I’ve long had an interest in getting a fold-up bike, usually spoilt by the need to spend silly money on racing bikes. Still I wanted to get a test review of a Brompton. It is the market leader for fold-up bikes. It came highly recommended by a few readers; some Brompton owners I know speak of their foldups in almost hushed reverent tones. There is great pride and loyalty amongst Brompton owners, somewhat reminiscent of a proud Pashley or Bianchi owner. Added to that, is the fact that, amazingly, it is a British manufacturing company – one of the few to survive the remorseless de-industrialisation and competition from cheap Taiwanese carbon fibre. I would be quite happy to buy British, but is the enthusiasm for Brompton’s worth the money? Will I be paying for an excellent bike, or will I be paying to be part of an expensive owners club? As an added complication, is buying a Brompton my only real shot at one day being a cycling World Champion?
My first port of call was the Brompton website. I learnt Brompton’s are based on the same base frames and equipment, but they offer you hundreds of different choices from colour to tyres and gear ratios. It reminded me of the Trek Project One bike builder (except with rather different choices, e.g. 1 v 2 speed gears, rather than Dura Ace v Ultegra)
By the way, those wheels above the rear wheel, make it easy for dragging a long the pavement in folded up position – a nice touch.
The ability to choose different options is definitely a good idea and makes buying a Brompton an enjoyable experience. You can choose the components that you need and want, but also helps make the bike feel more individual, more tailored for yourself. Like Trek Project One, you pick up from a local Brompton dealer.
There were two local dealers in Oxford, so I went to Walton Street Cycles, which had a few Brompton’s in stock for test rides. The first thing is that even the super light Brompton (9.3 kg) is still pretty hefty to lug up an Underground escalator. The idea of getting a foldup 3-4kgs heavier is not enticing.
Secondly, it does foldup pretty small. On this grounds, Brompton is the market leader. If you’re taking it into your office, a small foldup is a big plus.
Thirdly, I was amazed at how the skilled assistant was able to flick a few top tubes, seatposts and hey presto a box of squashed metals becomes a nifty foldup bicycle. I later tried and failed to emulate this 15 second pack-up, but I’m sure the process is easy to pick up. The good thing about foldup is that it is very simple with just 3 fairly solid places to tighten up. If you can take off a quick release front wheel, you probably should manage to deal with a Brompton.
It’s easy to foldup, honest.
The Test Ride
I’m all enthusiasm for foldups at the moment, but jumping on 16” wheels is still a shock. Compared to my usual bikes, it’s slow and twitchy – hard work to steer. Though this was not so much a comment on Brompton’s as small wheels and foldups in general. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once on the go, I was fairly confident in picking up a decent speed. The position is fairly upright and so I felt reasonably confident on the roads. If anything you feel slightly more vulnerability on a foldup, but this is mainly perspective. Foldups are slower than a standard bike, but once adapted to the riding style it felt reasonably agile. My model had 3 gears with a big range in between them. It is like a Sturmey Archer hub gear and is fine to use. On a commute, you don’t want to be frequently changing gears, so this was adequate
Firm Suspension v Suspension
I tried two models one with suspension, one without (firm suspension). Personally, I have a big preference for the greater rigidity and stiffness of the firm-suspension. Yes, it might be a bit more comfortable going over potholes and speed humps, but, when you are used to riding a 80gram saddle on a Time Trial bike, suspension on a fold-up seems overkill.
Frame. The steel frame is quite strong, light but also helps if you are looking for a more forgiving ride. Steel also adds to the durability of the bike.
To simplify the bike and the fold up part, Brompton have gone for the hub gear – think Sturmey Archer 3 speeds. I like the choice of gears because it gives you the option of choosing 1,2,3 or 6 speed.
- 1 Speed is the cheapest and lightest, but with the disadvantage of only having single speed.
- 2 Speed is £60 more and only a little more heavy.
- 6 speed offers the biggest choice of gears, but costs an extra £120 and is quite a bit more heavy.
Brompton argue that you don’t need a big choice of gears; what is important is the range of gears. For example, the 3 speed gives gears between range of 3.79m – 6.76m / 48” – 85”
On this count, I agree with Brompton. If I was buying I would be tempted by the 2 speed, as the 2 speeds would offer a big enough gear range for cities like London and Oxford. I would even be tempted by single speed to save £60, but I feel with a fold-up, a single speed would be harder to manage. I don’t fancy charging up a steep hill on a single speed Fold-up. (unless it was part of a Bromptons World Hill Climb Championship – now that would be a reason to buy a Brompton)
The M Type handlebars – some adjustability.
There are 4 types of handlebars. The S type look the neatest and are the lowest down. They are referred to as the Sporting version, though it’s still pretty upright by my standards. For those who really like a more upright, touring position with more manoeuvrability, you could consider the H Type of M type. I would have no hesitation on choosing lowest S Type. The P Type offer biggest choice of hand positions, but weigh an extra 350grams over standard handlebars.
No cassette reduces weight and simplifies bike
For such an expensive bike, the caliper brakes are a limitation. But, personally, this would not stop me choosing the bike. The brakes stop me adequately. It’s not as if I’m going to be racing into corners on my commute around London. In a way a like the ‘retro’ brakes. I can kind of mend them myself (in theory).
The best thing about the Brompton is again the ability to choose. You can choose a range of colours from black to racing green. No one admits to buying a bike because they like the colour, but it is important. Apart from that, the bike looks pretty good, simple style.
Mudguards, lights and hub gear.
There is a whole range of accessories you can add to your Brompton, you can upgrade to Brooks saddle, there are innumerable combinations of bags and panniers that can be attached. Again, they tend to be a bit more expensive than usual. Some accessories you would be wanting to add to your base model
- Mudguards – £50
- Pannier rack – £50
- Cover and saddle bag – £20
- Super Light version – £500 for a saving of around 1Kg.
- Non-standard lower gearing – £15
I would tend to avoid unnecessary expenses like lights, and just buy some separate clip on LEDs.
One upgrade to consider, which Walton Street Cycles offered would be to switch standard Kevlar belt protection for Swalbe Marathon Plus – resistant to tacks and pins.
Value for Money
The base price for a Brompton is £700, but it’s hard not to add that, ending up at £850 for a fairly basic setup. It’s the kind of money that could almost be getting you a full carbon fibre road bike. But, it doesn’t work to start making such comparisons.
As an irregular user of a foldup, I shall have to feel either particularly enthused or particularly rich. If a foldup was my main commute, I would want the best, and at the end of the day £800 is really cheap when you consider people spend £6,000 a year on petrol and / or rail ticket. But, the problem is cyclists tend to be tight. Why spend £800 when you can spend £500?
Will I Buy a Brompton?
Maybe. But, I will be testing the competition first, to see if I can spot the different between the two and whether I can justify that extra little bit of class.
This review was originally published on my old cycling blog. (2012)
- Brompton Cycles at Evans Cycles
11 thoughts on “Brompton Folding Bike Review”
I race bikes like you Tejvan (not quite as fast as you though!) and got a Brompton when I started commenting on the train.
I used Warland’s in the Botley Road, they have a huge stock of test bikes to try. I settled on 3 speed hub gear, the higher front end with M Type bars and the telescopic seat post as I’m 6’3″. I added to that mudguards and dynamo lights and swapped out the standard tyres for schwalbe marathon plus’s.
Yes I look like a stick insect on a bike, but I can always get it on the train, I take it into offices I’m visiting, shops and cafe’s. No one really bats an eyelid.
It is a robust design that requires very little maintenance indeed. In fact just one thorough clean in more than two years. With dynamo lights and the schwalbe tyres it really is a mode of transport that is ready to go at anytime and that has proven very reliable indeed.
They are undeniably heavy, but once you get in the habit of wheeling it unfolded as far as is practicable it becomes very manageable to travel with.
I tried a Dahon, which is much cheaper, but the fold is nowhere near as good and if you are tall it will never really fit.
Yes they are expensive as well. But faced with either £2 bus fare a day or walking 15 minutes to and from the station I think that it has been money well spent. Especially when bought though the cycle to work scheme.
Thanks for detailed review. That was my general impression of foldups, so it’s nice to have a Brompton user share his thoughts.
p.s. Spending money on bikes is always good value!.
I’ve used the “Brompton Dock” facility in Manchester a few times. Once registered it allows you to hire a Brompton from the locker facility just by sending a text and getting a code to open a locker. Then you can keep it for quite long periods – ie days – unlike other automated hire schemes. Plus the rates aren’t bad – only £2.50 a day if you pay the more expensive £20 annual registration (or £5 a day after a £1 registration).
It’s a good way to see if you might want to buy one. More time to try but no real commitment. Or it’s a handy way to get a folder to use for a while – just for the weekend say – if you can’t afford to buy one, and Brompton’s are nice but they aren’t cheap to buy. There are about 30 docks around the country including one in Oxford: http://www.bromptonbikehire.com/our-docks/oxford-2624/
I do realise this comment reads like an advert but I honestly have no interest to declare. Just a (generally) satisfied customer. 🙂
Regarding the ride, I always feel like I’m riding a clown-bike on a Brompton. But that’s quite fun in itself, and you can still overtake more “serious” bikes.
I agree, that’s what I felt when I got on Brompton for first time. A big smile came over my face. If I had a long ride of 10 miles, that smile might evaporate because of slow speed though!
Thanks for the great review!
I’d be interested in your take on the Bike Friday – I had a new world tourist for about 5 years until it was stolen in San Francisco. I took it touring around the world and it performed really well. It did take a good 1/2 hour to pack up and un-pack on the downside. But also had a strong case for the airline that turned into a trailer. Which I thought was pretty cool.
I was thinking about the Brompton, but it seems that, while being a good commuter, they’re not for much more than that. Bike Friday also has some quick folding models, but I’ve never tried them. Love to hear your impressions.
Thanks again for the review!
In virtually standard form, Brompton bikes have been used for around the world tours and other long distance travel, almost always with a large amount of luggage.
Googling terms such as, Brompton Touring/Camping/Travel/Blogs/Brompton Upgrades/Modifications, it’s easy to find a wealth of experience and knowledge.
And it’s great reading, photography and video, showing these tiny bikes to be astonishingly capable, long distance, multimodal transport.
Beneath the cute appearance there’s a lot more to discover…
The photo of the folded Brompton is not, of course, the fully folded bike. It is a much smaller package when folded down, with the rear wheel tucked in under.
I am toying with the idea of buying a Brommie … despite the cost at more than £1k with the extras I’d want. I’ve always had hybrids or mountain bikes (currently a Trek X-Caliber 7) but having test ridden three variants of Brommie I love the fun element. It’s like being on an escaped gym bike. Makes me smile … which is what biking is all about.
I really do not understand from where you get the idea that the Brompton should be slow?
If you are looking for speed you will go for the Swalbe Kojak tires, and make sure you keep your tire pressure above 7 bar.
I generally do not have problems keeping up with others riding road bikes and as long as I stay away from gravel and dirt roads I usually do +60miles at about 18 mph. That should be acceptable for most commuting where you would consider a folding bike and then some.
Other than that, it is just a daily pleasure to have and use due to the highly perfected details and general charming style. The only real issue I have with being a Brompton owner is the knowledge that I will get excluded from circles where people do not have Bromptons. They get tired of hearing you constantly praising and showing off your bike..
Interesting review, I have owned a Brompton as well as many other ‘folders’ over the pat few years. The problem with a folding bike is that it has to be many things – and as such a perfect bike is impossible to produce. The bike has to fold small to be portable yet be something that can be ridden with ease! Many bicycle designers have tried to find the solution, but in reality all folding bikes are a compromise – that includes the Brompton. Where it succeeds is folding small and compact, less so in the quality of the ride – so it does depend on what is most important to you, carrying it or riding it. Brompton produce a very good folding bike but study the many others available is my advice.
I overtake road bikes all the time on my Brompton. Its comfortable to ride and has an advantage over any road bike, it has more torque on pull off and beats any road bike in that aspect. If you take two comparable riders, one on a Brompton and the other on a road bike, the difference will not be that great. The road bike may win over a long distance, though not by that much. All in all, you still save a heap of time on a Brompton, as you don’t need to lock it up or find a locking dock It needs far less maintenance as you keep it inside all the time, not out in the rain and cold. The best bike ever. If I had a choice between a light road bike and a steel Brompton, I’d pick the Brompton any day. It’s also very agile and extremely comfortable to ride. The one thing you need to take care of is pot holes due to the small wheels, though its agility and ability to veer clear of potholes has never been an issue.
One small quibble – you say the IGH is like a Sturmey Archer. It IS a Sturmey Archer. For a brief period many years ago, SRAM did provide some IGH’s for Brompton, but those were 5 speed.
I can second what Azar said as well. I have a 6-speed H6L and can beat any road bike from a start due to the small wheels, and I’m 56-years-old! Very satisfying for me to leave spandex-clad 30-something in the dust! 😉
Due to back issues, I now prefer a much more upright position. My Brompton fits the bill and is the most comfortable bike I have, even more than my randoneur/Audax bike. In fact, I am thinking about selling the rando bike and do long rides on the Brompton. Yes, I might lose a bit of time, not much, over distance, but I would feel much better when I got there.
Full disclosure: I did modify my Brompton’s suspension block with a scrowave coiled spring as well as an extended Titanium seat post. Even with the small wheels, it just floats over bumps. A standard firm suspension Brompton and standard seat post would be very close in comfort. I just figure every little bit helps! 😉
I’ve ridden a Bike Friday Tikit for 10 years and only switched to the Brompton a year ago. The Tikit has a faster fold at five seconds, but the ride is pretty much the same between the two. Sadly, the Tikit was not reliable for me. You only need look at the brazing between the two. The Tikit brazing is pretty sloppy, where the Brompton is superb. Mine is in the Raw Lacquer finish, meaning no paint, only a clear coat so all the brazing is exposed for all to see. Only high quality bikes do this as any flaw is instantly seen.
With the Brompton, you truly are getting a fine piece of British craftsmanship and well worth the cost.