“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 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!).
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 … .