Cult status – some objects just get it handed to them on a plate, cars tend to get it quite a lot, mainly Fords – the Transit Van, Cortina, Escort and the Capri. Many musicians get it handed to them, Bowie, Prince and George Michael – all sadly passing away in 2016.
You could even say it’s been given to a bike – the Raleigh Chopper. This was the kids bike of choice back in 1970’s every kid needed one and if you didn’t have one, you were simply not cool.
There is a bike rolling around the streets which is attracting quite a lot of attention though, it’s not new with it’s first designs drawn up in 1975 and the bikes being made in 1977 the bike is 40 years old! Which on the face of it is probably the average age of it’s riders… I haven’t researched that fact, I have just made it up. Mainly because when I think of a Brompton rider, I think of a middle aged man in a high-vis cycling jacket, bicycle clips, beige trousers, ill fitting helmet, red faced and yellow teethed on his way to the city.
However, there was something about the Brompton that lured me in. Every time I saw someone on one I thought to myself, they’re not ugly looking and they seem to make a lot of sense to someone like me, small London flat, not much room for bikes, doesn’t want his bike stolen from the street outside work when it’s locked up… So why don’t I have one? Well, because it’s a Brompton, you’ve seen the kind of people who ride them right? It all feels very W1A.
When Brompton reached out to me though and asked me if I would like to try one out for a month I could see my bank balance bracing its self at the thought of shelling out over £800 just for the most basic version of the bike. But like the Transit Van mentioned above, there are many different forms your Brompton could take – it seems no two Brompton’s would ever be the same.
The Brompton which I picked up from Brompton Junction down in Covent Garden was £955, it had an updated 3 gear hub which was £100 extra on top of the base £800 cost and £55 Version L Mudguards (which are superb and well worth the money). I found myself getting quite excited on the way down. I was about to be flying around on a brand-new bike, something I’ve never ridden before, it was very novel. When I got there, the mechanic did a quick check of the bike and when he unfolded it, it all seemed very easy he was a master of the Brompton. Leaving it in its bike form I carried it upstairs a quick adjustment of the seat and I was off!
I have to say, my first time riding a Brompton very much reminded me of trying Root Beer for the first time. It was in America and someone had bought it for me “Try that, you’ll
love it.” they said. I took a swig and it was disgusting, like really bad, but I had to put a brave face on being British I couldn’t just say it was horrible. It’s curious though, Root Beer, the second swing was a lot different to the first. I was drawn back in for a third taste and each time I tried it I liked it more and more and found myself buying another declaring it was one of the best things I tasted.
Now, I wouldn’t say that a Brompton was one of the best bikes I’ve ever cycled but it certainly grows on you with each ride. There’s something about it when it all clicks and you find yourself darting about through central London, it’s fun. When you’ve got a slight incline though and you’re in between gears, it’s not so fun.
Let’s talk about those gears a little – as mentioned above, I had an uprated 3 gear hub for commuting around London. A very solid choice of hub, very reliable and relatively easy to use. When I picked it up from the shop I was given a demonstration as to how they work.
You have three gears on one shifter and on the other side you have (as it was described to me) an easy and a hard setting, effectively giving you six gears.
As ever with in hub gears, you can shift them while you’re not pedalling – great for a quick getaway, annoying when you’re climbing a hill. With the ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ gears though, it gives you an option. The annoying thing is if you’re already climbing in ‘easy’ and you need to spin a lighter gear, you have to stop pedalling to engage that gear, then you have to flick the outer hub gears to hard. It can be done smoothly but it certainly takes a bit of getting used to.
If you’re looking to buy the bike to commute on and are put off by the gearing system, you have to ask yourself – how often to you climb a hill on your commute? If you live and work in London the answer will be rarely ever and you’ll be fine.
Moving on to the bikes balance, it’s not all together amazing. Be it the small wheels or narrow handle bars, I’m not sure. You would have thought that with a low centre of gravity it would be more stable. I felt all at sea on it though for the first few rides, a bit wobbly and a little bit uncomfortable.
Right – OK, let’s talk about it then. The putting it up and folding it back down again. How long did it take me to do it? Well, how long did you think it took me? The bloke in the shop made it look so stupidly easy that I didn’t need to do it there and then did I? I just needed to ride it home and do it then. Basically, if you don’t know ask. I asked YouTube and saw a video of a women collapsing a Brompton in 6 seconds – it did not take me six seconds. I worked out the back wheel bit – there’s a little catch underneath the bike, took me five minutes to find that. Then I collapsed the handle bars and folded the side but I just couldn’t get the pedals right, they were blocking it from folding flush. I figured they must have to be in a certain position, which they do. But once all that was sorted it only takes a couple of times to get you folding it up pretty quick. You don’t feel half as stupid when it all goes together than you do when you’re stood in the street trying to look cool while folding a Brompton…
Which brings me to my next question. Do you look cool on a Brompton? Well, I never felt cool on the Brompton, I always felt like people were looking at me thinking why on earth are you on a Brompton? What the hell are you riding, I felt bike conscious! Once I got over that and realised people we’re looking at me at all and no one really cared that I was on a Brompton I realised, if you look cool on a bike, you probably look cool on a Brompton. I do not look cool on a Brompton.
Would I part with £800+ for a Brompton? I’m so torn it’s untrue, I thought using one for a month would help me with the answer and it’s undeniable – it’s great in my flat I can put a bike in there taking up minimal room. On the road, it’s a little trooper too, there’s a little shock absorber on the rear wheel, while it doesn’t exactly glide over bumps and divots, it’s fairly smooth. So why am I still torn? Well, I still have the image of that more than middle aged banker, in high vis and yellow teeth puffing his way about town on one. On the other side, if I had one with straight bars (S type) opposed to M type then I think it would look better and I’d feel more comfortable on it.
I suppose I should sum this whole ‘review’ up now.
If I had £955 to buy a bike then there are much nicer road bikes out there which I could spend the money on, it’s a lot of money. If I had £955 to buy a commuter bike though, there would be no hesitation. I would buy one in a heartbeat, they’re perfect for commuting in the city.
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