The Allure of folding bikes finally got to me
I must admit that I am passionate about folding bikes and cycling for adventure. It took a bit longer to persuade my husband of their merits but now he is hooked too. The last two holidays have been spent in Europe and we have now cycled from Berlin to Copenhagen on our Bromptons. It is a very relaxing way of being outdoors, getting exercise naturally and having an excuse to eat as much as you like at great restaurants off the beaten track.
So why the Brompton?
* Compact Folding
* Well thought out luggage system
* Very high standard of manufacturing
* Excellent customer service - they will even suggest you visit them at the factory!
If you know what you want from a bike it doesn't take much research to discover that the Brompton is the crème de la crème of folding bikes. For me I needed something light and highly transportable. When I get off the plane or train with my bike I want to be able to carry it easily without hurting my back. Brompton make the lightest folding bikes. I also need the bike to pack up small. I have a two seater Smart car and we easily fit two folded Bromptons in the back of this car with space for other kit and luggage. Brompton bikes fold up the smallest. They also fold ingeniously to cover the chain so you and your car remain grease free.
We have certainly road tested our bikes having taken them to five different countries. Brompton make a very good range of bags and accessories. We bought the large transport bag which we have used for transporting our bags by air. We have never experienced any damage and our only precaution is to wrap the bike in foam, place the bike in the padded and wheeled bag and ask for a fragile label. They then get returned to us after the flight in perfect condition which ever airline we have used.
To tour we use the Brompton touring bag which fits the Brompton luggage system on the front of the bike. Now this is the ingenious part. The bag on the front always points forwards whether you going straight or turning a corner, so it never interferes with the steering. The bag clips on to a luggage block fitted to the front of the bike. This mounting block is very light and remains on the bike even when folded. So when you stop and want to unload you just push one lever and take your bag off. Simples, yes? Those cyclists that have just caught up with you and are laughing at the small wheels will take half an hour to unload their entire world carried in six plus panniers! Think small, take less and enjoy the freedom. In addition we take a small rucksack each that we put on the rack at the back or hang from the Brooks saddle. Brompton also do a rack pannier but for our needs we wanted rucksacks for when we get off the bikes and explore cities.
How the bike rides
Now this is the best part. I was gobsmacked when I first tried a Brompton. It was like cycling the best bike I had ever had. Firstly it feels like a normal sized bike. This is because they have kept the length the same as large wheeled bikes. The bikes come with some choices in gears. They have three hub gears and two derailleurs so the options you have are 2 gears, 3 gears or 6 gears. We chose 6 gears. You can now buy the Brompton Wide Range 6 gears and specify whether you want to set them at a lower or higher range. This gives you fantastic options for using the bikes in very hilly areas. They also do a range of tyres so if you know you will be going off-road then you can change the tyres to suit. My husband changed his tyres to Marathon Plus and I kept the standard Kevlar tyres. We have done our fair share of off-road cycling with luggage and never had to mend a puncture yet.
I can't say a word against the Brompton and I love folding bikes for the freedom and sense of adventure that they give you without any inconvenience. For more information. tips and reviews, please visit http://bestfoldingbikes.net.
I've had my Brompton M3L for nearly a year now and its brilliant!
I purchased mine through works cycle2work otherwise the high price may have been too much, it is made in Britain so with high quality the price is high but with this it retains its value well unlike most bikes.
With the all extras mine came in at c.£850 which is twice as much as any bike previously I have brought, I went for a M3L that's a 3 speed original style handle bars with mud guard and no rack I also added dynamo lighting, eazy wheels, the C bag set and kevlar tyres all in black.
As this was not a standard off the shelf bike it had to be ordered in and took almost 18 weeks (yes I counted every day) to be made and delivered. After the wait, the build quality is spot on, it just works, no annoying bits here and there and no jumping chains its engineering at its best. The sheer brilliance of engineering to get everything folded down so small yet work so well is almost unbelievable until you get used to it, you have to start thinking about cycling and transport in a different way.
The ability to go from bike to train to car to bike makes thing very easy for me, no problems about get the wheels off seats down etc. just throw in the boot or foot well and off you go. I typically cycle to the train station, train to work then cycle to work, for the return journey I try and get a lift so the bike just gets put in the boot/floor and get dropped off nearby. The sheer range of options having a fast mode of transport with you makes life very easy! Most trains accept folding bikes regardless of time unlike standard bikes and you get to sit down and not worry about getting in the way of the doors.
The fold is very simple, it looks far on complicated in the diagrams but once you've done it a few times you can do it under 10 seconds and high speed is sub 5 seconds. That's 10 seconds from carrying a bunch of metal to moving along the road on your bike.
Things you might want to know if you did buy a Brompton:
The standard gearing is quite high, so you pedal slowly which takes some getting used too, I personally like to pedal a little faster, I'd drop down one step on the gearing to make things easier but you will lose a little of the top end speed but a bit easier on the knees. Have a play on your dealers test bike, you'll see what I mean.
3 speed while doesn't sound like much really is enough for everything I come across, the optional 6 speed looks like a good idea on hilly areas.
Not a lot of room for cycle computers and the folding takes its toll on the cables so wireless really, I've personally got a o-sync wire free which works and fits well.
The front bag really makes life easy, just clips on and no matter how heavily the load you can get around fast. No sweaty backs! The c bag is huge with load of pockets, I use it as a everyday bag even when I dont have bikes as its comfortable to wear. I get a chnage of clothes a large laptop and lunch without problems.
I went for a all black and regretted it, I should have got the lacquer finish as I'm a engineer at heart.
The newer models 2009 onwards use a matt black paint which hides marks and dirt a lot better than gloss. As of 2010 the tyres are now kevlar as standard and the rear bottle dynamo is now replaced by a very nice looking hub dynamo on the front wheel. Would love this upgrade.
The fold is very easy once you've done it a few times and you don't think about it after a while.
Don't forget as its a well built bikes parts can be upgraded later so its not the end of the world, e.g. lower gearings is about £60 to do later.
The Wonderful Brompton Bicycle
This classic design of Brompton folding bike is all you would hope for - sturdy, practical, quirky and incredibly useful.
First of all it is _fun_! Folding and unfolding a Brompton never fails to attract attention, and I still get a kick out of wandering into a posh reception area and asking if the receptionist would be kind enough to look after my bike.
But at the end of the day, a Brompton is a practical gadget as well as an entertaining one. I find my Brompton a pleasure to ride. An off-road cycle she is not, but she can deal with virtually all road conditions.
Putting the Brompton into the boot of a car is super easy, and this is really where it comes into its own. For couples who share a car it is ideal for sharing lifts and so on. If you have a small apartment and wish to store a bike securely, the folding function of a Brompton is ideal.
Folding and unfolding a Brompton is a breeze once you've got the hang of it. Folding the real wheel back to act as a stand is really useful. Do think about getting secondary lights and reflective safety gear for riding a Brompton at night as the lights are very low down. A colleague said he almost hit me once before I invested in a whole heap of extra visibility equipment.
Prepared to be stared at by teenagers and small children, and prepare to enjoy the most mundane of bike rides - get yourself a Brompton!
I've had a Brompton for about six months now. It's got Titanium parts and so is fairly easy to cary a shortish distance. The folding/unfolding takes a very short time. It's pretty bumpy on the Thames Path, and the small wheels means it's easier to have an accident on badly maintained paths and roads. I've had two nasty ones.
Very convenient, but cycling on our roads is dangerous and I spend as much time looking down for potholes which might, and have, sent me flying, as looking in front of me.
It is the only solution to my commuting problem, but it's not perfect.
It's very robust-when I've had accidents it's me that has been damaged and it is unaffected. It is admired by the young-'Look at that cool bike'(13 year old) and easy to store. It ihas a good resale value. It is more stable than the other toy bikes I tried(Dahon, Birdy) so a good investment.
Question: What does a man whose job requires him to use a pushbike buy himself for his birthday, when his car only has a very small boot?
Answer: A folding bike.
I've now owned a Brompton bike for nearly four years, so this seems as good a time as any to write about one. The design certainly seems to be standing the test of time, as they've been around for years already, possibly even dating back to the 70s.
Yes folks, I'd seen the wear and tear caused to my trusty succession of small hatchbacks by a full-sized mountain bike (admittedly, with the front wheel removed) and I wasn't about to let future cars go the same way.
Of course I could always CYCLE to the work locations (schools in the London Borough Of Richmond), but some of these involved a long ride on London's South Circular in the rush hour, and these days, I'm rather fond of life, what's left of it!
So some sort of folding bike it had to be, either that or a bloody-great rack on the back of the car, blocking out the rear view, or an expensive one on the roof. No ta!
I knew a bit about "folders" in advance, having been to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight one day when they were holding a Folding Bike Convention at the Winter Garden. A pal and I got talking to one of the sales reps, and this led to the trying out of many bikes.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD FOLDER?
From this, Nibelung's First Laws of Folding Bikes evolved.
1. To be any use, a folder has to FEEL like a full-sized bike, even if it doesn't LOOK like one.
2. To achieve this, the wheelbase, i.e. the gap between where the tyres touch the ground needs to be of similar length to that of a large-wheeled bike.
3. Also, the handlebars need to fall to hand in about the same position as per normal.
4. The saddle needs to come to about the same spot, as you'd expect to find it normally, with a full range of height adjustment.
5. And finally, the pedals should allow for an almost straight leg at the bottom of their travel, whilst being close enough to the ground to allow at least one foot on the floor when standing still.
There are also certain "nice-to-haves" like a bike that feels relatively steady when riding one-handed (i.e. when signalling - what did you think I meant, on the phone?).
It would also be nice if it folded up really small, so that it qualified as a piece of luggage on public transport.
Well, I've been riding a Brompton L3 (conveted to L6)* from new, as I said for nearly four years. During this time, I've found that it fulfils most of the above criteria for most of the time.
At "a round of drinks" under £500, it's wasn't the cheapest bike I ever owned, that's for sure, but its ability to fold up into its own shopping bag is what sold it to me ultimately.
*Brompton have since revamped all their model numbers to take into account three styles of handlebar. My L6 would now be an M3L with a 6 gear option.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS FROM THE SADDLE
Before you ask, yes the original saddle does make an impression, and guess where! But then, I don't think I've ever known a truly comfortable saddle. It didn't take me long to change this for something a bit more bum-friendly.
So what's it like to ride? Well, apart from the fact that its little wheels go down pot-holes further, which makes the ride rougher, it feels much like I expected.
Combined with the fact that the pedals come quite near to the ground, avoiding both kerbs and drain-covers becomes second nature, requiring a degree of concentration when on a busy or narrow road.
The harder ride is exacerbated by the need to keep the Kevlar* tyres pumped-up really hard; 100 lb/sq" being quite high for a non-competition bike.
*(Kevlar is supposedly the material for bullet proof vests, and is intended to make the tyres shrug off potential punctures more easily)
Purist admirers of the conventional diamond shaped 'safety bicycle' may also comment on the slight increase in "whippy-ness" induced by the somewhat more spartan frame, which manifests itself in a slight flexibility of the handlebars, but all in all, it feels normal like a Dutch-style sit-up-and-beg 'tourer'.
Since buying the bike, Brompton have announced the arrival of a titanium version which has the distinction of being several pounds lighter and heavier all at the same time (lighter in weight and heavier in price!) - it's also somewhat stiffer.
It is easy to ride steadily whilst signalling, and stops well thanks to Brompton's own specification of brakes, both of which are callipers controlled by normal cables. Some folders have a back-pedal brake to simplify the folding operation by reducing the number of front-to-back linkages but this means that you can't kick back the pedals for a good push away.
Decent mudguards, a soft-ish saddle, reflectors (essential to make it street-legal), a pump and a three-speed hub gear - now with 2-speed derailleur also - are included. It also comes with a folding left pedal, which makes sense of its total fold-ability - I'll come on to that later.
Having done most of my riding on road, I can safely say that I'm heartily sick of "multi-speed" derailleur gears, and their intransigence to being changed just when you want to most, i.e. when caught out by, or when standing at, traffic lights. If you forget what you are doing and attempt a gear change, this will normally go unpunished, as the change won't ACTUALLY happen until you move, but kicking back the pedals for a better push-off, is a recipe for derailing the chain "big time". Anyone got any Wet Wipes?
A hub gear like now-defunct Sturmey-Archer, or the Sachs 3-speed as now fitted by Brompton is much less fussy, and only refuses to change if you are pressing hard on the pedals - standing still, freewheeling or pedalling lightly, it just shrugs it all off and changes without dumping the chain in the process.
For that reason, I find this gear type so much more useful on a commuter bike more likely to be used in traffic than over Porlock Hill, and with only three to choose from, I find I can concentrate on my own safety more.
UPDATE - ever one for a gadget, I soon noticed on the www.biketrax.co.uk site that there was now a six gear version of my bike called, logically the L6 costing about £60 more. What was even more interesting from my point of view is that the conversion kit was available separately to upgrade existing L3's to L6 specification at a cost of £65, which I duly did.
FOLDING IT UP
Now for the really clever bit that all Bromptons share.
For a start, the whole back wheel assembly swings in under the rest of the bike, coming to rest on a rubber bump stop and two castor-wheels. This is in fact its normal "parked" position, and takes non-believers somewhat aback, when they first see it happen.
"Mummy, that man's just kicked his bike in half!"
The fact that the rear wheel assembly is hinged also allows for a modicum of rear suspension to be in-built, thanks to a rubber block between the two halves of the frame.
Then you undo a couple of tough-looking clamps, the first of which allows the frame to swing round back on itself, and the second allows the handlebars to swing down. Both of these bits click into place to stop the whole thing trying to turn itself back into a bike with your fingers trapped in there somewhere!
Last but not least, you lower the saddle, which also has the effect of locking the whole shebang together. Oh, I nearly forgot, this is where the folding left-hand pedal comes into its own, since this reduces the overall width of the folded entity by about 3".
What you end up with is a neatly tucked-in parcel over which you can slip the shopping bag and zip it up. The neck of the saddle provides a good balance point for carrying it, although without any form of shoulder strap, I'm not sure how far I'd actually want to carry it. My local bus stop is about 300 yards away, and that seems plenty! Of course, when faced with walking with it for some distance, you don't fold it up till you get there. Once you've got a folding bike like this one, all sorts of opportunities open themselves up, which might not with a full sized bike.
Depending on accessories, the whole thing weighs in at the mid-20's, pounds-wise. Of course, when faced with walking with it for some distance, you don't fold it up till you get there. You really only need be strong enough, either to get it into a car boot, or onto the luggage rack of a train.
USES FOR IT
You can throw this in the car and drive off to a location where you've never ridden a bike before, without having to struggle with refitting the roof bars to your car, the awkwardness of which is inversely proportional to the likelihood of your bothering. Is this another "Nibelungian" hypothesis, I ask myself?
Likewise, when I have to take a bike with me for the on-road training of school children, the permutations of journey are greatly increased.
If it's raining when I leave, I could take the bike on the bus.
If it isn't, I could ride there, and then get the bus home if I'm knackered or if it's raining (or both!). Strangely enough, this was the exact scenario that confronted me on my first day's use*
Yes sir, I certainly had to do some creative accounting to justify the £500, including selling my other bike, but all in all, I've donemore pedal-miles now, which is good for me (and the air you breath)
*I DID ride there as it wasn't raining in the morning, I wasn't too knackered to get the bus in the evening and have repeated the exercise many times since (approx 22 miles/day). This of course raised the obvious question from "the management" - "Let me get this straight - you paid £500 for a bike that you can take on the bus, and you've RIDDEN both ways?!"
Ho, hum, that creative accounting was starting to look a bit sick!
Firstly, the L3 (now L6) version only comes with front and back reflectors, not lights. These are the bare minimum street-legal requirement. Perusal of the aforementioned web-site reveals a good range of proper lighting. I opted for a rear battery/LED combination, which actually replaces the rear reflector, and gives 50-hours use between battery changes. The front lamp is a Cat-Eye sourced affair, with somewhat less life from its "real" krypton bulb but a good beam nonetheless. The pair cost £38, and the front lamp goes in the saddle pouch when not needed; it baulks the folding of the bike otherwise.
Those with a taste for the Rolls-Royce solution could buy the dynamo set. This has an innovation, which overcomes most cyclists' criticism of dynamos - i.e. the lights go out when you stop. Thanks to some clever electronics, the rear LED-based light stays on for several minutes before dying. This should easily be long enough for most traffic lights.
Since the bombings, bike sales rocketed in the Greater London Area. For obvious reasons, Brompton must have done quite well out of this. Their factory, just off Great West Road, Brentford, is, synergically, next to the main Smart Car agents for London, and yes, a Brompton will fit into the back of a Smart - I know, we've got one of those too. It'd be cool to have them both serviced at the same time, but for one flaw in the argument. Whenever I take the Smart to be serviced, it's the Brompton that gets me home again!
As you'll have noticed, I do like to write about the 'occasional' gadget, but if anyone were to ask me, I'd say that my Brompton is, four years down the line, the best gadget I ever bought, which is more than you can say for the 'redundant technology' crate in my loft.
M-type. The classic shape of the M-type handlebar has been used on the Brompton since the outset. It gives a fairly upright ride with excellent control. Grip height is 1015mm, and there is scope for a little fore/aft adjustment. The M-type is a general purpose Brompton, as much at home around town as for exploring in the country, and with plenty of room for luggage at the front.