A matter of timeWhich leads to the title of this post, Entering the Fold. I've always admired Bromptons and have considered getting one several times in the past. The compactness of the fold and the sheer ingenuity of the design and how well integrated and refined it is has always impressed me. When I was looking for a flat to purchase about a year ago, I fretted over being able to store all my bikes, in particular if a flat had no bike storage facility I would have no other choice but to get a Brompton. Finally what made me pull the trigger was this...
For the past five years, every day when I arrived at the work on my bike, I had to enter the underground carpark and lock it up there, then walk for about 5 minutes to the other side of the building to get to my office upstairs. There was no other secure place to lock it up otherise, this meant every day I would waste 10 minutes walking to and from my bike, this may not sound like much but it added up to 50 minutes every week, nearly a whole hour! Also if I decided to go out at lunch or after work nearby I would have to decide whether it was worth walking to my bike, unlocking and re-locking it and walking back.
Pulling the trigger
Over the holiday break I decided it was time, I was sick of wasting time and I felt I should take advantage of the cyclescheme in the UK. This basically is a government scheme where they let you spend up to £1,000 on the retail cost of a bike then pay it back over 12 months as a salary sacrifice tax free. So basically of that £1,000 you pay back only the cost before tax which is about 2/3rds. I figured my time was worth more than that over the course of several years so I went ahead with it. I had always wanted a Brompton, the appeal of a portable bike that you could take into pubs, cinemas, the tube and buses was too tempting.
So I got this guy, it's a 2017 Brompton S6R with dynamo lights which is quite an odd combination. Normally you can customise a Brompton on their website and choose colours, fittings and accessories, however this is a black edition one which meant that you could only buy it as a preconfigured bike. The Black edition is a purely cosmetic thing, the stem, handlebars, cranks, hubs etc are black and that's it. I had to search high and low to find this as these are limited edition and the black editions tend to disappear quite quickly off the shelves.
Let's take a minute to decode the Brompton model designations. When I describe the bike as an S6R this means three things. The first letter describes the handlebar as S which is a Sport model with a flat bar which is the most aerodynamic and least flexy handlebar. The 6 denotes the number of gears, it is a slightly oddball 2x3 system with a two-speed derailleur setup mated to a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. The R denotes that it has a full rack on the rear. This model also came with a Shimano dynamo setup with Busch and Muller lights, however I have already swapped the Philips Saferide headlight and tailight I had on The Postmaster onto it. Originally the bike came with a telescopic seatpost which has a smaller seatpost inside the main seatpost, this is meant for particularly tall people (taller than 6'0" or 183cm). However I've since swapped this for the standard seatpost to save weight but also because the telescopic seatpost has two sets of seatpost clamps which I found rubbed on my inner thigh which was a bit annoying.
Prior to this I had ridden a Brompton before only briefly, it was my old landlord's one and it had the M-type handlebars which is a more upright one shaped a bit like an upside down moustache. I distinctly remember it being pretty flexy and slightly odd to ride. However I managed to test ride quite a few different setups and quickly preferred the S-type handlebars which have significantly less flex and a lower more racy position that I am used to from my road background.
|The rear triangle folds underneath the bike and also acts as a suspension pivot which has a shock absorber which attaches to the seatpost clamp|
As this bike was an off the shelf configuration I managed to get it quite quickly after ordering it, right out of the box the bike worked beautifully, the dynamo lights worked great and I was able to ride it home. It took a few tries to fold and unfold it without stopping to think and quickly became second nature, although admittedly even now I'm pretty slow at folding it. The riding position was pretty aerodynamic with the bars and saddle almost level, this combined with the 6 speeds makes it quite a zippy bike compared to what I was commuting on before. I noticed that now I arrived to work having a little sweat on my brow...
|The bike folds the frame as well as the base of the stem using two clamps|
Admittedly the best thing about the bike is the accessibility, not having to worry about locking it and using less space to store it. I was able to straight away fold it up and enter a pub or restaurant, which felt very liberating. The Brompton is generally unmatched when it comes to folding efficiency, for several reasons. Many many years ago when it was being conceived, one of the original premises of it was to fold it so that that the greasy drivetrain ends up sandwiched in the middle, in addition the nose of the saddle becomes a convenient handle for it, and when tilted sideways slightly when dropped also happens to be the centre of gravity of the folded package.
I managed to not only to save time by avoiding the long walk from the carpark, but also by riding to work in a shorter period of time. On average I would estimate it's a few minutes faster over about 10km mostly due to the additional gearing and more aerodynamic riding position, I could average a higher speed.
One other thing I always liked about Bromptons is the luggage situation. As any long time readers of this blog may know, I'm a big fan of carrying things on bikes, and this is no exception. Bromptons have a luggage block attachment point on the headtube which is separate from the steering. This means you don't get the odd effect of having a bag swinging around with your handlebars.
|The luggage block fixes onto the frame with two bolts|
The Stockport bag requires a separate aluminium frame made by Brompton to interface with the luggage block, this also conveniently includes a handle. The exterior is the classic waxed cotton duck fabric with a tartan interior lining and black leather straps, nice and classic looks which wouldn't look out of place at a work meeting. Combining this with the rack means you can carry a fair bit of stuff on it for such a small bike.
Funnily enough with a bit of weight over the front wheel the bike feels less skittish, initially when I test rode Bromptons I felt they were a little twitchy. The luggage setup on Bromptons is great though! When you attach the bag it clicks into place and is released by depressing a lever on its underside. The shoulder strap tucks into the subframe handle and away you go. It's just so easy to remove and then fold up the bike, then you're ready to go enter a pub or restaurant.
A shopping trolley with pedals
I'd seen this done before but now have experienced using it this way myself. As you can see in the picture above in the semi-folded position with bag attached it becomes a shopping trolley. The wheels on the rack (known as Eazy wheels) allow it to be rolled along with the handlebars. For the commuter this is godsend. This is what attracted me to the Brompton in the first place, the well thought through design and refinement which you don't find in many other folding bikes.
After you've done your shopping the bike unfolds and you're off. One change that has been made to the later Bromptons is an adjustable insert in the seat tube which stops the seatpost at a predetermined height which you can set, this saves time and hassle as you always can be sure it's at the correct height for you.
The drivetrain on the Brompton is somewhat unique, the 6-speed version employs a special wide range version the the classic 3-Speed Sturmey Archer hub combined with a two speed derailleur. This creates 6 evenly spaced gears which gives a 245% overall range which is more than enough for most commuters. However the downside to this is that this means you have a two gear shifters, and if you want to go through the gears sequentially it means every second gear is a double shift. However this is made slightly easier due to the redesign of the gear shifters in the 2017 Bromptons, these are a bit more like the standard Shimano Rapid-fire MTB shifters which are slung under the bars. Prior to that Brompton's shifters had thumb levers which stuck up above the bars in a slightly awkward way a bit like two pairs of rabbit ears.
Where there could be some improvement in the drivetrain is the derailleur shifting, the Sturmey Archer hub has a driver with two sprockets on it. This is shifted by a sort-of derailleur which is a C shaped channel which rotates on the chainstay guiding the chain towards one of the two sprockets. The chain tensioner doesn't move sideways like a conventional derailleur, rather the two jockey wheels slide on their spindles either way. It works reasonably well going from the bigger to smaller sprocket, however it sometimes doesn't shift particularly well from smaller to bigger sprocket. This is particularly true when shifting under load or when it's quite dirty. Normally on a derailleur system shifting up to a larger sprocket under load happens quickly and smoothly if it is a modern ramped sprocket. However on the Brompton, despite being ramped it tends to struggle a bit and needs backing off on the pedals to allow it to catch the larger sprocket. This may be due to the 3 tooth jump from the 13t to the 16t sprocket and/or the derailleur design or maybe even the Sram chain which doesn't have chamfered outer plates.
However the Sturmey Archer hub shifts quickly and precisely like I'm used to, it just needs a very quick backing off of the pedals while it shifts in a split second which I'm used to. Overall I think the six speed option is pretty neat, although I may want to improve the derailleur shifting at some point and may look into getting the ratios a little bit closer as I find the jumps a bit big when really putting down the power.
One of the really great things about Bromptons is the little things, in particular is the accessory tool kit. While not cheap at just under £50, almost every nut and bolt on the bike can be turned with this. Also it includes a patch kit and tyre levers, and best of all it fits snugly into the frame...
The rideOverall I'm really happy with the bike and it's already saved me a lot of time and been extremely convenient. It's significantly faster than my older commuting bikes. The steering is a little twitchy at first but I quickly got used to it, in fact I almost prefer the nimbleness in the city. When it's up to speed it feels quite stable too, every morning I go down a hill and hit 40+ km/h, at the bottom the stock brakes pull it to a stop quickly, they are actually quite good. When it is a bit wet their power is somewhat reduced, however compared to other rim brakes I've used the stock Fibrax pads perform quite well in the wet.
The downside of small wheels though, as I already knew from owning a Raleigh Twenty for a while is that they don't tend to roll over things as easily as larger wheels, hence you really feel bumps and road irregularities a lot more. The rear suspension goes some way to taking the edge off that, however I have the firm block installed and at 68kg weight I probably don't weight enough to warrant it. Many users fit the firm block to avoid excessive bobbing when pedalling. The stock Brompton Kevlar tyres that I have fitted advise you to inflate to 100psi (6 bar) which is excessive for a 35mm wide tyre, I found for my weight about 70-80psi (5 bar) is about right. In summary though, when riding a Brompton you sometimes forget you're on a folding bike, it rides surprisingly well for a bike that folds up so small, just avoid the potholes!
That's all for now, I'll probably write another post on it pretty soon. Thanks for reading.