The hooks which attach the rack to the handlebar are adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of bike sizes and handlebar heights, with at least 20 cm of extra height left over for the set-up on the Africa Bike. The only thing missing now is a wicker hamper to sit on the rack
The Brompton completely filled and exceeded my Twenty’s niche, and with space at a premium, I could no-longer justify keeping it. Thankfully, my father was in need of a bike. His modern Raleigh P1000 hybrid was a little bit too big for him to really feel safe when riding it. The 18 gears were more than he needed. I decided that the Twenty would be better off with him, and that it would be a better fit for his needs.
If I had spent the past five years using a bicycle for transport, but without the same enthusiasm I have for bikes, I probably could say that cycling has saved me a lot of money on public transport. However, as an enthusiast, I have probably spent about as much money on bicycle-related things as I have saved on bus, train, tram and taxi fares. The key differences are that I have something to show for the money spent on bicycles and paraphernalia. Firstly, I am significantly more healthy than I was before I started cycling just over five years ago, despite rarely venturing out on a bicycle with the intention of doing so for the benefit of my health. As someone who was particularly unfit for much of my life, I truly appreciate this side-effect. Secondly, unlike money spent on public transport, I still have something to show for the money spent on bicycles and paraphernalia; the actual bicycles and paraphernalia which continue to be useful to me to this day.
I hope this account of my experiences of cycling as an adult can help novices to avoid making some of the same mistakes I did:
- If you are cycling to get from A-to-B, don’t buy a ‘full-suspension’ mountain bike, especially if it is in the same price-range as mine was. Spending more money on a quality bike will always be a better idea. Most of the bikes made by Pashley, Velorbis or Gazelle for instance will include many of the accessories needed to make cycling more pleasant & lower maintenance. Whilst it may seem like a lot of money, quality bikes hold their value quite well; if a year passes and you feel that the bike isn’t quite right for you, you can sell it and recoup much of what you spent. The same cannot be said for a low end bike, despite it being more likely you will feel this way.
- Mudguards are better than waterproof over-trousers.
- If you can only ever own one bike, get a Brompton. The folding solves the storage problems which can afflict flat-dwellers, concerns about leaving it locked up outside and concerns about your own fitness as a new cyclist; it is easy to be ambitious with longer distance journeys when you know you can give up and hop on a bus, tram, train or taxi with your bike if something goes wrong along the way.
- For purposes where reliability is an important factor, hub gears are a better choice than dérailleur gears, especially if coupled with puncture-resistant tyres.
- If you find you are using your bike as a main means of transport, make the investment in dynamo lighting as soon as you can. The sooner you make the change, the more money you will save on replacement battery lights and batteries in the long term. Most of the equipment can be ported from one bike to the next relatively easily if you decide to change your bike in the future.
- If you are carrying stuff on your bike, sweaty-back problems can be avoided by carrying the load on a front or rear rack, handlebar bag or saddlebag. It may surprise you how much this improves comfort if you have become accustomed to cycling with a backpack.
- Although requiring a discomfort period, a tensioned leather saddle, such as a Brooks or Velo Orange will be more comfortable than a plastic saddle.
Reading Sheldon Brown’s site had infected me with a curiosity about the Raleigh Twenty. After reading about it on his site, I realised that these things were everywhere. After looking on eBay I realised that I could have one of my own for around £20-30 and I promptly took that offer. The Twenty gave me the opportunity to completely strip and re-build a bike for the first time. I had done almost all of these jobs before, but never all at once and on the same bike. After a weekend or two of work, I had re-painted and completely refurbished the Twenty and found it to be a delightful little bike, with the added bonus of it being worth practically nothing allowing me to leave it locked up outside without worrying about it. The Twenty was primarily used as a loaner bike, so I could still use the bike to get around when I had guests. When I later came to acquire a Brompton, the Twenty no-longer had much to do, so I sent it off to retirement at my father’s house.
Whilst I was quite happy with the Kona Africa Bike, I was becoming aware that it’s hybrid geometry was somewhat limiting on longer rides, where after around 20 miles or so in a single day it would leave my legs really very tired. I was aware that the right geometry, roadster geometry, would allow me to use my leg muscles more efficiently on longer rides. At the time I wasn’t planning on changing bike again, until I saw the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe (DL-1) on eBay at a price too good to pass on. Whilst not a huge departure from the Kona, the slightly different geometry was much more comfortable on longer rides, whilst also making it easier to put power down when setting off from stationary. The DL-1 also represented my first experience with Brooks saddles; whilst not exactly comfortable at first, I would later come to put a Brooks on every bike I rode.
Last weekend I was able to spend some time getting to grips with a tandem, a completely new experience for me. This was made possible thanks to Ian of Lazy Bicycle Blog, who agreed to lend me his tandem for the weekend in exchange for a loan of my Brompton. When we were discussing the exchange, Ian said that there were some pictures of the tandem on some of his older blog posts. Whilst I did have a look for them, I didn’t look too hard, so I was slightly surprised when I got there and saw these:
A racing tandem, complete with Shimano Deore components, 24-speed dérailleur gears and drop handlebars. Not the sort of thing I usually ride. Ian rode me to the main road (presumably being amused by my relatively poor proficiency with drops) and I set off back to the city centre. It didn’t take too long before I became reasonably happy with the narrower bars, the positions of the brake levers and the bar-end shifters. As I headed down Hyde Road, I decided that I would take a detour on the Floop to avoid the traffic. Needless to say, I was initially unimpressed to encounter this:
However, my irritation was soothed slightly by the fact that the tandem weighs so little. It actually felt lighter than my DL-1 does when equipped with saddlebag and locks. I returned home and planned to try the bike out with a “Rear Admiral,” on the following day. That evening I swapped the saddles for some of the Brooks saddles on bikes I had to hand. This was partly because of personal preference, but largely so I could mount my Carradice saddlebag to cope with the lack of a rear rack.
The next day, Ms. C. and I took the tandem out for a ride together. Whilst we were initially wobbly during the process of starting and stopping, we quickly seemed to get the hang of it and managed a round trip to Chorlton, checking out the newly opened Pedal MCR on the return home. The ride experience was interesting, the bike felt quite fast with a Rear Admiral, presumably due to the increase in power without much change in aerodynamics. This experience is probably somewhat skewed though, as the racy geometry and components of the tandem encouraged me to ride faster regardless of whether I was on it alone or not. After all, the great thing about drops is that they make you go faster, but what sucks about drops is that they make you go faster. I found myself cycling faster and tiring myself out more than I usually would without any intention of doing so.
The real fun of the tandem though, came later that night when we took it over to see some friends. After a bit of persuasion, everyone wanted to give it a try. With me as captain, this seemed to go relatively smoothly. When I was not captain, the results were generally more amusing.
- Rod-brake handlebar, plastic grips and drum-actuating rods replaced with Raleigh North Road handlebar, BBB stitched leather grips, Shimano V-brake levers and Sturmey Archer drum brake cables.
- New larger sprocket to lower the gearing and new Shimano Nexus chain due to increased size of sprocket
- Front-wheel rebuilt with Sturmey Archer X-FDD drum/dynamo hub replacing the original X-FD drum brake hub.
- B&M Lumotec Retro front dynamo-powered headlamp.
- Imitation Raleigh Record-tread roadster tyre replaced with Schwalbe Delta Cruisers in cream.
- Rear B&M D-Toplight Plus dynamo tail-light.
- B&M Lumotec Retro headlamp moved to top of headset via a new bracket.
- Carradice Pendle saddlebag.
- New-type Sturmey Archer shifter to replace damaged classic lever.
- New axle and planets for Sturmey Archer X-RD3 rear hub.
It’s been over a month now since I bought my new-to-me Brompton, during which time it has been used extensively. I feel I have now had enough experience with it to do a proper review, you can read my initial impressions here.
The main event when looking at folding bikes for many is the fold itself. As is shown in my original post, the fold is neat and compact and the oily chain is tucked away in the centre of the package. Unlike most other folding bikes I’ve used, it doesn’t try to come unfolded whilst being carried, which is one of the best aspects of the design. Once you have got the hand of it, you can fold the bike in little more than a few seconds, with unfolding taking little longer. This is ideal because although the folded bike is compact and forms a sturdy package, you wouldn’t want to carry it folded up for any serious distance. There are lighter options available, but realistically even they won’t make carrying the folded bike for any length of time much more pleasant.
I have ridden the bike over reasonable distances on several occasions (several trips from Macclesfield to Manchester), and the compact and clever folding ability of the bike does not diminish the ride. The wheel-base makes the bike feel like a much larger bike when ridden, which gives a better experience than many of the other folding bikes I have tried. The ride quality is similar to the Raleigh Twenty, although the steering is a bit more twitchy at lower speeds. The M-type bars give a reasonably upright posture, although the fact that the seat-tube does not terminate at the bottom bracket means that the virtual seat-tube angle gets steeper with saddle height. This can be corrected to a certain extent by moving the saddle fore/aft.
The stock gearing is reasonably broad, although a wider range would be desirable, and is available in the form of the 3-speed hub & 2-speed derailleur-equipped 6-speed Brompton, or even just the BWR wide range 3-speed hub. The left folding pedal is great, but the non-folding right pedal is less impressive, requiring replacement a few week after I purchased the bike.
I never used the stock-saddle, but it looked like it was designed for the S-type Brompton rather than the more upright posture of the M and P type bikes. It also didn’t look particularly lady-friendly. The caliper brakes are good enough, although the back brake seems to offer more power than the front, which I believe is an oddity of the Brompton in general, not just mine. I am thankful that the model I got was new enough to have the dual-pivot Brompton brake, which is reported to be a lot better than the old single-pivot model.
After a few weeks, I decided to take the plunge and fork out for the Shimano dynamo wheel before the price increase. The dynamo hub is great, it produces a reasonable output in the lights at walking speed without noticeable drag. Sadly I had to sacrifice the front dynamo light on the Yuba due to budgetary constraints, but with a little hammer adjustment, the Lyt can be used with the Brompton without interfering with the luggage system.
Overall I would recommend the Brompton to anyone. If you only wish to own a single bike, this could be it. It is remarkably versatile, being able to carry a decent load in a wide variety of high quality proprietary luggage options, cover longer distances well, offering a comfortable riding position (although it is no roadster), reliable hub gearing and on top of all that if folds into a neat package, opening up new opportunities to cycle when travelling by bus, rail or air.
On Monday morning I rode to work from Macclesfield on the Brompton. The whole ride was accompanied by a chorus of squeaks which was very irritating. I eventually managed to trace the sources of the squeaks down and fix them, and I present them here for the benefit of other Brompton owners.
1) Not a Brompton issue per se, but the B67 I got for Xmas which is currently residing on my Brompton has passed through the initial “Hard” phase and is now in the “Creaky” phase. With the B66 on the DL-1 this was not really an issue, because there is little other noise from the bike I just ignored it and it went away.
The creaking is not caused by the springs as you might expect, but by the leather rubbing on the metal pads on the underside to which it is riveted. A bit of lubrication sorts this problem out, the approach I took was to melt some Proofide in a teaspoon with a match, pour it onto the interface between metal and leather and slightly stress the saddle so that it can easily get into the gap.
2) The Rear brake cable and gear cable were rubbing on the side of the tyre when under hard pedalling. This was fixed by using a few cable-ties to hold the cables in a favourable position within the cable-gathering loop on the right seat-stay.
3) It turned out that the main source of the racket was the suspension block, with the saddle acting as a sort of speaker for the noise it generated. The suspension block is held onto the rear triangle by a single bolt, which once removed allows the block to be detached and disassembled. I lubricated the entire length of the bolt with lithium grease and re-attached the suspension block to the bike. I also tightened the bolt much futher than it had been when previously, resulting in a firmer, more compressed block which moves less.
These three tweaks have effectively eliminated the noise from the Brompton, so I can now get on with the business of enjoying the ride instead.
Those of you following me on Twitter during my recent Southern odyssey may have noticed that in addition to riding the Boris Bikes, my tweets indicated I had been riding bikes in other locations which the hire bikes are unavailable in, such as Waltham Forest and Oxfordshire. Whilst I was in London, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the Western Extension Zone of the London Congestion Charge has recently been scrapped, and pick up one of the many second-hand Bromptons for sale in the area. There are so many Bromptons for sale around this area as more people choose to drive to work rather than cycle, proving at the same time why the congestion charge was necessary in that area in the first place. My plan was to sell it up North if I didn’t like it, where the second-hand Brompton market is less saturated so it could fetch a higher price.
Note the extended seat-post; a standard or telescopic seat-post will allow the folded package to be even more compact than this.
Unfortunately for my wallet, I do like it. A lot. I got the M3L model; M-type bars for an upright riding position, 3-speed gears (Sturmey Archer SRF-3 on mine, SRAM hubs are also used), no rear rack (seems a bit useless on such a small-wheeled bike), complete with mudguards and a (slightly worse-for-wear) Brooks B67 saddle. The standard seat-post is useable by someone my height (1.78 m), but not quite long enough. Luckily the extended seat-post was readily available from Evans for £16.
My first proper ride on the bike was from Waltham Forest to Paddington Railway Station. The cycle infrastructure was crap, but the bike was ideal for the conditions, quick to accelerate from the lights so I could get past the next deadly pinch-point and responsive to steer through the complex and ever changing door-zone I was repeatedly squeezed into. The bike was perfectly comfortable for the duration of the ride, and folded up small enough to be counted as luggage on my train to Oxford
Upon reaching Oxford, I unfolded the bike and began the trek to Wheatley (my grandparents’ new home). The A40 was the most direct route, but had large sections set at the national speed limit, which thanks to the dual carriageway means 70 mph (obviously many will drive at much higher speeds due to the lack of active speed cameras in Oxfordshire). Obviously an alternative route was needed, and the smaller road through the village of Horspath seemed a logical choice. Using Google maps to navigate, I had neglected to account for the possibility of the route not being flat. Thankfully, the gearing on the Brompton was low enough for me to climb up the hills, although I was deliberately slower going down the hills because I haven’t got a good feel for the brakes yet. I expected the bike would be great for short journeys and multimodal transport, now I have experience of riding the bike a considerable distance, I feel it is also a very capable longer-distance machine. I can completely understand why people have used them as touring bikes.
The Brompton is a testament to what British design and manufacturing can still achieve. The design is modular, with all the odd proprietary as well as standard replacement parts easily available online. The modular design is sympathetic to older Bromptons; yearly improvements to parts of the bike can all be retrofitted to older models. This is part of the reason why their value depreciates so little over time. Super-light titanium editions are available, with titanium rear triangles, forks and titanium or aluminium seat-posts. The modular design means that you could conceivably replace parts of your existing Brompton with titanium equivalents over time.
Re-assuringly sturdy folding left pedal brings the folded size down a bit.
The rear triangle clips onto the seat-post clamp, with a rubber cylinder providing a little bit of suspension.
The little nub on the stem (Left) clips into the socket on the fork crown (Right) when the bike is folded.
The luggage block on the head-tube accepts a variety of proprietary Brompton luggage which whilst expensive, is generally very well regarded.
Brompton’s shifter operates the Sturmey hub, presumably to prevent the standard shifter fouling the fold, and to produce a consistent look within the range which includes a 6-speed option (2-speed derailleur coupled to 3-speed hub) and the different varieties of 3 speed hubs used by Brompton (SRAM & Sturmey Archer).
I do not believe the Brooks B67 has ever been a standard option on a Brompton (I was given the original saddle too). This one looked as if it has been ridden on whilst wet a few times, and had become very saggy and uncomfortable. Luckily a bit of a tweak with the tension spanner and some Proofide and the saddle is almost as good as new.
The benefits of a bike which folds into a small & rigid package are obvious; ease of storage at home, ease of carrying the folded up bike, taking your bike onto even the most overcrowded train, taking it into a restaurant, theatre or nightclub or even onto the Metrolink (if suitably covered up, which obviously makes complete sense as a policy).
I expect that I will have saved enough money due to owning the Brompton for it to pay for itself within about 5 months. Think about it.