Brompton: High-performance folding

“High-performance folding” isn’t a combination of words that most cyclists would use; unless, they’ve ridden a Brompton. I was surprised by the positive feel, speed, and climbing ability of a bike that fits in an airplane overhead comparment. To see how Brompton builds their bikes, I toured the factory outside of London and learned much about a bike that’s in a constant state of engineering — for over 20 years.

brompton_london.jpg

Brompton is probably the most purpose-built bike I’ve ridden, with every component focused on being a folder. Brompton goes as far as having the hubs and derailleurs and tensioners built for them. A gear-head will probably pause at the fact that the bikes aren’t spec’d with a high-end group, but the ride reveals why. I didn’t expect a 2-speed drivetrain to handle climbing and the flats, but it did with a very solid and crisp feel. The shifter isn’t pretty, but perfect for urban assaults, and the commute. While other folding bikes are built to cruise around town, the Brompton expects you’re going to accelerate past a double-decker bus, up a riser, and blast down a bike path.

Riding with Brompton’s tech specialist, Rory Ferguson, I hopped curbs, pounded over speed bumps, and wasn’t afraid to stand up and go. The 16-inch wheels contibute to the positive feel and are very agile.

At the high-end of the folding bike price range, Bromptons are totally bespoke. Each one is built to your spec, hand brazed, and assembled. I brought the S2L-X back from London and testing it now. It’s an iron-hinged (white heart cast iron), steel frame with a titanium fork, rear-triangle, and seat post. I’ve ridden full-sized bikes that weren’t 1/2 as stiff. For longer rides, a tourist would want to look at the different models. The S2L-X is a more aggressive position.

I certainly appreciate Brompton’s approach to industrial design. I’d also like to see more refinenement in the aesthetic of the bike — like knocking another 1/2 pound or so with a nicer crank and the one folding pedal is thick and a bit awkward (you only need one pedal to fold). The next engineering phase may fast-forward the Brompton to a sleeker, more rounded, less chunky design (probably not, because it works so damn well!).

I’ll spend more time with the Brompton and report, as well as podcast from the factory tour. The bike has already earned a place in the garage next to the Dahon and Modal.

Availablity

Bromptons cost about $1200.00, are available worldwide, and from your local Independent Bike Dealer. They’ve got a loyal and passionate following that gathers once a year to race!

I’m thinking about doing that race … .



4 Comments

I’m so glad you like the Brompton. I have an M6L and it’s great, both as a folder and as a bicycle. I know people who have cheap department store bikes. They obviously don’t realise that a Brompton would actually be an upgrade for them, strictly as a bike. But they think it would be a compromise folding thing.

I know, because it was an upgrade for me :-)

One thing though, you mentioned “stiff”. What do you think of the rubber suspension block? I don’t mind it, but I can feel it when pedalling hard.

Erik,

Right on. Yes I definitely noticed the “bumper” and got used to it as part of the ride in a few miles. I also appreciated it over cobbles and rough pavement. Stiffness is relative to the size of that frame and wheels. Also notice the suspension on Rory’s bike—that’s a different suspension option he was testing.

Also new for 08 is the [Brompton Rear Frame Clip](http://www.brompton.co.uk/content.asp?p=19&l=1) (scroll down to read more)—the Brompton’s rear frame is connected through a pivot point to the main frame; so the bike can be parked, folded, and rear suspended. That’s a innovative feature and also awkward when attempting to carry the bike, especially when loaded with luggage—the rear frame folds back under the frame, when lifted. The clip fixes the rear frame with a quick release. It’s on the bike I’m riding and testing and I’ll post more videos next week.

A challenge for the folding market is a perception that they’re “toys” or even “silly circus bikes.” Most people I’ve talked to about the [Dahons](/tag/dahon), [Fly By](/tag/flyby), and Brompton wouldn’t expect any of those to “perform” or replace a bike. When I explain it’s a focus on urban mobility, fits under a desk, fold it to get on a bus, etc, they get it.

Got to check out the locally made Bike Friday Tikit.  BF has been around bikes that break down for travel for 20 years, but recently came out with a true commuter.  This thing breaks down in 15 seconds and has a really inovative lock release for the stearing and seat mast.

Brommies RULE!  I’m mostly a recumbent guy but my P6R-X is one of the few uprights that have stayed in my stable for a long time.  Mine has the “raw lacquer” finish that shows the fantastic braze work.

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