An Ode to Brompton
In my (short) life, I’ve been curious about almost all bike typologies. I’ve had much fun riding MTBs, owned and loved several track bikes, am into gravel and road cycling, and even enjoy a quiet ride on an old city bike every now and then.
The only category I haven’t really gotten into as of yet is folding bicycles. This (and my subsequent suspicion of them) is probably due to the fact that my experience thus far was limited to cheap, single-speed ones that were really heavy, tricky to fold, and had inappropriate gears for steep roads and flat plains alike.
Brompton is one of the few outstanding brands that specialise in this genre, yet knowing this and even having witnessed the Italian Brompton Championship last year didn’t do anything for me. I never felt the need to try one.
Then, two weeks ago, my father moved to a new office that was farther away from home than the previous location. Instead of commuting by car, he decided to go for a train plus bike combination and asked our trusted local bike shop for a demo of the Brompton. After the first day, he came home sincerely excited and raving about this new bike.
So I decided it was time to try it myself, and picked it up for a quick ride.
I tested the steel version with a 6-speed Sturmey Archer rear hub and a Son front dynamo hub.
The first thing I noticed is that it’s really easy to unfold from its original state: basically, all you need to do is swing the rear wheel and the horizontal tube, and adjust a screw. The junctions are very smooth, yet the overall feeling is that of strength and quality.
The first spins were not easy, as the position feels strange at first and the small wheels (20 inches) appear to jerk around. But less than 100 meters in, it becomes really natural and comfortable to ride. I purposely chose to test it on gravel and cobbles, and it turned out to be sturdy even under those conditions.
Now let’s come to the gears. As I mentioned before, one of my biggest doubts about folding bikes is whether they can give you the same pace and cadence as a regular 28-incher. Trust me – they can. The six gears on the version I rode cover a very wide range, and I could easily reach 30km/h without looking like a crazy hamster spinning his wheel.
It’s not exactly clear how the internal gear hub works, but you basically control “1-2-3” with the right shifter, and “+” or “-” with the left one, as if you had a 2-speed crankset with 3 sprockets behind. Don’t worry, it is absolutely intuitive after awhile.
I must say that the whole system is a bit noisy, but that might be down to it not having been perfectly tuned when I tried it.
Finally, I only have good things to say about the lights. They are powerful, which is obviously a good thing on a commuting bicycle.
The last thing I did was fold it back down, which was less immediate than unfolding it up but over time, I could see this happening quite instantaneously with little to no trouble.
So, what do I have to say about this little bike?
Honestly, I liked it a lot. It’s easy to use, light and unexpectedly fast. When purchasing one, you are also offered plenty of nice options and accessories: three different handlebars, several different bags, fenders, dynamo hub and lights, and various gear combinations. There is also a titanium version, but after trying it as well, I’m not so sure the weight difference is worth the additional cost.
This leads us to the only negative point I found: the cost. At the time of this article, this bike retails on the Brompton site starting at 1090€. But for the set-up I tried (fenders, 6 speeds, dynamo lights), it quickly added up to 1830€. The only option you could reasonably avoid is the Son lights by choosing the standard Shimano pack (which then takes down to 1545€ total) or the battery lighting (which cuts it down again to 1495€). In my opinion, the fenders and the 6 gears setup were a must.
Overall score: would ride again!