Saturday, June 22, 2013

An Oldie but Goody Brompton

Early Brompton, Limavady
Do older Bromptons qualify as "vintage" bikes? With production dating back to the late 1980s, many would consider them too young for that status. But to me, the vintage vs modern distinction is more about a bike's feel than birth year. Vintage bikes just have that that special something that sets them apart from modern ones - even if the looks are similar. In that vein, I would consider the gem of a bike I am riding in Northern Ireland vintage: A first generation Brompton built in 1993, loaned to me by local collector Chris Sharp. Back home I ride a Brompton as well, so in a way it was a seamless transition. All the more reason the differences are so noticeable.

Early Brompton, Limavady
And one major difference is fit. Early Bromptons were a bit less stretched out (shorter "unitube") than the ones in current production. The change was made in 2004, when an extra 20mm were added to the length. For me, this makes the older bike a better fit than my own. Riding it feels like someone has magically shrunk my bike ever so slightly, putting me in a more natural position.

Early Brompton, Limavady
Another difference is the ride quality: The older bike feels "softer." I wonder whether a change to the tubing was made at some point. The wheels or other components could also be responsible for the difference in feel.

Early Brompton, Limavady
Notice, for instance, the bar across the handlebars. These were added to the early Bromptons as stiffeners: The early production bars were too flexible, known to occasionally warp or break.

Early Brompton, Limavady
The fold of the older bike is the same, with the exception that the rear triangle does not lock in place when fully unfolded (the rear frame clip was introduced in 2007). This makes it more difficult to pick up and carry or even move the bike in an unfolded state; the rear starts folding under as soon as it lifts off the ground.

Early Brompton, Limavady
The components are a bit outdated - with bottle generator, not too strong halogen lights, an older drivetrain, and brakes not as grippy as modern ones. But everything functions smoothly and has held up well after two decades of frequent use.

5-Speed Gearing, Early Brompton
The older drivetrain works excellently and is pretty interesting. The hub is a "Sturmey Archer 5 Star Gear System," controlled via dual shifters. The way this is explained to me, it is actually two hubs in one: a 2-speed, controlled by the left shifter, and a 3-speed, controlled by the right shifter. The resulting gearing is a 5-speed rather than 6, because one gear (neutral) is redundant. 

Stronglight Crankset, Early Brompton
While Brompton did not offer a lowered gearing option in 1993 as it does now, it was possible to achieve this aftermarket by replacing the chainring on the Stronglight crankset, which is what the bike's owner did here. The gear range works nicely on hilly terrain, including on the 10% pitch I encounter on the way home from town.

Early Brompton, Limavady
One surprise to me was that this bike came with a front block: I hadn't realised the first generation Bromptons already had them. The block looks identical to the one on my own bike, so it should be compatible with current production bags and baskets. But the bag on this bike is original.

Early Brompton, Limavady
I have never seen mentions or even pictures of the original front bags before, so I thought this might interest Brompton enthusiasts. Made of a thin lightweight canvas, the bag is about the size of a small rucksack. Zipper closure in the front, with two zip-up pockets in the rear. Blue, with red thread and zippers. Small red logo on the front. Not much structure to it, so there has been some sagging and stretching over the years. But aside from the stuck front zipper, the bag is perfectly intact and functional.

Early Brompton, Limavady
The rear rack is also pretty useful. The integrated bungee cords have remained firm after two decades of use, and hold parcels secure over bumpy roads. I don't have a rear rack on my own bike, but this older one looks the same as the new ones I've seen.

Brompton, Limavady Center
I am staying in a rural area here. When I need to go into town for errands, I get around on the Brompton. It's a 7 mile round trip, with an uphill stretch and a gentle descent in each direction. This bike has been the perfect little vehicle so far: swift, compact and comfortable, with plenty of carry capacity. The handling is pretty much identical to my own Brompton at home, as is the easy ability to throw stuff in the front bag. It's neat how little the basic design of the Brompton has changed over the years. Any tweaks along the way have mostly been been improvements, such as component upgrades and stronger hinges. But I must admit, I will miss the way this older Brompton fits me, as well as its "vintagey" ride quality.

Any owners of early Bromptons out there? Curious what you think of them compared to the newer versions.

37 comments:

  1. I ride a mid 90s Brompton (I am the second owner) and bought a new one for my GF a year ago. Like you, she prefers the fit of the older bike. I don't notice much of a difference in fit myself, but I too prefer to ride my own. The newer Bromptons have much better components and they are more reliable, but there is something special about those early ones.

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  2. Bushmills first thing on a Saturday morning! Have mercy Velouria :0

    Cool bike too.

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    1. Sincere apologies! Sober up before looking again : )

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    2. where is this place?

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    3. Limavady, Northern Ireland. The Bushmills distillery is nearby as well.

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  3. What's with the double shifters?

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  4. What about the twin gear selectors? Was it the stock configuration back in the day?

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    1. Yup, all original. I've added the info into the post now. It is a "Sturmey Archer 5 Star Gear System" controlled via dual shifters - essentially 2 hubs in one: a 2-speed, controlled by the left shifter, and a 3-speed, controlled by the right shifter. The resulting gearing is a 5-speed rather than 6, because one gear (neutral) is redundant...

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    2. I have an old 5 speed Sturmey on a bike with a regular 3 spd selector on the right side and an old MTB thumbshifter on the left side. It works but if you haven't ridden it in a while it can be a little confusing. Sorta' like trying to conjugate verbs in French on the fly...

      Spindizzy

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  5. I've always been intrigued by those things. I so wish I could justify having a Brompton, but at least it's fun to see others enjoy the ride.
    Press on.

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  6. Re double shifters: Argh, I had a paragraph about that and it somehow got deleted from the post! Let me put some more coal into the wifi and I'll add that info. It is quite something.

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  7. I'm a new Brompton owner (2012) but a vintage road bike owner (8). Maybe the vintage Bromptons needed component updating but the new one's need upgrading also, which I did - crank, brake levers, grips, and saddle. Thanks for your post on the vintage Brompton.

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    1. Any idea of how many miles you put on the bike before it needed those upgrades?

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    2. Ha! I upgraded those components immediately after the purchase. The components weren't worn out, just not up to my standards.

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    3. I replaced three of the same four components, but not because I considered the Brompton components inferior; I just wanted different functionality.
      - Crank: I live in Seattle, where the hills are long and steep. I wanted much lower gears for the uphills without giving up the top end for the downhills, so I replaced the crank with a Schlumpf Mountain Drive. The Schlumpf doubles the number of gears, and all of the new gears are below the lowest default Brompton gear. (My B is old enough that I don't have a Brompton Wide Range hub.)
      - Grips: I wanted another hand position, so I got Ergon grips with bar ends. (The Brompton P-type bars didn't do it for me because they took my hands too far from the brake levers for in-city riding.)
      - Saddle: Just as I don't need drop bars any longer to make me feel like a racer, I don't need hard, narrow saddles to make me feel manly and tough. ;-) The sprung Brooks B67 was so comfortable from the first ride that I now have one on all three of my bikes.

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    4. Have to say the components on my bike were mostly great from the factory, I replaced nothing and just used my own saddle. My rear fender has developed a tiny crack in it after a year and a half of heavy use, but that is the only wear and tear I've had.

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  8. If you put a bottle cage on the seatpost you wouldn't have to balance your Bushmills on the top-tube.

    Spindizzy

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    1. I will pass this on to the owner.

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  9. Can't you rotate your bars to shorten reach?

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    1. A bit, but not enough to make a real difference (it begins to interfere with the fold).

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    2. 2cm is less than an inch. You can't have everything.

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    3. Right. Overall I prefer my bike, not complaining.

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    4. Looks like tilting the bars won't interfere with the fold.

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  10. It's hard to tell by you photos but do many bicycle for transportation there?

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    1. Well there aren't "many" in this area to begin with, so it depends on how you look at it. Picture a tiny, tiny town surrounded by miles and miles of farms, it's that kind of place. While cycling for transportation is not common, it's not freakish either. I see others doing it both in the town center and on rural roads several times a day. Also plenty of roadies.

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  11. Why the pulley system on the rear hub? Is there no room to adjust for chain length any other way? Just curious, it looks a bit cumbersome. Thanks.

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    1. Yup, it's a chain tensioner. This has remained the same on the current generation bikes.

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  12. Is the older bike all steel? So a vintage Brompton ride "softer" than a new one with titanium parts...

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    1. I've ridden the new all-steel bikes as well.

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  13. You now seem to go for a more stretched out and aggresive/aero position overall, even on transportation bikes (posts about a preference for lower bars on upright bikes, and upside down north road bars), so wouldn't you like the longer TT on the newer bars?

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    1. The current production M Type Brompton has the equivalent of a 590mm top tube with high handlebars. The position this puts me in is simultaneously a bit too stretched out and a bit too upright, which is not so much aggressive/aero, but more like riding a bike that's a little too big. This is not really a problem, I love it anyway. But the reality is, Bromptons have limited fit adjustability.

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  14. The early Bromptons were more lightly constructed , I've compared front forks and the newer ones are chunkier, and I've ripped apart rear frames of the early Mk 2 type. Over the years the hinge plates have become heavier, and now I haven't destroyed a rear frame in over a decade.

    Early Mk 2's had 1" headset, 20 spoke front wheels, and steel tubular chrome plated rear carriers.

    The front block latch has been improved (reportedly after the chief engineer lost his front bag on the rebound from a pothole going to work) The latest design has a greater engagement and stronger 'spring' effect from the polymer used.

    There were 2 types of 5-speed hub used, the SA-5 with twin trigger and the SA-Sprinter which used a single indicator rod & chain assembly. this latter detail required a different system of gear change connection which was a pain to set up and the indicator rod was slimmer and prone to getting bent if abused.

    Glad to see that the free retro-fit handlebar brace has been fitted - this is an important safety issue, as the early handlebars will fatigue and snap, as I have done - twice - before fitting steel 'bars instead. The new 'bars have a more square U shape and the shaping mandrels used ensure that the cross section does not 'neck' on the bends. Note the grey shade on the centreline axis of the bends. Be alert to the appearance of a fine dark line running along this axis as the beginning of a crack which will fail catastrophically when it reaches the bottom of the handlebar curve as the crack path divides and runs circumferentially to leave you with a tiller steering and a half handlebar in the other hand. It is possible to ride the bike in this way to the nearest point for recovery by bus train or taxi. The brace is available free to anyone with the earlier design of handlebars (check this by frame number with a Brompton dealer)

    Be alert also to paint flaking from the frame, as this usually happens when the metal beneath deforms and separates from the paint skin. Always worth checking then for any possible cracks.

    Finally if anyone is flying in to the UK it is now possible to hire a Brompton from Brompton Docks at places close to London Heathrow, and Manchester, with units soon to come at stations just along the line from Gatwick.

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  15. I hope your photos don't ignite a Bushmills vs. Jameson debate. (I lean toward Jameson but to each his own.)
    Is that a tavern where the Brompton was photographed?

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    1. There's a debate?! (ducks, runs)

      I am not drinking while here, but back home it's Bushmills for me :)

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  16. I love that bag! I would happily use that instead of the black basket on mine.

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  17. hi,
    the Brommie 2013 models has now a New updated brake levers. cheers!
    -Hennessy

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  18. I have a bike almost like that. Hub made 11.92, two shifter 5 speed. I like the shorter frame.

    One problem with this hub is the left togglechain is not protected by the fold. On our first flight with the B`s I remowed the left togglechain before bagging the bike. Actually if you go back a long time there was a shifter for this hub with two cables going into one shifter, a bit like the 5 speed shifter for the SACHS PENTASPORT two cable hubs I find on bikes from the 80`s.

    I have seen this type of bag several times on pix on the net, but always in black. Our basket is red and blue but same design (as far as I can tell) as the newer black one. I added a rolltop to keep controll on what I carry in there.

    I upgraded the handlebars to new ones, added the Tektro FL 750 levers and much better brakehousing. Kept old calipers for now. Changed to a smaller chainring up front like the bike you use.

    Is the luggageframe all steel like ours? A lot of peopel want them. A copy but with ewen better support under the bag can be bought in steel, think they are made in Japan.

    badmother

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