Riding the Brompton at CES

So I rode the Brompton folding bike in Las Vegas during CES. I rode from the hotel right into the Intel booth in the same time that it would have taking me to get to the line waiting to buy monorail tickets (to wait in line for the very slow monorail to the waiting point at the station across the street from the convention hall..blah, blah waiting for traffic to cross blah, blah etc…etc).

Setting aside how much I hate the streets of Vegas, here are my impressions:

The folding system works well enough, but the little wheels on the rack, that help keep the bike upright when folded, are right in the path of my heels when I’m riding. Highly irritating.

The 2-speed drivetrain works like a charm. Shifts dependable and tucks in out of the way. It’s light and simple too.

The most flexible (“flexible” as in not good) part of any small-wheeled folder is the handlebar stem, or for these bikes often called the “mast”. This is because the mast has to be tall enough to get the bar to a comfortable height for average stature riders (more on “average stature” later) and yet fold out of the way. I’d say the stiffest I’ve tried is the unit installed on recent Dahon folders, but the Brompton was pretty good. However, there is still much more flex than I would prefer.

But the deal breaker for me is the lack of adjustability for the handlebar height. At 5’3”, I’m distinctly shorter than the “average” rider and I like my bars low. For Byron, maybe the height feels appropriate but once I lower the saddle to my position I feel like I’m sitting in a highchair. The relatively short (compared to say, my Redline bmx) top tube doesn’t help. I can’t stretch out and go.

On the plus side, the handling was quite reasonable. Riding on of these small-wheeled bikes is different than a regular bike, so you will need to adjust to it. The Brompton was very nimble, so as to possibly catch the uninitiated off guard, but I was soon taking advantage of the bike’s low speed agility.

The great thing about a folder like the Brompton is the how easily you can carry it into places impractical for a standard-wheeled bike, but I wonder how it would be to design a bike that used tiny wheels and the S&S couplings. I’d trade-off the ease of folding for a lighter, stiffer set-up tailored to my body.



8 Comments

I’ve been commuting with my brompton for 9 or 10 months now and I love it. I’m also 6’ tall and don’t like my handlebars low, so the bike may fit me better.

You should check out Bike Friday‘s bikes. They make folders, but they also make custom size travel bikes. That would certainly take care of the fit issue. I’m not sure how it would do for stiffness.

Jake,

Do you have a contact at Bike Friday. We’d do need to ride one of those. I’m 5 10” and the Brompton works well for me. I think Mark would have that problem on any stock folding bike, without an aadjustable stem mast.

I also hit the little bike stand/drag the bike wheels as well and it’s annoying, but the stand/drag part is not annoying.

Another bike that might suit you is the Moulton. It has the small wheels and comes in a separable version. There are a couple of different manufacturers of the Moulton, ranging from “not cheap” to “strictly for Saudi oil barons”.

Shame about the Brompton “mast” being the wrong size. I wonder why they don’t make it adjustable.

bike friday makes a large range of bikes, most semi-custom, but only the new tikit model is in the same class as a brompton as a quick-folder. it is definitely easier to dial in the fit on a tikit than on a brompton beyond a certain “normal” range. the overall feel is also more familiar if you are coming from road bikes. on the downsides, the tikit’s steering mast is *much* flexier than the brompton’s, it’s not nearly as neat or compact a fold, and the brompton’s front luggage system is far superior to the tikit’s on-bike carriage options.

mark v, you might try reversing the saddle clamp and shoving the saddle further rearward to lengthen the cockpit as a surrogate for getting the bars lower. note also that the available brompton “P” bars offer a lower position than the “S” type you’ve got.

 

I didn’t have time to meet with [Pashley-Moulton](http://www.pashley.co.uk/) during our trip to the [UK](/tag/london), but this Spring we expect to review the [TSR](http://www.tsr.uk.com/).

Todd,

Good points and I def agree on the luggage mount, quick release thingy on the front—you can see it here [all packed up nicely](http://www.flickr.com/photos/huggerindustries/2183486569/) in an S&S case. Also see [this video](http://bikehugger.com/2008/01/bike_in_the_booth.htm) with me dragging the Brompton around the booth and out of CES.

This article does raise an interesting point - 5’3” is the minimum height for riding a folder. This I know through working the floor in a bike-shop.
One day I showed the default choices of bike to the customer (hybrid, comfort MTB). I then suggested the test ride on a Dahon. I expected the light weight, low top tube and more manageable wheels to be the deciders, however, the stretch to the handlebar was a bit far. This was on one model with the adjustable ‘mast’.
There is also a problem at the other end of the height range. 6’3” riders have the seatpost a good centimetre above the max insert and even taller riders have to be upsold a taller saddle, e.g. one with big springs at the back.
Moulton was right about small wheels - they are better. The old safety bike (MTB, racer, whatever) has wheels designed for the days before tarmac.
Maybe Dahon need to make two models so that everyone can ride sensibly sized wheels. I don’t imagine Brompton to do that as their fold is a lot more intricate with less scope for a longer seatpin, mast and seat-post.

Thanks Mathew,

An optional, [telescopic seat mast](http://www.brompton.co.uk/content.asp?p=206&l=1&s=6) on the Brompton, extends another 7 inches for taller riders.

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