Brompton bicycles began life in 1975, when Andrew Ritchie created the first version in his South Kensington flat opposite the Brompton Oratory. The company is still based in the city, with a brand new factory recently opened in Greenford where they were able to expand whilst retaining the expertise of qualified brazers.
With decades of folding bike history behind them, it’s understandable that Brompton are by far the market leader in Britain – rapidly expanding elsewhere in the world, including Japan. And to hold onto their position, they continue to develop and redefine their bikes.
Enter: the Brompton M6L I’ve been testing for several months. Designed using the Brompton bike builder, my little buddy comes with mudguards front and rear, six gears (I live in a valley…), M-type handlebars, and some other cool features to make it even more practical and ergonomic.
Models start from £800, at 10.6kg, but by the time I’ve added the mudguards, gears, and Grey/Berry Crush colour scheme, mine comes in at £1,020 weighing 11.9kg (I got 12.2kg, but my scales are a pretty cheap pair from a mainstream supermarket).
Brompton M6L Folding Bike Specifications
The Brompton of 2017 has seen some updates, so we’ll start with what’s new. The major point of change has been the font end set-up – the stem is now longer, with a shallower ‘M’ type bar, allowing a slightly stiffer handlebar and more relaxed position. The shifters have moved so that they’re mounted on the brakelever – similar to a normal hybrid or mountain bike – with a bell that’s easy to reach plus lock on grips that are apparently the lightest on the market.
It’s difficult for me to compare the new features, having not spent much time on a previous version. However, I had no trouble adjusting gears, braking, or making use of my bell and the handling felt safe and accurate. As with any small wheel bike, little twitches to the handlebar did make a significant difference to direction of travel – but this is pretty unavoidable and you've got to expect to ride a folding bike slightly more mindfully than you might a standard set-up - at least until you get used to it.
The upright position did offer plenty of comfort – and the convenience of being able to cycle with a handbag swung over one shoulder. However, I did learn that what is possible is not always beneficial, when the bag slipped and showed me just how twitchy the handling could be. No crashes though, I righted the situation quickly – but I’d probably stick with a backpack on regular trips.
There are four different handlebar configurations available from Brompton – the ‘S’ is a flat bar that’s more sporty, the ‘M’ is the classic all-rounder, the ‘H’ is similar but more upright, and the ‘P’ offers multiple hand positions but is heavier. Having tried an ‘S’ and an ‘M’, my personal preference would be the nippier S for ease of handling – though the M allows for a more upright ride and I can see the appeal depending upon your typical usage.
One rather fancy new addition is the new Cateye USB saddle light. This Rapid Mini Light comes ready fitted, charged up and good to go. To re-charge it, you'll need to take a small spanner to the fixing bolt, but this is easily done and the battery life is such that I never needed to – though I did stick largely to riding in the daytime. There's no front light, as yet - but I attached an FWE 500 Lumen Rechargeable model with ease using the stretchy mount provided.
Brompton have also updated their saddle options, providing a 167mm width as well as the standard 147mm – a great addition for women, myself included, who generally have wider sit bones. Sitting in an upright position, I found the perch more than adequate for short journeys around town - but of course every bum is like a snowflake (different in pattern, shape, and saddle preference).
Not new, but of note was the six gear shifting system. My bike came with a ‘BWR’ (Brompton Wide Range) hub, and the brand’s own derailleur system. Adding these, over a singlespeed, increased the weight by just under 1kg. That’s a fairly big chunk of the overall creature – but living in a valley, with a climb to get out of town makes gears essential. Climbing was, of course, more labour intensive on the hills when compared with some of the lightweight road bikes I’m used to – but clicking the gears down and spinning always got me where I was going without too much hassle.
My grey and berry friend came specced with Brompton’s own Kevlar tyres, which proved highly resilient and didn’t pick up any punctures on my journey, plus a rather handy frame mounted mini pump with a matching branded design. Ready fitted were the ‘Version L’ mudguards. These come with a flexible fabric attached, to keep dirt away from the rider’s clothing and the bike, and did their job excellently.
Brompton bikes are renowned for their British brazing: the process of joining the metal tubes together with a filler metal - in this case brass joins the steel components. This allows for less distortion, and a considerably stronger bike - which is important when a machine that must hold your weight needs to also be capable of acting a lot like a Transformer from every 9-year-old boy's favourite show. Despite the highly skilled process, the steel bikes still aren't that light. Brompton do allow users to swap the standard steel frame for a ‘super light’ steel, and this would drop the overall weight of my bike from a claimed 11.9kg to 11.1kg – at the cost of £580. This might seem like a lot of extra cash, but when transporting the bike in any way other than pedalling, I can see the draw to splash out.
Folding, Unfolding and Transportation of the Brompton M6L Folding Bike
Confession: this took me quite some time, at the first go. I doubt I’m alone in that. Eventually, I realised where I was going wrong: the saddle/seatpost position is crucial. To unfold the bike, the seatpost most be pulled up, and the same applies for re-folding – but in order to lock the entire system, it must be returned to the lowest point. Once I’d worked this out, folding and unfolding took around a minute.
Brompton have created foldable pedals, to avoid the user shinning any fellow passengers when sat on the train. This is an excellent idea – but did lead to my greatest failing: being left looking utterly panic stricken at the lights outside London Bridge train station whilst trying to unfold my pedal. In the mean time, a flock of cyclists rode around me as the light turned green, and my own face turned the colour of the stop-light I'd been nonchalantly waiting at, with one pedal still in its reclining position against the frame.
Aside from these minor teething problems, folding and unfolding was simple. I particularly enjoyed the fascinated faces of two elderly ladies sat at a bus stop one drizzly afternoon – both seemed most impressed.
Complications came when I had to carry the bike for any stretch of time. It’s not light at 12kg, and being folding-bike-shaped means it’s not quite the same as lifting a weight in the gym (promise I can left more than 12kg!). There were moments I wondered if I was going to develop a ‘Brompton bruise’ on my calf. However, being easy to fold, and unfold, and having a ‘mid-folded’ option which allows you to roll the bike along, does mean that any extra carrying was largely due to my own laziness and lack of desire to unfold for an intermediate journey.
Living with a Brompton in the house
Once a week, I commute to from my Caterham to Farringdon. The journey itself is meant to take about 75 minutes. However, if you add walking from my house to the station, it becomes 90 minutes – add in the fact that changing at East Croydon often leads to delays due to trains either being late or too full for further passengers, and we’re often looking at two hours.
With a Brompton? The home to station trip drops to around 5 minutes; a train to London Bridge takes 50 minutes, and the 1.5 miles the other side to Farringdon about 10 – coming to 65 minutes – a significant saving. Add in that I could indeed ride to a nearby station to catch a faster train, and we’ve got a huge time cut off. That leaves more time for riding my big wheeled bike elsewhere in the week.
A folding bike is never going to feel just like a standard, 700c wheeled machine – but investing in one can certainly cut down time on the average commute. Knowing that the bike was available and ready to go also meant I was more likely to ride into town for quick shopping trips, and the adjustable saddle height meant for once we had a test bike in the house that my husband could ‘borrow’ from time to time, too.
Interested? Have a look at the options here.