Brompton for beginners?

It has been nearly a year and a half since I acquired my Brompton M3L. Occasionally I find myself wondering how much easier certain times in my life would have been if instead I had bought the bike years ago. I’d certainly have been able to avoid a lot of the expensive trial and error involved in my early bicycle-purchasing experiences. Because of this, I thought it might be a good idea to lay out the reasons why new cyclists might want to consider buying a Brompton.

The Obvious

As much as everyone always bangs on about it, the fold is exceptional. However, rather than focusing on the mechanism, consider the benefits it offers. A bicycle which is easily folded into a compact unit allows people such as flat-dwellers, who might otherwise struggle with storage of a bicycle, to work-around the limitations presented by their living situation. Additionally the fold allows the bicycle to be taken to places which they are not usually welcome; whilst I lived in Manchester my Brompton went with me into Umami, Sandbar, The Ducie Arms, the University of Manchester and The Cornerhouse to name just a few establishments.

You can give up

When you have just started cycling, or just returned to it after a long break, the new demands placed on your body by cycling take their toll until your body adapts. Thankfully this doesn’t take very long at all, but during this time, the Brompton at least gives you the opportunity to fold up and hop on the bus if you get tired or encounter a problem.

You can give up

Two out of every three people who take up cycling in the UK give it up. This is due to the atrocious conditions new cyclists face on the roads. If you decide that cycling on the roads as they currently are isn’t for you, the fact that Brompton bicycles tend to be easy to sell and retain their value well means that you’ll be able to recoup most of your investment quite easily. Even accessories such as Brompton bags fetch a decent price on eBay.

You will buy one eventually anyway

If you are the one in three new cyclists who does stick with cycling, you’ll probably end up buying a Brompton eventually anyway. Each meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain I go to I see more people who have acquired a Brompton. At the May AGM it was Sally Hinchcliffe and A Grim North. Eventually I’m sure Joe Dunckley will give in. Even Lovely Bicycle has fallen for the Brompton, despite some slightly lukewarm initial impressions in pre-ownership posts.


Whilst Brompton-branded accessories don’t really come cheap, they are generally very good. My own experience with both the C-bag and T-bag has been almost universally positive, as has also been the case with the dynamo wheel (other than the part where I was paying for them). A small amount of this outlay on accessories can be clawed back by taking the bike inside with you, which allows you to avoid buying a lock, which would be expensive if you subscribe to idea that it is good practice to spend ~10% of the value of a bike on a lock.

Jack of all trades

Whilst the Brompton isn’t the perfect bicycle for all situations, it is good enough for almost all of them. Despite this, I was surprised at how fast the Brompton can be ridden and how well it copes with this. The generous luggage capacity afforded by the T-bag and a saddlebag allows the Brompton to be a good enough load-carrying bicycle for the needs of most people. If I could only own a single bicycle, it would have to be a Brompton.

So new and would-be cyclists, consider the Brompton. Whilst it may appear expensive at first, at least you can flog it easily if it doesn’t work out, and if you do take to cycling you’ll probably end up buying one down the line anyway (and I can’t imagine they’ll be any cheaper in 2019).


27 thoughts on “Brompton for beginners?

  1. Very good article. And, although I’m only an infrequent visitor to Manchester, I too have taken my Brommie into the Cornerhouse.

  2. The Brompton is now very expensive. Mine is around 18 years old, and I have always resented the fact that I have to use it because the railways no longer carry cycles routinely. To me it is always a relief to get back on a conventional bicycle.

    It has been noticable over the years how Brompton have forged close relationships with rail operators, taking a considerable amount of advertising space on trains, rail operators leaflets and the like….

  3. I think that the brompton is an amazing bit of kit. A bike for the masses except for the price (perhaps everyone should be given one at birth). i can see the small wheeled bike becoming a useful and friendly tool for those local journeys or nip out shopping trips. easy to store, cheap to maintain. Bobbins have remade what looks similar to the old RSW20 and even those 30 yr old moultons, vindec’s, kingpins RSW’s are finding a new lease of life with new owners. The small wheeled bike has a lot to say for itself, whilst the brompton might be the daddy, but if we could fill our streets with small wheeled bikes of all kinds, (100’s of thousands of rsw’s alone were built in the 70’s) it would be a great thing for the the outlook of ‘cycling’ generally.

    • I’m a big fan of the Raleigh Twenty and it is nice to see Bobbin bring it back. My old Twenty really paved the way for the Brompton and it always brings a smile when I see one still in service.

  4. Great article. I do love my Brompton but I wonder if I would find it so wonderful if rail companies didn’t impose peak time bans? As a result of this, it’s been my weapon of choice wherever I’ve been campaigning across Britain just for the reduction in hassle. I wanted to take my Dutch Bike to the Netherlands (taking it back to it’s spiritual home if you will) but due to engineering works between me and Harwich ferry terminal, I had to take the Brompton, although to be fair it handled it’s duties very well. It must be noted that the Netherlands also have peak time rail bans so I saw quite a few Bromptons over there too.
    Basically, I would compare Brompton to Apple; designing wonderful bits of kit that you never knew you needed and charging you for the priviledge 🙂

    • I know what you mean, I would have loved to take the DL-1 with me to Bristol for the AGM, but with the hassle of multiple trains and bookings it just wasn’t worth it. Having said that, my current train journey to work would be easy enough with a full-sized bike, but I still stick with the Brompton.

      One of the early advantages of the Brompton for me was my regular travel on Virgin trains, who make cycle carriage a massive pain in the arse, especially if you are travelling with a full sized bike regularly. Whilst I feel that train companies are excessively hostile to cycle carriage (considering how low cycle use is at the moment) if we ever manage to achieve Netherlands-levels of cycling, full-sized cycle carriage on trains for every passenger who wants it would never be feasible.

      • With all the talk about how restrictive/expensive it is to bring a full sized bike on a train in the UK, what is the cost? From the sound of all this, it sounds like this is one area that is even worse than it is in the US.

        • Not really, but it does vary from company to company. For example, my local company (FirstGreatWestern) doesn’t charge, but only allows 6 full-size cycles on their Intercity “fast” trains (no restriction on “local” services), and given the popularity of cycling on the routes (London to Oxford/Bristol for example) this can fill at a single station, so a reservation is always a good idea.

          See and links therein for more detail.

        • It is more restrictive than expensive, with only a few train companies charging and even then only a small fee. The main problem is reservations, Virgin for example require full-sized bicycles to be booked onto the train. Reservations can only be made via a cumbersome telephone service or once you reach the station, discouraging casual, impromptu use of the service. Additionally, their Pendolino trains have capacity for several hundred passengers but only enough space for 4 bikes. Even if you successfully navigate the system and get your bike reservation, the service is pretty shambolic when it comes to getting your bike into the normally locked-off part of the train where the bikes are stored and off again at the right stop. It seems that the whole thing is designed to meet the rquirements of cycle carriage whilst minimising actual uptake.

        • (For some reason wordpress is not allowing me to reply to the bottom of this nested thread, so apologies if this appears out of order.)

          Mr. C, that definitely sounds like a pain in the ass.

          In the States, when we have the capability of bringing a bicycle on our national rail network (Amtrak), it is in one of two ways: wheel-on or checked baggage. I’m lucky to live in Portland, Ore. (for many reasons) in the Pacific Northwest, where the Amtrak local service (Cascades) allows for roll-on. It’s a $5 surcharge and you do need to make a reservation to guarantee space. But you can do all of that online, while buying your regular ticket.

          Most of Amtrak’s service area in the US requires bikes as checked baggage, which means boxing the bike. This isn’t cheap, per se: while the fee for the bike is $5, if you need to buy the box from them it costs $15. But as long as the departure and destination station have checked baggage service, you can do it. And as far as I know there is no limit to how many bikes can be put on the train.

  5. Mrs. S has a brompton, and I bought it as her first “proper” for all the reasons you state, especially the resale value if it didn’t work out. My only word of caution would be if you’re too big for it, don’t do it. Even with the extending seatpost it just doesn’t fit me. I keep trying, because I love it, but it isn’t comfortable. I’m 6’3″, and it makes me very sad.

    • I’m not particularly tall, but I have quite long legs, so I have a lot of the same issues with bike fit as taller people. I found that the extended seatpost, and having the saddle much further forward than I would have originally expected to work seems to have made the difference for me. I imagine that if my top half matched my legs, I’d want a H-type, which is a conversion which can be done relatively easily and perhaps cheaper than you might expect, as the removed stem and other parts will still have resale value.

      • Being 6’3″ myself, I can say that the seat post height wasn’t so much of an issue. The seat post adapter is useful for easy seat removal as well as positioning. I got the S-bars, however, and have yet to find a setup that’s kind to my wrists and hands. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the thing was begging for a set of drop bars.

  6. Although I can see that the convenience of a Brompton is very valuable, I’m not sure I agree with the resale-price argument for beginners. I just looked at the costs of Bromptons on ebay. They hold their relative cost well, but the absolute difference in price is still so big that you could buy a new low-end bike, or several second hand ones.

  7. ‘You will buy one eventually anyway’

    No I won’t.

    ‘Each meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain I go to I see more people who have acquired a Brompton.’

    Perhaps that says more about meetings of the CEoGB than it does about UK cycling.

    I think Bromptons are lovely machines, very suited to their primary purpose of taking a bike on a train in the London area, a habit largely restricted to affluent, young, middle class home counties types. The trendiness which attaches to the bike because of this makes them desirable to a small section of relatively affluent, newish young cyclists in other places.

    If I commuted by train with a shortish ride at either end I’d probably buy a Brompton.

    But there’s no getting away from the fact that they are slow, flexible and small wheeled bikes, best suited to short distance riding.

    For any everyday bike they are usuable, perhaps best suited to a very short commute or a lazy shopping trip, both of shich functions can be better done by much cheaper, less trendy bikes.

      • I’ve ridden a borrowed Brompton a few times, for distances of around 20-30 miles in the Surrey and Hampshire countryside. I’ve never needed its folding capability.

        Unless the folding capabilty is needed on a regular basis I think a conventional bike costing the same or even quite a bit less than a Brompton would be a much better bet for everyday riding – for comfort, stability, cheapness and availability of spares, and speed.

        A bike like the Dawes Horizon would be a much more suitable machine for most people, but it’s a tourer and they are very untrendy with most new cyclists, if they have ever heard of them. However, these days there are lots of fashionable hybrid type bikes available too which offer a good ride at a reasonable price.

        As a cycling enthusiast I’d love an excuse to buy a Brompton to add to my 8 strong stable of quality road bikes, tourers and MTBs. But I know it would hardly get ridden as I own better bikes for any given ride.

        So, I’d recomend a Brompton if you really need a good quality machine that you can fold up. But if you don’t a Brompton is not a good value bike to buy, offering mediocre performance at a high price.

  8. I am a convert, I have been cycling for over 20 years around London and, well everywhere from mont ventoux to birmingham. What converted me was doing dunwich dynamo on one, the first time I had ever ridden one. 120 miles later I was hooked. That and two bikes stolen recently means I had to have one. 6 months later the Audax and the racer and the Mtb and the very tired hybrid just sit there getting dusty. My brompton is good enough to do the Sunday run and the commute and has in 6 months come with me to moscow, almaty and girona. Last week was the first day I did not use it and I felt I had lost a limb

    • Since writing this post I have taken the Brompton overseas a few times. Being able to cycle makes travelling to a a country where you don’t speak much of the language so much less intimidating, as you can at least be fairly self-reliant when it comes to transport.

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