Small Bikes, Big City: A Quick Brompton Bike Review

29 Nov

Great things come in small packages. The little bicycles that could. The meek shall inherit the city. How many other cliches could I use as a title for this post? Any of these would be accurate.

Two full days touring London on Brompton folding bikes was enough to know that they are in many ways the ideal city bike. When engineer Andrew Ritchie fiddled with various folding bike designs in his apartment in the London district of Brompton, he was on to something big–in a small package. He didn’t just design a bike that folds compactly. He designed one that’s folds to a size hardly bigger than its 16″ wheeels, and tucks the messy and fragile parts between the wheels, and offers a ride that’s surprisingly close to larger wheeled bikes.

Here’s my quick take of the Brompton folding bikes, based on 30 kilometers of city riding:

  • The tiny bikes comfortably fit both 6’2″ Dick with his 35″ inseam and me with my 29″ inseam. Amazing.
  • The front end feels twitchy at first, but you adjust quickly.
  • The bag attaches to the head tube, not handlebars. It also feels odd at first, especially if the bag is full.
  • Once you’re rolling the bike handles like any other bike, even on rough pavement.
  • The low gear on the two speed models we rented is not low enough for any sort of hill.
  • Instead of a kickstand, you just fold in the rear wheel and voila! it stands alone.
  • The nose of the saddle is molded to fit your fingers, making it easier to carry.
  • Our rental model was fairly heavy to carry. If I had to carry it more than 100 feet I’d take the time to unfold it. Brompton offers lighter models. I wonder how much lighter they would feel.
  • Folded, the bikes took up less room on the underground than a small suitcase. We sat with ours in front of our knees and there was still room for people to pass down the aisle.
  • The hub generator lights work well, but since they go off after a minute or so of standing, I’d add small blinking lights too. I love built-in, hub generated lights. Taking things off the bike whenever you lock up is a real pain.

All in all, it’s a good little city bike. If I lived in a small apartment in the city and commuted by rail, I’d definitely consider getting one for my non-sport riding. Here’s a quick demo of Dick unfolding the bike. It takes him just over a minute, but with a little practice, I’m sure he could do it in half the time.

What about you? Would you get over the dork factor and ride a tiny wheeled folding bike?


Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Gear Talk


2 responses to “Small Bikes, Big City: A Quick Brompton Bike Review

  1. Jackie Link

    February 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    My Brompton has a Schlumpf Mountain Drive built into the bottom bracket, one kicks a button on the crank to change gears, and I can climb a cliff with it (live on 18+% grade) . . . but, yeah, it’s heavy. I tend to carry it with both hands, bag across my back. Love it.


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