I’ve been commuting on the Brompton for one month and, 160 rapid miles down the road in these balmy summer conditions (i.e. rain, and lots of it), I offer some thoughts.
First, what don’t I like: Well, I those small wheels do take more energy to keep at pace and they are susceptible to potholes and other road imperfections, certainly more so that the 20-inch wheels on my Bike Friday or a regular bike.
The first complaint sees me working the gears more to maintain momentum, the second requires me to dart around obstacles more so that I would do on a regular bike. Road conditions being so bad now, and unlikely to get much better given the parlous state of council highways budgets, it is sometimes impossible to avoid a juddery ride.
I’m not a fan of the saddle, either. I like the handgrip below the nose, but the perch is not really suited to my behind. I’ll change it for a Brooks at some point.
So what’s good… The Brompton does live up to its reputation as a ‘personal transport solution’. The fold is excellent. How I’ve had a bit of practice, I can collapse it in seconds. It lives under my desk when at work and stows easily in the luggage rack of a Virgin train. But the fold has additional benefits. With my luggage attached, the folded Brommie becomes a shopping basket/trolley, which can be wheeled around easily (particular now I’ve added Eazy wheels).
Despite my gripe about keeping it going, the Brommie rides really well too. The reach may be a little short for me, but I’ve ridden it for an hour solid with no complaint. The addition of stubby bar ends is a worthwhile upgrade.
The gear arrangement is, at first, rather odd and takes some getting used to. My Brompton is a six-speed machine, which works via the marriage of a three-speed BWR Sturney Artcher hub and a two speed derailleur. Consequently, you have to combine shifts of the derailleur and Sturmey shifter to work through the range. In practice, I keep the hub in second and flip between high and low derailleur setting when commuting in London, using top for long blast down Embankment while chasing road cyclists. Bottom gear comes into play when I’m grinding up some Saddleworth hills near my home.
An eight-speed hub would be a better solution, and third party upgrades are available. This assumes you can live with the weight penalty, though, as the Brompton is already heavy.
The Brompton luggage system is quite superb, too. I use a cotton duck Caradice City Folder as I am a faithful follower of the brand. As the bag fits directly to the frame rather than handlebars, steering is not affected when loaded. In fact, handling becomes more predictable and stable the more you carry. It’s a fantastic solution for the kind of lugging you’ll do around town.
Another great touch is the saddle Pentaclip. This is far superior to the standard saddle clamp on seatposts. At first, I thought it would slip and not hold true, but it’s worked very well indeed. It takes all the faff out of saddle adjustment and getting the perfect position becomes a very straightforward procedure.
So how does the Brommie rate against the Bike Friday? As you would expect.
For multi-modal commutes, the Brompton reigns supreme. For cycle touring using trains and planes, the Friday is preferable as it rides better.
Overall, I prefer the Brompton. Yes, it’s expensive and some of the accessories are optimistically priced, but you will struggle to find something so beautifully fit for purpose.
You can tell the original design has been modified and improved, as there are countless little design tweaks that make everything work that little bit better. This evolution will continue and all Brompton owners will benefit as improved components can be retrofitted. Ally this to a comprehensive parts back-up service, and the Brompton is destined to become a friend for life.