My little Brompton

As I passed the chap on the TT bike at 28mph on a 1% gradient at 28mph I decided that my little “clown bike” was actually capable of some quite serious speeds. I should probably caveat that, the chap referred to was mid teens. But he was doing about 25 mph and me about 28 mph. I didn’t look back to see if he was amazed. There’s no need to be smug about it. It is just a bike after all. And while there is obviously some tarnish to the statement “it’s not about the bike” the point is probably still true. As long as the bike doesn’t actively prevent you doing stuff, it is all about you. Some bikes facilitate your performance, some hinder it. And while the Brompton might not be a TT bike it rarely holds me back.

So, my clown bike. What a 11.5kg, tiny wheeled bike it it. What a 11.5kg, tiny wheeled, mudguard equipped, sit up and beg, limited gear bike it is. The thing about a Brompton in my view is this, if it’s the answer to a question about compromise, it doesn’t have to BE a compromise. It doesn’t have to just be about its portability, it’s not just convenience. It’s actually a properly useable bike. One that you can take with you anywhere. One that you can actually use most of the time, subject to a few caveats. So, next week, I go on holiday to France, it comes with me. I’ve not even really thought about taking any of my other bikes.

And, if I park it outside a Carrefour I fully expect people to stop and stare because it’s so interesting, so cool and because, well, it’s the French flag, sort of. It’s actually the Brompton World Championship Edition 2018, and is meant to be a representation of the Union flag. There was even a Union flag sticker on it. I took that off. Now it can be British and French. A mix of us and Europe. I dunno, isn’t the UK better when mixed with a bit of Europe?

Buying a Brompton can be a bit bewildering. You get to choose your bars, choose your frame, choose your speeds. Essentially you get to choose whatever suits. Or just pop into a bike shop and buy the stock one you like. And I got the BWC edition because it was a 6 speed S bar version. It wasn’t as nice as the lacquer version but they didn’t have that (this is an Evans cycles exclusive) but I like it. Others don’t. I don’t care.

Anyhow, if you don’t buy off the peg you get to choose your own Brompton. Ignoring the paint job that means choosing between 4 different types of bar, 4 different gear combinations, going superlight steel if you want to, and mix and matching mudguards, racks and pumps. Then there’s the paint, then there’s the possibility too, of going electric. That’s 16 million combinations by all accounts. If you want some fun with stats take a look here. I said above, in terms of being a proper bike, there are caveats. Number of gears is obviously a factor. Mine is 6 speed so it’s easier to claim it as a proper bike, a single speed might be less arguably so. If you want to have a look at gear ratios the click here and if you want to know how that compares to your normal gears and cadences then have a look here and do some playing around with it to see what compares.

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Let’s start with the raison d’être of a Brompton, folding. That’s why I bought it. The sheer size of the thing. I researched extensively and it appeared that nothing else really got the size, durability and sheer quality down pat. Why the need? Well, change of jobs. I can’t easily predict my office hours now and it’s good to have a little more energy. So, some days, I park 5 miles away, cycle in, cycle back, avoid ALL of the worst traffic. If I need to stay longer the fact it’s only 5 miles away to the car means I’m more relaxed about leaving later than if  was doing the whole 18 miles home. It’s just easier and it’s good to have easier days. And it gets to sit in my office, in a black bag, because, you know, dirt and stuff. I don’t have to lock it up, it can go wherever I go. I should say, they’re not easy to carry, that’s still 11.5kg of metal. You do need to stop every now and again. There are wheels on the bottom to drag it but not over any considerable distance, they’re limited really to pushing it round the floor.

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So, let’s deal with what it is. This one is the BWC edition. It’s a 6 speed, S bar version. So it’s racy. The bars are lower than the seat post when set up for me. That’s a standard length seat post. If you’re more than 5ft 10 you will probably need the longer or extendable version. At my height (5ft 10) the seat post at max extension is absolutely right. That’s lucky so I don’t need to mark where to pull it up to each time I use it.

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It’s not pictured as stock. Off went the Brompton saddle, on went a Charge Spoon which is a really nice addition. Brooks was an option. Off came the folding pedals (which are really cool) and on went SPD’s. Off came the Schwalbe Kojak because, sadly, they seem to be made of dairylea. The Marathon that are on there now are bulletproof and that TT passing 28mph was on these. Indeed, I’ve done a 22 mile 19mph average route with 800ft of climbing and unlike 700c Marathons these seem to roll really well. It matters because changing a Brompton tyre is not easy. It involves removing PARTS, small parts. You don’t want to do it in anything other than dry, calm, light conditions. You’ll also see that the mudguards don’t match. I broke the front white one and, at that time, there was no supply of a replacement so I had to get a black one. I have a white one now and will change it back at some point. There aren’t any quick releases on Brompton wheels so be prepared to do some work if you puncture. A toolkit is a good addition to have and they do one which lives inside the main tube.

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Gear wise it’s, interesting. It has 6 gears. The bottom isn’t quite low enough to climb the Alps. The top is too long to spin out easily. First is 33.1 inches, that’s about a 34/27 or so? It’s ok actually. Top is 100 inches, that’s about the same as 50/13. I rarely use that sort of gear on my road bike. But if you can spin it at 100 that’s actually good enough for over 30mph. And you can do that, it’s limited only by your legs and lungs. The weight doesn’t seem to ever really matter. It’s easier to keep going, in my view, than my similar weight Genesis Equilibrium. Shifting duties are taken care of by an internal Sturmey Archer hub and a rear “mech” which shifts between two external cogs.

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The left hand shifter deals with the change between those two cogs. It’s simply – and +. The other is gears 1-3. It’s not a matter of – 1,2,3 and +1,2,3 in sequence either, there’s an overlap, just like any other twin ring setup. So, for example, I frequently change between -3 and +3 but +2 is actually a spinnier gear than -3. In short, it takes a bit of getting used to. What I would say  is that it’s very reliable, shifts well and is really nice to use. There’s a nice bell too, which you can see above, attached to the right hand shifter/brake lever.  The brakes? Alright actually, you can lock them up if you really try but they’re also good in the wet. They do benefit from better pads than stock but only in terms of longevity. I should change the grips to something like an Ergon but they’re ok too. Not awfully cushioned and there aren’t any real hand combinations there but they do a job.

For me the S-Bar is the right height. I get a bit of an aero tuck. The other bars are a little more upright, if that’s what you want. If you want loads of combos then go for the P bars. In terms of attaching stuff a Garmin mount will go on the bars but you will need to shim it. Same goes for anything designed to go on a 31mm bar really. I’ve not fitted lights yet but I may end up putting them on the steerer tube or attaching them just above the mudguard (there are mounts available for this task). Just remember that whatever you fit may need to be partially removed in order for the folding mechanism to work.

Handling wise it’s a hoot. Those small wheels, relatively narrow bars just make moving it around so easy. It’s nimble, it doesn’t ever seem to give any indication of a lack of stability. It’s stiff, you can sprint on it, but that does take a little getting used to if you’re out of the saddle. It’s odd not having a top tube between your legs, particularly when you stop at the lights. I’ve descended at 40mph on it and it feels fine. I’m not sure I’d want to go too much faster than that though.

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In terms of storage that bracket above the reflector is where the £15 mounting bracket goes. Once installed you have a wealth of bags to choose from (though they are bar dependent, some not being compatible with certain bars due to their height etc). I’ve not bought one (yet) but it’s a fairly easy operation, the bag just snaps on and off the bracket.

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It’s hard to know what else to say other than should you buy a Brompton? Well, the rule is N+1 so, obviously you should. The question is, of course, at what stage should you deploy N+1 to get one. Should it be your 5th bike? Should it be after your road, MTB, cross, tourer?

No, my view is that this is your 2nd bike. Because it’s that good. Depending on where you live, what you need, it might be your first. At the moment, if the weather is good there’s just no reason why I wouldn’t go out on my road bike. But as the weather changes, you need to choose what it is you want to ride. If it’s grim, car plus Brompton (at least for commuting) is a good plan.

But what about winter training? What about the long winter commute home (if I’ve been dropped into work). Well, this is where I actually think the Brompton is a perfect companion bike. I’m not going to say this is the 50 mile winter trainer. But you could. But I do think if you want a quick spin in the winter, in the wet, in the cold, then, actually, why not? It’s got mudguards, it’s comfy, if you’re just after some fresh air, why not. This might sound like madness when you can have a winter bike. But then the winter bike won’t also do the stuff that this does. And if you can overtake teens on TT bikes, if you can do 19mph average on it, IT is not the limiting factor. So, in the league table of N+1 I strongly believe it’s at number 2 or 3. And, when it comes to France with me, I may end up doing some touring on it. I will end up doing the morning croissant run on it. And it just goes in the roof box, quietly out of the way taking up very little space.

I guess what I’m saying is that I bought a Brompton to stick it in the car on the days that I wanted/needed the short commute, it offsets the prohibitive cost of parking, it’s easy to live with. But it turned out to be more a bike than I thought it would be. Clown bike? Chaplin was a clown. He was also a legend.

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