The chances are, if you’ve ridden a Brompton you’re already converted to the cause. If you haven’t, and you are looking for a folding bicycle, you should really give one a go because they are a rather special machine.
This very British bicycle company are legendary worldwide for their folding bikes, and people literally do come from around the world to purchase them. They are still based in an office and factory in West London, which also means that there is easy and speedy access to spare parts, and they are renowned for their excellent customer service.
Used by commuters everywhere, the Brompton bicycle benefits commuters mainly because they fold up nice and small, but also ride well. Because they fold, you can take them on the train during rush hour, and store them under your desk at work. That makes these bikes perfect for the commuter who hasn’t got much storage space, or has a journey at either end of their rail commute.
Unable to ignore the sudden surge in the popularity of folding bikes on our city street, I was keen to see what the fuss was about. I was curious about what they were actually like to ride and how easy it was to incorporate them into a commute – so I put the Brompton M3L through its paces for several weeks.
Brompton Bicycle Benefits: Ride Feel
If you’ve never ridden a Brompton before (and I hadn’t) then the first thing that feels different to other bikes is the upright riding position. This feature of the Brompton bicycle benefits you by giving you a great view above the traffic, and although it felt strange to begin with, I soon got used to it.
Secondly, those little wheels are pretty damn nippy. On the open road I wasn’t going to be overtaking any road bikes, but around town you can get a satisfactory speed up, and quickly too.
Thirdly, the steering. As you’d expect the Brompton is an agile creature, but stable with it. It zipped round corners and avoided obstacles and potholes of doom with ease.
And fourthly, the joys of the potholed streets of London. It seems like there are more and more of these around, but I actually felt them less than I do on my road bike. This is because the Brompton has it’s own little suspension system. The Brompton bicycle benefits commuters through the piece of rubber braces near the rear portion of the bike against the main frame, absorbing the worst of the lumps and bumps and making for a relatively smooth ride.
Brompton Bicycle Benefits: Hills vs Gears
Bromptons come with a quality Sturmey Archer hub gear. If you haven’t encountered this type of gear before, they’re worth knowing about because they are brilliant for city riding. Rather than the familiar set of cogs, the gears work inside a fully enclosed drum, which means considerably less maintenance.
The M3L I tested is the 3-speed option. These machines were built for city use, and I found the gearing was plenty for my commute. The most hill-like thing I need to get over are a couple of bridges, and the M3L coped fine. If you have a more hilly commute, it’s possible to get different gear options to suit.
Brompton Bicycle Benefits: Custom builds
This brings me nicely onto the world of custom Brompton builds. Although there are standard models, you can in fact build the Brompton Bicycle of your dreams, choosing different handlebars, gears and gear ratios, and of course colours. If you want a taste of the possibilities on offer, check out their virtual Bike Builder. Warning: it’s slightly addictive! I spent a good while working out what my dream folding steed would look like.
Brompton Bicycle Benefits: Time and Money
One of the main things I was interested in finding out was exactly how much time and money I might save by riding the Brompton, if any.
Unless I cycle all the way to work, my travel options are a 35 minute walk or 25 minute bus ride to the train station, then another 35 minute or 7 minute tube plus 15 minute walk at the other end. Getting public transport the whole way gives me a minimum journey time of 1hr 20min – if everything runs smoothly.
The Brompton bicycle benefits me with quite a big time saving; my journey from home to the station was 15 minutes, and station to office 9 minutes! I have to confess however that occasionally it took me longer – I was enjoying riding the Brompton so much, I took myself off on scenic detours.
As for money, technically my bus and tube journeys either side of my train journey add up to about £13, but as a good little Londoner I usually get a weekly travelcard, which costs £45. However, the train journey part of my trip adds up to £31.50 so by cycling instead of getting that extra bus and tube, I’ve saved £13.50 a week. That’s not bad, and I was actually quite surprised it was that much.
Add to that the fact I was getting an additional 50 minutes or so of exercise every day, plus avoiding the hell that is the London Underground in rush hour, and I’d say that the math works out pretty favourably.
Of course, one of the main selling points is being able to take the bike on the train. Although it folds down small, it’s still a bit of a squeeze on a really packed train, so I found myself aiming for a slightly earlier train, or getting the slightly slower but far emptier service. But as my journey either end was less, I had this additional time to spare – which made the whole commute much less stressful.
Brompton Bicycle Benefits: Folding
I’ve decided to cover this last, because it turns out I’m not very good at folding Brompton bicycles. I was terrified I’d break it, but they are robust beasts and I need not have worried.
The folding mechanism is simple and effective, and the best way to get to grips with it is the helpful video Brompton have produced.
Suffice it to say that I did have a bit of fumbling the first few times. A kindly man, also a Brompton rider, helpfully pointed out that I had caught a pedal in the wrong spot on one occasion, and this is something else I hadn’t realised about the world of the Brompton Bicycle – it’s not just a bike, it’s a community.
Most of the other Brompton riders I encountered seemed quite chatty and helpful, and a bit more research uncovered things like the London Brompton Bicycle Club. These Brompton riders organise rides, meet ups, and generally share an appreciation for this delightful folding bicycle.
So if you are thinking about a folding bicycle, there’s a lot going for the Brompton Bicycle. Now please excuse me, I’m off to start saving for my green and purple custom dream machine.
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