To Antwerp…with a Brompton

Blue Brompton parked up

The very kind folk at Brompton responded to my request for a review bike…with a bike.  But it was delivered on a Friday afternoon, with no (secure) space in my office to keep it there over the weekend.  So I took it with me to Antwerp.  Isn’t that what these bikes are made for?   Jaunts around the city?  Well, yes…but the effort of getting it there almost outweighed the pleasure I took in riding it.

My train was due to depart from St Pancras at 6.30pm.  I was still sitting at my desk at 5.30, late, so I just grabbed it from the box (with it’s instructions) and ran, or rather lugged it up to Monument tube and got on the D&C line to St.P.

After what felt like 10 miles of platform and corridor I made it to my base with a slightly longer arm and a very sore shoulder.   These are not meant to be carried for any length of time then?  No, they are not.  But to be fair, I don’t think I would have taken it with me if I’d picked it up before I was ready to go.  I see people bringing them on the Eurostar all the time though so I imagined it would be easy.  

My first ride on the Brompton

But all of that pain was replaced by the fun of riding it around the next day.   What a sweet little bike!   It arrived with tyres pumped to the max and, like all good cyclists, once I’d found out how to unfold it, I set off without pump or puncture repair kit for a day’s outing.   I daren’t let any air out of the tyres in case I let too much out and then they were under-inflated.  So, the Belgian pave didn’t go down too well and, being used to a Brooks saddle, it was kind of uncomfortable, but that aside, it was such a fun ride that I could almost forgive it anything.  Brompton gave me the geared version of the ‘M’ series and the 3 gears were more than enough for this type of riding.  There aren’t any hills as such in Antwerp but there are a couple of gentle slopes and the Brompton did rather well.  I tried peddaling out of the saddle and it felt a little awkward, but no more than that.  I really enjoyed riding it, it was comfortable, apart from on the cobbles, but then what bike is, and it was just perfect for city riding.  And apparently there is a community of Brompton owners who acknowledge each other whilst out riding… who knew?

On my return journey on Monday morning, I cycled from St Pancras to my office instead of taking it on the tube.  I put my handbag over the handlebars and my travel bag straps over the seat and me sitting on them to make sure it didn’t fall off.  My travel bag was kind of resting on the rear mudguard but it was perfectly still and I made it fine.  So, a potential workhorse as well and the extra weight didn’t make me feel at all unstable.  And I worked out that if I pulled up the saddle, I could push it around on it’s integral wheels rather than carrying it so the return leg wasn’t as bad as getting there.

More testing to come!

The real reason I wanted to try one out though was because I wanted to see how it would manage my hilly commute.  I’m getting so fed up of not being able to dock the Boris bike outside my office that I thought I’d see if I could bring a bike all the way with me, from home, on the train, to the office and back again.  So my commuting test will start in earnest this week.  I’ll let you know how I go on.  But, so far, so good.  On it’s performance so far, I’d buy one.

Finally, my apologies for lack of posts over the last few weeks.  Work, life and all that have somehow got in the way.  Next week I’ll be following up on all of your comments about the bike fit post, continuing with the Brompton test and seeing if the people at Rapha deem us London Cyclist readers worthy of some free kit from their new collection to test.  At the moment, it would seem not, but I’ll try again.

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24 Responses to To Antwerp…with a Brompton

  1. Jackart 24/05/2011 at 9:33 am #

    You’d be amazed how much you can carry. The front luggage is excellent, and actually makes the bike feel MORE stable. If you have a rear rack you’d be amazed how much you can carry.

    Everyone who owns one, loves it. Hence the community. I have a road bike too, but it’s the brompton I take into town.

  2. Kevin M 24/05/2011 at 11:00 am #

    Keep those tyres especially the back one pumped up as the pressure exerted on the small tyres is different from a non-folding bike. Nowadays I tend to unfold mine at the first opportunity as carrying it single handed caused me problems in my left shoulder.

  3. JdeP 24/05/2011 at 12:42 pm #

    They are too heavy to carry very far, but you can usually just push them along (unfolded) on train platforms, and even on the underground (except at busy times and stations) you can usually just push them through the wide barriers meant for people with pushchairs and luggage. I rarely have to carry mine more than 50 yards or so. The front luggage attachment system is pure genius, and you can carry a LOT.

  4. Fabien 24/05/2011 at 2:34 pm #

    Rather than using the saddle to propel it along (which can lead to the whole thing coming apart), try just unfolding and doing up the handlebars – you can then tow it like a trolley. That works rather well – though you do need to watch out about bashing people’s shins…

    Absolutely superb bikes though for city commuting, and even ok on long treks (once moseyed around Brittany on mine for a number of days). You just have to accept their limitations!

  5. Russell 24/05/2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I love my M3 – it’s so nippy/sorta unstable it’s like riding a bike for the first time. Okay, so it’s not going to be as quick as most bikes, but you can usually guarantee to overtake Boris Bikes, and with a genuine sense of exhilaration you only get from something so small and wobbly going quite fast.

    Jackart is exactly right about the front luggage though – it does balance the bike better, counteracting the rear-weighting. I haven’t used my bag this week, and have spent most days unexpectedly pulling wheelies at the lights on Kensington High Road.

    Incidentally, when I got mine last year I automatically assumed there was a sort of unofficial acknowledgement of fellow Brompton owners, kinda along the lines of VDubs. It seems not, although this hasn’t stopped me tipping the wink to people going the opposite way – maybe we should start one right here?

  6. roka_az 25/05/2011 at 6:18 am #

    I have a Brompton M6L and absolutely LOVE it! I tell my wife that if I could only own 1 bike it would be the Brompton. Luckily I don’t have to make that choice. When I bought the bike I thought I’d really need the 6 speeds as I was accustomed to bikes with lots of gears. After riding the Brompton now for about 3 months, and many hundreds of miles, I’m convinced that the 3 speed model would have been more than sufficient. I rarely use the 2 derailleur gears. The high gear on the hub is perfect for cruising. I can easily pedal at 15 mph in high. The middle gear is good for starting from a dead stop. And the low gear is so low that it feels like I could climb walls while in it.

    Around here (Phoenix, AZ) there aren’t very many Bromptons. In fact, I’ve never seen another one other than in the dealer’s store. It would be nice to meet other owners. Maybe I’ll move to England just to be with my fellow Brompton fans :-)

  7. Alex 25/05/2011 at 1:55 pm #

    First off, I love my Brompton, I got it for my office commute, and it is perfect – but I hadn’t quite expected to enjoy cycling quite so much, and occasionally think about getting a tougher bike for longer rides, but its good to read in this article that the Brompton can handle an extended ride.

    However, I have found – like NicoleP – that though it offers convenience of one form, that leads to different forms of inconvenience

    a real problem is is that they are a target for thieves I never felt safe to leave it in the street, and on one of the rare occasions that i did i caught two little buggers trying to nick it… they got through one lock easily but couldn’t break the second (a kryptonite D lock) but still seriously damaged the bike in the attempt…

    so yes, you may i am an idiot for leaving it in the street at all and that’s probably true, but it its quite an inconvenience that one can’t be spontaneous. if i know (or even suspect) i might end up going for a meal or a drink, i end up leaving the bike at work.

    so overall, i still love it, i’m not ready to part with it… but i do often think that something cheap and cheerful, but a bit more strurdy might open up a world of new possibilties. or perhaps new problems!

    • Andreas 26/05/2011 at 8:08 am #

      Interesting Alex. Hadn’t thought about this with a Brompton. I guess they are big theft magnets. I’ve been riding around on a more expensive bike than usual lately and found myself very tied to it. I only dare risk it if it’s sat in front of a busy pub where anyone in that crowd could be the owner so I doubt someone would try anything.

    • philcycle 27/05/2011 at 11:16 am #

      No real need to leave a Brompton outside, for thieves to take. Just fold it and take it indoors with you. Any half decent eatery will have a cloakroom where you can leave it. If anyone objects unfold it and pedal to the next establishment!!

  8. Andrew Ebling 27/05/2011 at 5:55 am #

    And of course, Bromptons aren’t the only folding bike out there. I test rode a Brompton, but in the end went for a Dahon which has 20″ wheels, as I have a long-ish multi-modal commute and found the smaller wheels of the Bromptons too much of a compromise. It doesn’t fold up as small as a Brompton, but then I almost never attempt to take it on the tube.

    The Dahon also has 7 gears which I find useful on the number of steep-ish hills I have to tackle. Although sometimes when cruising the gears feel a little too widely spaced. Not sure how people manage with 3.

    Recently I’ve fitted SPDs to it which have made a massive difference – I can now ride 2/3rds of my 28.5 miles commute on my folding bike, due to improved pedalling efficiency.

  9. Dave 27/05/2011 at 10:34 am #

    One thing I’ve wondered about a bike with such small wheels is this: Do potholes pose a serious threat? Looking at those tiny wheels it seems they would be much more likely to get stuck in a pothole and tip you over the bars.

    I ride a bike with 32s and carbon forks, and have occasionally hit a pothole wihtout seeing it when there’s a lot happening on the road. Deep potholes can still shake the bike and me to the core, but overall the bike is stable.

    • nicolep 27/05/2011 at 10:41 am #

      I haven’t hit any potholes yet but the small wheels do seem to feel every bump in the road, sometimes with boneshaking results.

      I was riding along Oxford Street and through theTottenham Court Road junction on Tuesday and it was hellish, but mostly because the level of traffic doesn’t let you swerve to avoid them.

      On my quiet roads at home I can mostly swerve to avoid. The Brompton is definitely a harder ride.

  10. Alex 27/05/2011 at 10:38 am #

    I have the same model as tested and I live at the top of Crouch Hill, and work in Angel. The three-speed is perfectly suited to this, even if initially the climb was somewhat hardwork. I find that my body has gained a couple of gears in the process.

    I have cycled my brompton 25miles from Gloucester to Ross-on-Wye, through the hilly terrain, and the bike was absolutely solid and perfectly capable.

    I did however get numerous funny looks from road users along the way!

  11. Nigel 27/05/2011 at 10:59 am #

    If I was only able to keep just one bike, that bike would be the Brompton. I no longer commute but my Brompton is still the weapon of choice for local errands. In my local town the bike stands are sited inconveniently so Brom always comes into the shops with me. If its a supermarket then it sits folded (and covered) in the trolley. I have the front touring bag; a bag load of fruit, veg and assorted groceries, as others have said, somehow makes the bike feel much more stable. Now that I’ve got an old fart’s bus pass Brom accompanies me on longer “bus and pedal” trips. The car sits forlornly in the drive getting dusty more often than not now. And that’s the way I like it. Other drivers should like it, too. One fewer car in that queue; one more parking space free.

  12. MAS 27/05/2011 at 11:09 am #

    Is the Brompton suitable for 53 miles London to Brighton bike ride?

    Brompton is my first and only bike. I live and work in London and used to rely heavily on public transportation. I love the flexibility and convenience the Brompton offers.

    I have recently signed up for London to Brighton bike ride and was planning to do it on the Brompton (as I don’t have another bike). Alot of people told me that it’s not a good idea – that the journey is going to be a harder on a small bike. I am a novice cyclist and don’t have the experience riding on a bigger bike. Can anyone give their honest opnions? My other option would be to rent a bike.

    Many thanks!

    • philcycle 27/05/2011 at 11:22 am #

      Not my first choice of bike for a 53 mile ride, but there is no reason why you should not use your Brompton for the London to Brighton – and the return journey (by train) will be unrestricted by “bicycle carriage limitations” as you will only have hand luggage. Remember your padded shorts/briefs, and gloves. Have a good ride.

    • Matt 27/05/2011 at 1:36 pm #

      I’ve done London-Brighton twice on a Brompton (3 gear model), and had absolutely no problems at all. Lovely ride both times. Hard to get up the big Ditchling Beacon hill near the end, but that’s hard on any bike … and as philcycle says, you can fold it up & get the train back. Go for it!

  13. Nigel 27/05/2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I’ve only done the London to Brighton once. It was an experience that I wouldn’t want to repeat, although I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 27000 not very experienced cyclists who are not very experienced at group riding means you have to keep your wits about you at all times. On my trip I saw several Bromptons. Yes, it will be a harder ride than on a “cumbersome” (as us Origami zealots call conventional machines) but not so hard to be impossible. Just pace yourself and take a little longer. The longest trip I’ve done on Brom is about 25 hilly miles and it was fine. OK, so I walked on some hills that could have been ok on a lower geared cumbersome, but so what? I was exercising a different muscle group, enjoying the view and was only a 1-2mph slower than riding up on a low-geared cumbersome.
    So, go for it, but get plenty of practice in beforehand and keep eating and drinking on the way and you’ll be fine. Allez! and bonne chance!

  14. Max 27/05/2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Oddly enough, on Monday my Brompton & I passed through Antwerp (on the train) on our way to Amsterdam. The trains were all messed up around Antwerp: how did you get on at the weekend? For me this was a multi-modal journey to an industry conference, but having a free evening on Wednesday I went for a long ride, starting in the middle of Amsterdam, along the Amstel; stopping for a meal in rural Loenen aan de Vecht; following the Vecht down to Weesp, and arriving back at the hotel just before midnight. About 76km in all – just short of 48 miles.
    That was my longest ever Brompton ride. The M3 gearing (-8%) was plenty, though I was getting rather tired & a bit saddle sore at the end. I found the famous Dutch cycle paths to be rather variable. The Brompton really is not at its best on the concrete paver/cobble type surfaces. The suspension is not up to Moulton standards. However, in most of Amsterdam except the very middle, the surface is smooth machine laid tarmac and plenty fast enough. Out in the more rural areas, most of the riding was on shared, narrow, but largely traffic free general roads.
    The weather was perfect (and the food was good) – a great ride!

  15. Stephen 30/05/2011 at 8:18 am #

    Re carrying – your comments on carrying simply on receipt of a Brompton are not valid till you’ve bonding with your machine. You need a couple of weeks of daily use to integrate the folding change into your life so you find your own groove with the bikestyle adjustment!

    However, just two rolling easy wheels are the answer to carrying across stations, or when you’re proficient, erecting and folding can be done in seconds – and if you’re rich, go super light with the titanium frame choice and other options including the superfast schwalbe brompton slicks.

    Crystal palace hill is the ultimate test for any bike in SE London and I manage it in gear 2. Anyone want to post any serious speed comparisons Brompton vs “big bike?”

    “when not riding tie the baby to your leg”

  16. Natalie 20/06/2011 at 12:33 pm #

    On the theme of London 2 Brighton on a Brompton. I did it yesterday! I have an M6R I had my back pannier on… I loved it. Didn’t have a problem with weight or gears or anything except the quantity of unaware cyclists! (oh and ok I admit – a slight bit of saddle sore towards the end!) Found the seating position excellent though. I have often in the past had neck ache on longer rides on other bikes. But not so on my Brompton.
    All in all an excellent 54 miles!
    I saw less than 10 other Bromptons the whole 7 hours. More people should do it!
    It really wasn’t a problem even up the Beacon. Just used the bottom gear and trudged on upwards. I had to stop/start several times due to people but peddled all of it rather than pushing as most other people seem to do.
    (I also tackled White Down Hill (Surrey) a few weeks before on the Brompton… only problem was the rain and my tired legs)
    The bike can definitely cope with the distance and terrible roads in south England!… just a matter of fitness! Sure it would be lovely to have more and better ranging gears but once you’ve done White Down and Ditchling the world’s your oyster!. Go for it!

    • Dave 25/06/2012 at 5:48 pm #

      Hi Natalie

      Your encouragement is most welcome! You didn’t say how well prepared you were though…. I use my M3 for my daily commute so I should be ok, I do have raised gearing so the hills might be tougher than you found them.

      I NEVER push it, if the hill is too long or steep, I stop for a bit then plough on. Oh well, five more sleeps until the time!

  17. MAS 20/06/2011 at 1:01 pm #

    Natalie: Well done!! Especially all the way up Ditchling!!

    Following everyone’s encouragement and advise, I did the London-Brighton yesterday on my Brompton M3L. I was very pleasantly surprised on how well the Brompton performed on this long ride. I could (slowly) go up the hills except the Ditchling on gear 1. I had stop and start several of times up the Ditchling when I ran out of steam and did wish I had more gears at several points. However, it’s probably more to do with my fitness than the Brompton.

    Very proud of the little Brompton – and i definitely got more sponsorship for doing the ride on the Brompton!

  18. Dave 25/06/2012 at 7:18 am #

    Well I will be taking my M3 down to Brighton this Sun (1st July 2012) I have already raised £201 in support but feel free to go to the virgin site and help children with Life challenges at Norwood House

    I hope that I have trained enough!

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