Brompton status report

After the untimely demise of my previous folding bike, I went and ordered a Brompton, and I’ve been riding it almost daily for the last couple of months.

I’ve become very keen on the flexibility and general usefulness of folding bikes. They’re a solution to London’s rampant bike theft problem: Instead of carrying around heavy locks (which are never enough) I can just take my bike with me. I can take it on the train if I’m going further afield or just feeling lazy. Even not having to unlock and lock at each end of a journey saves about five minutes: I just ride right up to the door, fold, and walk in.

So I definitely wanted another folding bike. My decision to get a Brompton was prompted by two things: I’d seen how convenient and robust a colleague’s Brompton was, and I’d been impressed by the Brompton riders on the Dunwich Dynamo.

I ordered a custom specification for my Brompton. This doesn’t cost any more money, but gives you a wider choice that just buying whatever shops have in stock. And, obviously, it takes a bit more time. I was quoted “four to six weeks” and “six to eight weeks” by different people at the shop. In the end, though, I was riding the bike only two weeks after placing the order!

My Brompton S1L-X in white

What I ordered was an S1L-X in white. That is:

  • S: S-type (i.e. flat) handlebars
  • 1: Single speed (no gears)
  • L: Mudguards
  • X: Lightweight (titanium forks, rear triangle, alloy seatpost, etc.)

I also specified Schwalbe Kojak tyres—slick, lighter and, with lower rolling resistance, faster than the normal ones, and still reasonably puncture-resistant. (Note that slick tyres do not give less traction than ones with “tread”: the pattern does not offer any advantage on paved roads; in fact, on such surfaces, a slick tyre has a greater contact area.) I also specified a firm elastomer for the rear suspension.

This gave me a bike of slightly under 9 kg.

It seems that ordering the lightweight model contributed to the speed of delivery: I’m told that Brompton had had some problems with the supply of titanium parts; on resolving these problems, they prioritised production of lightweight models to catch up. Mine simply happened to go into the system at exactly the right time.

The ride of the Brompton is very good. Despite having 16” wheels against my old Dahon’s 20”, it’s more comfortable even on London’s extravagantly rutted tracks. This could be due to the steel frame (as opposed to aluminium), the titanium forks, or the rear suspension arrangement, or some combination thereof. The result, though, is that it’s pretty comfortable on bumpy roads.

The fold is amazing. Not only does the Brompton fold down really small, it does so with all the oily bits tidily on the inside. This makes it easier to take on a train or into a shop or restaurant. It’s also quick to fold and unfold once you’ve got the knack: unfolding, in particular, can be done in three operations with the correct flourish.

Some public transport—the DLR, for one—requires that folding bikes be in a bag. A folded Brompton will fit easily inside one of the blue bags that Ikea sell at the checkouts for 80p or so.

I’ve made a few changes to my Brompton. Some for preference, and some to fix flaws.

I’ve replaced the rather soft stock saddle with the light, harder saddle I’d used on my Dahon. It may seem paradoxical to non-cyclists, but hard saddles can be more comfortable. Whereas a soft saddle deforms and presses all over, a hard saddle allows you to place your weight solely on your sitting bones, avoiding perineal trauma.

I’ve shortened the handlebars by about 25 mm on each end (this is quick and easy with a pipe cutter) to suit the width of my shoulders better.

I’ve replaced the plastic rollers on the back with children’s inline skate wheels. These have proper bearings, allowing me to tow the folded bike by the handlebars, and don’t rattle when I ride.

I’ve replaced the stock brake levers, which are wobbly, half plastic, and which don’t retain their tension well. Instead, I’m using a pair of BMX levers, which have improved the situation. The performance of the front brake remains less than entirely satisfactory, however. The position of the S-type handlebars when folded means that the levers have to be installed almost vertically. This is a problem with both stock and replacement levers; I can’t see any straightforward solution.

My Brompton's handlebars: Ergon GC2 grips and BMX levers

I’ve fitted Ergon GC2 grips to the handlebars. As well as being more comfortable, the stubby bar ends offer an alternative hand position, which is always welcome on long rides.

I don’t think that the common complaint that Bromptons are overpriced is quite true: it’s more that items mass-produced in the Far East are very cheap. Labour-intensive manufacture in a developed country will always cost more. Having said that, there are some annoyances: for the amount I paid, I’d hope for better brake levers, trundle wheels, and a better-engineered chainset than that swaged thing.

All told, however, I’m very satisfied with my Brompton. It did cost me a lot of money—and I spent a lot extra to shave a couple of kilograms off—but it’s exactly what I want.

Finally, here’s a handy tip for fellow Bromptonistas: It’s easier to unfold quickly when you don’t need to worry about the saddle height. A small piece of old inner tube around the bottom of the seatpost will stop the saddle at your own perfect setting:

Brompton seat height stop using a piece of inner tube

Comments

  1. wendy

    Wrote at 2010-10-25 06:17 UTC using Firefox 2.0.0.20 on Windows XP:

    for seatpost height memory, u may want to consider a reflective sticker
  2. Ben

    Wrote at 2010-10-27 21:50 UTC using Chrome 7.0.517.41 on Windows XP:

    I like the look of your new bike Paul. I’ve been wanting one for a while now. But I can’t justify the outlay at present. Assuming I get the chance at some point, the tip about brake lever positioning is useful to know. And the trundle wheel replacement sounds an excellent idea – if also a disappointment in the original spec.

    Sorry for you about the circumstances leading to your being a new Brompton customer. It’s all too familiar… Having said that. Given the number of drivers I do engage with while cycling, I’m pleased to say that in Manchester and Stockport, there’s a good number that are pretty decent. My commute’s about 32km, four days a week. Broken glass and potholes are a bigger pain in terms of regular stress. Granted, the hazard is greater from a lethally wielded internal combustion engine.

    Ben

    PS. I guess a coaster brake on a Brompton would be impossible as it’d tend to fold up the rear wheel when you exerted back-pedal pressure? On the other hand, any forward motion would counter that tendency…?
  3. Abeillaud

    Wrote at 2010-11-19 22:56 UTC using Firefox 3.6.12 on Windows Vista:

    http://img11.hostingpics.net/pics/503420DSC08328_650_postkeeper_.jpg

    http://bromptonforum.conceptforum.net/trucs-et-astuces-f2/charniere-rapide-japonaise-ah-si-l-on-pouvait-passer-commande-t3184-200.htm

    (Postkeeper Kamoya)

    Kind Regards,

    Abeillaud ( www.bromptonforum.net )
  4. Paul

    Wrote at 2010-12-12 09:39 UTC using Firefox 3.6.13 on Windows XP:

    Re the brake lever positions. I ride a Dahon Helios XL onto which I have put a pair of Cenelli ‘tri-bar’ extensions. They do not effect the fold as the stem bolt is a QR (rather than an allen head) and therefore I swing them out of the way for stowage. Could you replace the bolt on your handle bars with a QR and rotate the bars by 90 degress before you fold?

    Thanks for IPDL by the way.

    Paul.
  5. Geoff

    Wrote at 2010-12-17 10:28 UTC using Firefox 3.6.13 on Linux:

    As a Brompton rider of some 9 years or so I have to say that I am still very happy with it, though I agree that there are a few minor improvements that can usefully be made.

    When my wife bought one a year or two ago I found that a number of the mods I would like to have made are now offered as options on new bikes and also as retrofit accessories. In particular you can buy upgraded wheels with proper bearings for the back, to replace the rather rudimentary wheels supplied when new. They do, of course, command the usual Brompton price tag!

    Another upgrade which I have adopted, which will probably be standard on your bike but might be of interest to your readers with older bikes, is the lockable rear buffer block. On the older bikes when you try and pick up the bike unfolded to carry it up a few steps for example, the rear wheel would always drop down, making it awkward to carry, unless you held onto the rear rack (if present). The newer bikes have a modified suspension block that uses a clip to prevent this, but the block can be rotated to disable it if required. The modified block assembly can also be bought as a retrofit.

    Geoff
  6. Brocky

    Wrote at 2011-02-28 13:46 UTC using Firefox 3.6.13 on Mac OS X:

    Hi Paul
    I have an S2L in raw Laquer and want to customise the handle bars to offer an alternative ride posture. The Ergon GC2 grips look great on your bike, can you tell me – do they affect the fold at all? They look good value and blend in with the overall look of the bike.
    Also – are there any real alternatives to the S-Bag kit from Brompton for luggage on my S-Type that you have heard of, pics wuld be great.

    These blogs are an excellent source of information for me and I have enjoyed reading your, sorry to hear about the genocidal van driver incident by the way :-(

    Brocky
  7. John Gulliver

    Wrote at 2011-10-15 17:28 UTC using Safari 534.51.22 on Mac OS X:

    nice bike and mods Paul. I’m still waiting for my Superlight: been about 4 months now – titanium supply problem, apparently… hopefully one day soon I might get it.
  8. Johnny Laird

    Wrote at 2012-04-07 18:31 UTC using Chrome 18.0.1025.151 on Windows 7:

    ...nice wheels.

    Seriously considering going down the Brompton route
  9. Janis

    Wrote at 2012-08-27 12:55 UTC using Safari 7534.48.3 on Mac OS X:

    Thanks for sharing pics & your Brompton story!

    I realize this is an older post, but have the same question as Brocky about the fold. I recently purchased a used Brompton that the previous owner had extensively modified. The non-stock handlebars need new grips and I’d like to use Ergon GC3 gripshift grips. Would you mind sharing – what is the length of your handlebar (without grips)?