I’ve been using the Brompton for nigh on two weeks now and thanks for all your helpful comments.
The first thing to note is that, after watching all of my fellow commuters and their Bromptons, what they do and where, I very quickly became adept at the folding/unfolding game. The fold itself has become like second nature once I got the hang of the routine. Everything has to me done methodically, which is good. Once you remember the way it goes it’s easy and takes less time the more I do it. I see some owners who do it in a matter of seconds but once I’d got the gist, so was I. You really can’t go wrong. The only thing that happened was that I caught the bell on one of the spokes (!) and in my haste, managed to stretch the spring so sorry Brompton, you’ll have to replace that when I give it back. I don’t know how I managed it, but I did.
The second thing that made it all much easier was that it seems the trick is to wheel it about like it’s non-folding cousin right up to the very last minute and only fold when one gets to the door of the train. At the destination, unfold as soon as the train doors open. The whole process became a lot easier once I’d figured this out and I didn’t have to lug it around folded. The station staff seem happy to let us wheel them through the barriers and up to the train, relying on our honesty and folding skills at the last minute. So, that was a good lesson and made the journey a lot easier.
Then it was the hill home and I have to say that in some respects the Brompton was a lot easier going than my non-folding bike. Because it’s so nippy and fun to ride, it somehow seemed to be much easier on the hill. I didn’t struggle with the gears at all. I hardly needed to use the first gear, except for one short section, and didn’t need to pedal out of the saddle at all. On my non-folding bike, I can’t bear to go in the lowest gear and do that leg-whirling thing, preferring instead to ride out of the saddle in a higher gear. But the Bronpton felt absolutely fine.
The 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub gears performed extremely well. My only gripe with the bike as a whole is that the gear-lever housing is made of flimsy plastic which feels as though it might snap at any minute. It didn’t affect the gear-changing though, which was seamless and much better than my clunky derailleur gears so a big thumbs up there. Maybe I’m just used to a dfferent style and so this housing seemed more delicate but it certainly didn’t affect the gears at all.
I carried my stuff messenger-style and didn’t feel unstable but a front-loading bag or a rear rack would be my preferred option. I’d probably go for the rear rack just because that’s what I’ve had lately, but I note some of the comments about the front-loader making the bike more stable. What I thought was unstable steering was just getting used to steering a smaller wheel, but it’s just lighter than non-folders because those wheels are smaller. Once I’d got used to the feeling, it was fine. I had a basket on my old hybrid for years and the extra weight on the front was most unsettling so I’m not sure I’d go for one but I hear what some of you say. If I had one of my own, I’d get it equipped both ways. And you must be right becaue I don’t think I’ve seen a commuter with a rear rack, all seming to prefer the front-loader.
Would I recommend it?
I absolutely would. I think it’s a cracking bike. It’s so much fun to ride and you really can take it anywhere. I rode it to a formal lunch with some solicitors and the staff kept it in the restaurant for me. It’s been to Antwerp and back, to work every day, sitting in my office, on the busiest of trains, and around my village lots. My only caveat is that I’m not sure I’d recommend a Brompton as a first ride in London. One of the women in my office came around and was asking me about it. I’m guessing she’s in her late 40’s and she wants to get into cycling to work but hasn’t cycled for years. Because it feels so light and nippy, I’m not sure I’d recommend it because she might scare herself silly and be more comfortable on a heavier, non-folding bike. I advised her to try the Boris bike for a while and see how she went on with her confidence before trying the Brompton as an every-day bike. But that doesn’t detract in any way from the Brompton’s performance or capability.
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That Mary Poppins Effect
The one strange thing I did notice about riding the Brompton around London was the reverse Mary Poppins effect! Everyone I’ve had a conversation with about the bike either loves them or hates them, whether they have one or not. The detractors seem to dislike them because of their perceived ability to go anywhere. People don’t like to be faced with others who can nip around. Isn’t it strange?
One theory I read was that car manufacturers, and probably bikes, sell that sense of freedom that you think you’re going to have….you know, top down, open mountain road, rock anthem for the petrol heads, smooth number for the romantics playing in the background. The feeling of freedom from the mundane. And when you get the machine home, to a point, you’re as much in the thrall of traffic as you ever were only now you’re even more frustrated because you have the means to go fast and escape but you can’t because of the hold-ups! And someone riding a Brompton represents your thwarted ambition, for drivers and non-folders. So even a woman riding a Brompton gets short shrift. Undercutting, overtaking so close that my handlebar was clipped, general revving and impatience from behind. I have yet to speak to any other women Brompton owners so maybe it was just me.
Does anyone else have this reverse Mary Poppins? I’d be interested to know.