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Well I have a new bike.

This bike is practical. Itís hand built in the UK. Its engineering is smart and robust. Itís ingenious.

And itís likely to see me laughed at by school kids on the street.

Itís a Brompton.[1]

These folding bikes are a work of art. Theyíre engineered to the highest quality and itís design is second to none in itís niche. For a compact folding bike, this is perfection.

The Brompton
The Looks

To some. the Brompton looks like an old womenís shopping bike. To me, it looks like the ultimate cool in green transport for the urban wannabe hippy. Whenever I see an office monkey (hey, Iím an office monkey too, donít be offended) using one of these I feel a sliver of hope for a less oil dependant society.

But school kids point and laugh. They ask if I canít afford a real bike (theyíd die laughing if I told them how much it actually cost).

The Design

This designers deserve all the plauditís they get. And they get a few[2], the Brompton is considered by many to be the ultimate in affordable folding cycles. It has been designed for the commuter who wants to use a combination of public transport and cycles for their journey. It can be folded and unfolded in 20 seconds so you could cycle up to the bus stop and before the driver has had chance to open the doors be ready to board with your cycle packaged neatly for carrying. Itís green transport for the person who wants a door to door solution for their travel.

A great deal of thought has gone into every aspect of the bike, from the clever hinges and locks to the fixing of the folded bike. Small hooks and the dropping of the seat post keeps the bike locked in a folded position making it easy to carry.

The Engineering.

Bromptons are built like tanks. They are a good solid bike and having small wheels are capable of carrying surprisingly heavy loads. The frame is reassuringly solid, even at itís hinges. Everything about the bike feels strong and safe. Everything bar one thing. The handle bars on the M Type are made of an alloy to save weight and this feels a little less sturdy than the rest of the bike. However, itís a very small criticism and it doesnít feel too ďlightĒ

The Folding.

The folded Brompton

The folding left pedal

First Stage of unfolding

Second Stage of unfolding

Third Stage of unfolding

Finally, flick the rear wheel into place

The Ride.

The bike isnít designed for the long journey, though one nutter cycled from Landís End to John OíGroats on one[3]. A journey I found tough on a road bike!

I have used it for my first commute this morning purely because the weather wasnít great and I didnít fancy using my road bike. In fact, Iím hoping to use the Brompton as little as possible because itís the back up plan for my commute when either the weather is too rough for a 20 mile commute, or Iím not feeling well enough for it.

So how have my test rides gone?

Well, itís a little twitchy due to itís small wheels but not too unstable, however care must be taken when looking behind, especially one handed. It has an upright riding position which to someone used to road and mountain bikes is a rather strange affair, though very comfortable.

Itís top speed is a rather relaxed pace, and screaming downhill I think it topped out at under 20 mph.

Climbing is tough because of the limited gearing (mine has 6 gears). You can change the gearing by changing the rear sprockets to match your riding style. Stronger riders might forgo the lower gears being happy to plough up hills for an extra bit of speed. Others might relinquish some speed to make the hills easier to climb. I think Iím happy with the standard configuration. I havenít bought the bike to race and intend to plod around at a relaxed pace. I donít want to work up a sweat on the bike and will be using it in place of some car journeys I currently make. So I want to cycle in normal clothes and not arrive smelling like the armpit of a sumo wrestler fresh from a sauna.

The bike has an extremely tight turning circle and itís happy to be thrown into corners and traffic islands at relative speed without getting out of shape too much. Having a low Bottom Bracket means that when throwing the bike into a fast tight corner, pedalling is a no-no. The cranks are long enough to see the pedals hit the ground on their low point so keeping the inside pedal high on a turn would be good practice.

I have noticed that motorists seem to be a little more impatient with me on this bike compared to my experience on the road bike. Cars come in closer and are quicker to overtake when perhaps a little unsafe to do so. Riding to Bikeability[4] standards and applying the theory of BIG[5] are all the more important when riding a Brommie.

Summary

I donít think the Brompton is the best all round bike. I donít think itís even the best all round folding bike. But it is the best compact folder for the commuter or rider that covers short distances and/or integrates their ride with public transport. Being low maintenance the bike and reliable itís a great ďeverydayĒ bike for the local shop/pub/work run. However, no speed records are likely to be broken and itís not great as a mile-eater.

For me, itís perfect for the job itís designed to do.

And itís bloominí good fun to ride too.

Keep Pedallin'

Gazza.
August 2007

[1] See Brompton Bikes
[2] Including the Queens award for export. Popular here, they are even more popular abroad.
[3] See Brompton E2E
[4] See Bikeability and Cyclecraft
[5] See Theory of BIG

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