Buying a folding bicycle was one of the first things I did when I moved from Germany to London in 2009. I went for a Brompton which I use on a daily basis ever since. I’ve done 2000 miles on it in the first year and I absolutely love the bike. I think Bromptons are the ultimate machine for getting around in London (and any other town, in fact).
In this post I would like to discuss my personal views on the pros of cons of folding bicycle in general and the Brompton in particular.
Why a folder?
The most obvious reason for a folding bicycle in a city like London is that space comes at a premium. In Germany storing a bike securely at home usually is not an issue at all. You either put it in the cellar, in the backyard or just chain it to a lamppost. In London, however, there usually are no such options.
When we were looking for a flat we had more than 40 viewings. Only two or three properties offered decent bike parking options. Since bike theft is a huge issue here this basically means that you have to store the bike in your flat. And this is much more convenient with a folding bicycle.
The second big advantage of a folder is related to the first one. Bike theft is not an issue I have to worry about anymore. I just take the bike with me wherever I go. I almost never carry a lock when I’m riding the Brompton. In the office it sits below my desk, in the supermarket I put it into the shopping cart, in the theatre I leave it at the cloakroom.
My Brompton has been at the Bank of England, the London School of Economics, the British Library, Tate Modern, the Barbican, the headquarters of Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC, top-notch restaurants and hotels like Locanda Locatelli, the Halkin Hotel and the Waldorf Hilton as well as an uncounted number of pubs. In the first twelve month I’m living with Brompton I encounterd one single occasion where I was unable to take the bike with me – in the National Portrait Gallery. There, the cloakroom does not accept folding bicycles because they claim that they are too big (That’s rubbish, of course!). I only carry a light cable and a small padlock when I’m taking the bike on trains.
Brompton Ltd. advertisements claim that you’re not just getting a bike but a different form of personal transport. To be honest when I was ordering the bike I thought that this was just the usual marketing banter. Since I’m using it I’ve found out that they are just dead right. The bike virtually vanishes when you fold i. This is why you can take it with you almost everywhere you go. Combining cycling with train rides or car journeys becomes much easier. That’s why folders are so popular with commuters. Fortunately I don’t have such a long commute to work but when I have appointments in different cities I usually take the bike with me. My Brompton accompanied me on trains to Manchester and Bruxelles, for example. There, I did not have to take a cab but just cycled from the station to my meetings.
Why a Brompton?
There are a bunch of different folders on the market (the Folding Society magazine offers fantastic comparasions) and each single model has advantages and disadvantages. I think for general purpose use the Brompton offers by far the best compromise. It folds fantastically small and it rides almost like a “real” bike.
The folded Brompton is as big as a medium sized suitcase which means it’s smaller compared to most other folding bikes like the Birdy. The sheer size in itself is an advantage, of course. But a second decisive feature of the Brompton is that the folded bike resembles a very compact package which does not flip open when you don’t want it like other folders tend to to. Folding and unfolding the bike is quite easy as well. I nowadays fold the bike in 15 to 20 seconds.
The Brompton rides slightly differently than a real bike, mainly because of the small wheels. At the beginning I had to get used to the steering which feels twitchier. But this took only half an hour or so. On bad roads riding the bike is a little bit less comfortable thanks to the small wheels which offer less suspension than 28 inch wheels and have to be highly pressurized. Cobblestone roads are just a nuisance on the Brompton, and you have to watch out for potholes more thoroughly. I find longer rides (by which I mean everything above 30 miles on a given day) not really comfortable: The but and the handy start to ache. However, probably this is at least partly due to the fact that I became a wimp thanks to my recumbent which I use for longer rides. For the usual distances even in a large town like London this is not an issue at all.
Flaws of the Brompton?
Well, in my humble opinion there aren’t many. What turns most people off is the price. Bromptons nowadays start at around 700 pounds and you can easily spend twice as much. The Birdy is in the same price range but offers full suspension. Dahons and other folders are much cheaper. Some people don’t like how the Brompton rides and are missing a suspension. Well, of course a full suspension folder like the Birdy is more comfortable but even on London’s streets, which sometimes resemble a collection of potholes rather than a modern road, I personally don’t miss a suspension. In the end, it’s a very personal decision that hinges on your tastes and priorities.