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.