One of the thing I do apart from woodturning is cycle. A couple of years ago, after I retired from my day job, I bought myself two bikes – a full size bike and a Brompton. I agonized over the choice of folding bikes but I did my internet homework. There were mixed views. Some said the Brompton was very good, others pointed out problems with it.
I was put off for a time by the criticisms that I read. I’m no expert on bikes, but now that I have ridden it for quite a while, I thought I would write about my experience in the hope that others will find it useful.
My bike is a model M6L, that is the 6 gear version. I live in North London and mainly use it locally. I expected a long wait for delivery, but the shop had this one in stock and having seen it I liked the colour (white and black).
Here is what I think.
The fold is a miracle. I don’t see how the bike could be much more compact than it is. Nor do I know of any other bike that folds very much quicker (it goes up or down in seconds) or anywhere near as small. When folded, it can be carried quite easily. But it is still quite bulky. It goes in the boot of a Focus, but has to lie flat, and takes up more room than I expected. The wheels fold around the gears and chain, protecting them from damage, and also other things from getting dirty. To fold, the standard battery front light has to be unclipped, a minor annoyance in itself, and it can mean that sometimes you don’t have the light with you when you need it.
When I got my bike, some people were saying that the brakes were inadequate and a bit flimsy. I found them adequate. They stopped the bike well but the levers did feel a bit flimsy, and developed too much ‘give’. They started hitting the handlebar when squeezed, and could not be adjusted to prevent this. The levers on the latest models feel much more robust, and I have now upgraded the bike by fitting the new levers. They are giving no problems.
The standard battery light at the back is a fixture on the bike. It doesn’t have a flash setting and is not all that bright. To change the batteries you need a screwdriver and it is a little awkward to do.
The pedals are said not to be durable. There is one normal pedal and one folding pedal that tucks in when the bike is folded. It takes only a moment to fold the pedal, though you have to be a little careful as otherwise it can nip your finger. The bike developed a clicking sound recently and I suspected the folding pedal, but the noise has gone away now. (Update: the noise returned. I had the bike serviced and was advised that the clicking was due to the frame pivot. This was repaired and the noise has gone.) So for me the pedals are fine. You do need to take a little care on tight corners where the road surface is uneven as the pedal can hit the ground, which could be dangerous. Being low to the ground is one of the costs of the small fold.
The gears have been criticized for two reasons – their range and their difficulty of use. There are two controls, at least on the 6 speed models. One changes the hub gear and the other operates the derailleur. Each control works differently – when changing the derailleur, you keep pedaling, when changing the hub gear, you stop pedaling. The hub change has twice as much effect as the derailleur change. So to change through the gears, you have to remember which combination you want, work one control while pedaling, stop pedaling, then work the other, all in the proper sequence. Put like this, it sounds crazy, and in practice it takes a little getting used to. But except for not pedaling when changing the hub gear, it’s the same as any other derailleur gear system and soon becomes automatic. The 6 speeds are all useful, changing is simple once you are used to it, and the ability to change when stationary is really valuable. I can drop a gear at the traffic lights and I’m off.
The other issue is that they are supposedly too highly geared. Lower (and higher) ratios are available as an option. This comes down to two factors – how hilly it is, and how powerful your legs are. North London is not known for its mountains, but there are some quite steep hills. I am not particularly strong as a cyclist. I have the standard gearing option and find that I mostly use gears 3, 4 and 5. I use gears 2, and occasionally 1, on the local steep hills, and gear 6 downhill, and on the flat when there is no headwind. Some people advise getting the lower gearing option, but the fact that there is usually another gear available for me suggests that the standard gearing would be right for most people.
I overtake most of the daytime cyclists I encounter (not the fit commuters in a hurry), but some leave me behind. It is said to be a fast bike. Perhaps it is, for a folder, but I am definitely faster on my full size bike. It depends on the rider of course. The upright riding position results in a lot of wind resistance. A higher gear would let it go faster – I find that if I try to spin faster it makes the bike feel bouncy. It would be easier to pedal with the lower gear options, but it would be slower. The standard range is right for me. I could manage with the 3 speed version but the gaps between the hub gears are quite large and I would definitely buy the 6 speed again.
The steering is said to be ‘twitchy’. I think that just means it is very responsive. It corners well. After riding my full size bike I really notice the difference, but soon acclimatize.
The Brompton is heavy. Not more so than other bikes (check the figures), and not when riding it. But it is heavy to carry folded. I’m always glad to put it down. Bromptons have a clever feature though – on a reasonably good surface you can roll the folded bike along on a couple of little extra wheels. This is good for shopping. Some people complain that they catch their ankles on those little wheels when pedaling. All I can say about that is that I don’t. You can buy a model with lightweight titanium components but it’s a lot more expensive.
The Brompton is springy to ride at first. It feels a bit rubbery. But you soon get used to it.
I have puncture resistant tyres and keep them pumped up hard. I use the bike several times a week and so far have had two punctures, both in the same week, one in each wheel. I read that the back wheel is hard to remove and replace. I found both punctures were quite easy and straightforward to repair. To remove the back wheel you first disconnect the hub gear adjusting chain and take off the chain tensioner in one piece by removing the outer nut (the one with the cross hole) then take off the wheel in the usual way.
The small wheels are the price of the fold. On a good road surface they spin along happily. But pot holes can be a problem. They have not had me off the bike so far (update – they have now!), but once or twice the impact has shaken me up a bit.
The bike has a rubber suspension block at the rear, that comes in different degrees of hardness. I have the one recommended for my weight and find it quite OK.
I have had one or two problems with the bike. The jockey gear at the back wheel broke off or fell off one time. That was easily replaced. Another time the pump fell off and got caught in the spokes of the back wheel, causing some damage. Bikes are not as mechanically reliable as modern cars! But in spite of these incidents, I would say that the bike seems generally very well made.
I use my Brompton as much as I do my full size bike. I ride to the supermarket, fold, and take it inside, either on its rolling wheels or in a shopping trolley. It stays with me at the shop (and lives indoors at home), so I don’t need to carry a lock and the bike is not likely to get stolen. I load up the clip-on front bag (expensive, but really useful) and I’m away. I can take it on the train into town. I like to take it on holiday too.
So after riding my Brompton for a couple of years I am still delighted with it. I would definitely buy again.
As a woodturner, I make wooden bowls and other gift items. Please have a look at them. Perhaps you might like them enough to buy one!