Those of you following me on Twitter during my recent Southern odyssey may have noticed that in addition to riding the Boris Bikes, my tweets indicated I had been riding bikes in other locations which the hire bikes are unavailable in, such as Waltham Forest and Oxfordshire. Whilst I was in London, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the Western Extension Zone of the London Congestion Charge has recently been scrapped, and pick up one of the many second-hand Bromptons for sale in the area. There are so many Bromptons for sale around this area as more people choose to drive to work rather than cycle, proving at the same time why the congestion charge was necessary in that area in the first place. My plan was to sell it up North if I didn’t like it, where the second-hand Brompton market is less saturated so it could fetch a higher price.
Note the extended seat-post; a standard or telescopic seat-post will allow the folded package to be even more compact than this.
Unfortunately for my wallet, I do like it. A lot. I got the M3L model; M-type bars for an upright riding position, 3-speed gears (Sturmey Archer SRF-3 on mine, SRAM hubs are also used), no rear rack (seems a bit useless on such a small-wheeled bike), complete with mudguards and a (slightly worse-for-wear) Brooks B67 saddle. The standard seat-post is useable by someone my height (1.78 m), but not quite long enough. Luckily the extended seat-post was readily available from Evans for £16.
My first proper ride on the bike was from Waltham Forest to Paddington Railway Station. The cycle infrastructure was crap, but the bike was ideal for the conditions, quick to accelerate from the lights so I could get past the next deadly pinch-point and responsive to steer through the complex and ever changing door-zone I was repeatedly squeezed into. The bike was perfectly comfortable for the duration of the ride, and folded up small enough to be counted as luggage on my train to Oxford
Upon reaching Oxford, I unfolded the bike and began the trek to Wheatley (my grandparents’ new home). The A40 was the most direct route, but had large sections set at the national speed limit, which thanks to the dual carriageway means 70 mph (obviously many will drive at much higher speeds due to the lack of active speed cameras in Oxfordshire). Obviously an alternative route was needed, and the smaller road through the village of Horspath seemed a logical choice. Using Google maps to navigate, I had neglected to account for the possibility of the route not being flat. Thankfully, the gearing on the Brompton was low enough for me to climb up the hills, although I was deliberately slower going down the hills because I haven’t got a good feel for the brakes yet. I expected the bike would be great for short journeys and multimodal transport, now I have experience of riding the bike a considerable distance, I feel it is also a very capable longer-distance machine. I can completely understand why people have used them as touring bikes.
The Brompton is a testament to what British design and manufacturing can still achieve. The design is modular, with all the odd proprietary as well as standard replacement parts easily available online. The modular design is sympathetic to older Bromptons; yearly improvements to parts of the bike can all be retrofitted to older models. This is part of the reason why their value depreciates so little over time. Super-light titanium editions are available, with titanium rear triangles, forks and titanium or aluminium seat-posts. The modular design means that you could conceivably replace parts of your existing Brompton with titanium equivalents over time.
Re-assuringly sturdy folding left pedal brings the folded size down a bit.
The rear triangle clips onto the seat-post clamp, with a rubber cylinder providing a little bit of suspension.
The little nub on the stem (Left) clips into the socket on the fork crown (Right) when the bike is folded.
The luggage block on the head-tube accepts a variety of proprietary Brompton luggage which whilst expensive, is generally very well regarded.
Brompton’s shifter operates the Sturmey hub, presumably to prevent the standard shifter fouling the fold, and to produce a consistent look within the range which includes a 6-speed option (2-speed derailleur coupled to 3-speed hub) and the different varieties of 3 speed hubs used by Brompton (SRAM & Sturmey Archer).
I do not believe the Brooks B67 has ever been a standard option on a Brompton (I was given the original saddle too). This one looked as if it has been ridden on whilst wet a few times, and had become very saggy and uncomfortable. Luckily a bit of a tweak with the tension spanner and some Proofide and the saddle is almost as good as new.
The benefits of a bike which folds into a small & rigid package are obvious; ease of storage at home, ease of carrying the folded up bike, taking your bike onto even the most overcrowded train, taking it into a restaurant, theatre or nightclub or even onto the Metrolink (if suitably covered up, which obviously makes complete sense as a policy).
I expect that I will have saved enough money due to owning the Brompton for it to pay for itself within about 5 months. Think about it.