier, Belgium
    [Abeillaud on bromptonforum.net]

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  16. I had a great time seeing the pictures and explanation about the vintage Brompton. Thank you vor sharing them! :)

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  17. I've got one of these (identical by the looks of it but not in such good nick) I might want to sell. Anyone interested?

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