OK, my office is due to move to a city centre and I am thinking of getting a folding bike so I can park outside the centre and ride a couple of miles in. A friend has a Brompton which he kindly lent me to try out over the last couple of days - the normal office is shut so we are in Leeds centre.
Parked for free (Hi Ringo!!) and weaved my way through the city streets to my office, about 1-2 miles, some slight hills. Then up 2 storeys to the office for the day.
As an added advantage (well I think it was) I had to fix a puncture on it at home and it needed a good clean and fettle so it also gave me a chance to check how it was made, and how easy it is to maintain.
The bike I borrowed was a specced up 6 speed bike, with M bars, rack, mudguards and a full set of luggage (not used but had a good look). Cost £1000 all in with the luggage....
You really need someone to show you or watch an online instruction video to see how best to do it. It folds up really small but it's very difficult to figure out how to do it with no instructions. Once you've got it practiced a few times and figured out the order you need to do things its really quick.
You can put lights on the bike but I did notice that if you have a front light attached to the bars, if it projects forwards (like a torch shape) you'll have to remove it when it folds up or it'll smash to bits on the wheel when you fold it....
The rear light I mounted on the top of the seat post but if you have the rack you could put it where the reflector is. As it wasn't my bike I didn't want to fiddle with all that but the post mount is fine even when folded up.
The gears were a love/hate thing. I loved the 2 speed derailleur, very simple and fast to shift. Very nice mechanism and self adjusting - I was very impressed. However the 3 speed hub gear I hated. Nice to be able to shift when at a standstill but it slipped a bit, wasn't as positive as a normal mech and not very confidence inspiring. Good range of gears but in all honesty you might not need it if you live in a reasonably flat area.
Adequate but nothing more. They might work better with some better blocks on but the arms are very long and flexible, the levers plastic and a bit naff and the cable runs long. I'd love to try some Ultegra deep drop brakes (they might fit) and some proper XT levers or similar. If you're used to V's, or even modern road brakes, they won't feel great. Mind you, I like to stop pretty quickly so I may be a bit biased....
Brompton could probably improve things by beefing up the callipers a bit and installing some proper levers. Even £200 bikes come with metal levers nowadays.
Most of the equipment on the Brompton is fairly basic. To be honest, I struggle to see how they justify charging so much for the basic bike as most of it is pretty simple construction, using cheaper materials. Ok, so much of it is unique to Brompton but they sell a lot of them nowadays and have done for many years so I would expect a little better in some areas.
The brake levers are plastic and naff, same with the shifters. The cranks are very basic too, the pedals very slippy. There isn’t anything special about the wheels either, basic hubs and basic rims. I liked the back end frame section, intricate and very clever, but the front end is very heavy and chunky – surely this could be made from aluminium to save heaps of weight? The grips feel really naff too…. The list goes on!
The handling is pretty sharp. It was probably one of the biggest surprises. The bike goes round corners like it’s on rails, it’s very impressive. I pumped the tyres up to a ridiculous 80psi and the bumps were still soaked up reasonably well too, thanks to the rubber bumper suspension. It felt like a small wheeled bike but it was never an issue – I’d be happy riding longer distances (flattish areas) no problem.
The only thing I didn’t like was that it seemed very short (but I didn’t want to adjust the bars too much as it isn’t mine) and the front end was very flexible. This might be because the M bars are a bit noodly – I’d try the straight bars first before I committed to anything. I suppose it was good as the bumps were absorbed a bit better but I’d prefer it a bit stiffer for better control and confidence.
It’s heavy. Really heavy. I know the one I had had the rack and 3 speed rear hub and longer seatpost but I didn’t expect it to weigh so much. It’s ok lifting it in and out of a car but up the 2 floors to my office was ridiculous. My arm still hurts from carrying it up those stairs.
If I was buying one I would really try to get the weight down a fair bit when speccing it up. I’d lose the rear hub gear, the rack and maybe plump for the straight bars.
I quite liked it but the weight and front end flex are a concern. That, along with the price, would make me search out alternatives before buying the Brompton. I suppose the very small folded size isn’t something that I was concerned with but it is the leader in that respect – so if that’s important to you then it might be a winner.
I might get the chance to buy it off my friend one day. If that happened I would lose the rack and fit a standard rear wheel to make it a 2 speed, then try the flat bars too. That’s save a fair bit of weight and the bars might stiffen the front end up. I’d also look at replacing the pedals and grips with something better quality. I’ve seen a mod which enables you to replace the standard transport wheel for skateboard wheels which I would try as the standard ones are a bit flimsy. Some better quality cranks might reduce the weigh a touch, and certainly improve the looks a bit…. (oooh I’m so vain!). I’d see if there was any other brakes I could fit, and if not at least replace the levers.
There is a mod online to fit an 8sp gripshift controlled rear hub which is a much better option for gears if I ever wanted more range, that’d be worth looking at, and selling the current setup would recoup some of that cost too.
If you have any specific questions fire away! Any suggestions for mods or alternatives specs are very welcome too.