With great fanfare, Brompton announced the most significant updates to their folding bike in years and indeed, there’s some great changes. Santa supplied one for me* on Christmas Eve and as it’s been my main ride ever since I thought I’d let you in on my experiences.
How different are the 2017 models and is it worth the swap?
The Brompton’s iconic high-rise U-shaped bars have had a facelift, and with it, the controls have changed also – a bit chicken and egg. The S-bar (the lowest of the three bar variations) remains unchanged, as does the actual geometry; the height and reach of the M and H bars. However the shape of the bars is a lot softer – with slightly wider grip area (but again, not wider bars). People new to Brompton probably won’t notice a great difference, but if you put them side by side, or if you’re a Brompton fan, the difference is marked. How does this change the ride? Well, in order to ensure the grips are the same height, the steel stem is now longer, and with slightly more forward lean. This results in two changes – the handlebars are stiffer, and there’s slightly more cockpit room – mainly noticeable if you’re out of the saddle putting in some effort up a hill and you have more knee clearance. This last point was a revelation which I wasn’t expecting, and has really changed my riding. I always had ‘enough’ clearance, but now I have more than enough. (Check out the pic at the top of this post).
With the wider grips (which now have a ‘lock-on’ style grip which makes it much easier to remove and replace, should the need arise), there’s also been a redesign of the 2017 shifters. Instead of the older levers above the bar, there’s a new lever integrated onto the brake lever. These are a ‘return to centre’ design and feel much more solid to operate, with no rattles etc. Being return to centre, you can’t just determine your gear by feel, so there’s a window to display your gear (1, 2 and 3 for the right/hub lever, and +,- for the left derailleur lever). Initially, the levers felt great to touch, but the transition took a few weeks. I hadn’t realised just how ‘automatic’ my shifting had become and I found myself frequently reaching above the bar with my finger, instead of below the bar with my thumb. Also, the subconscious is an amazing thing, and it’s interesting to see how your brain works. The fact that with the older levers you could determine your gear by touch seemed to mean that that’s how I subconsciously determined what gear I was in. Again, it was only a few days before my brain did a slight reprogram so I found myself only rarely relying on the windows – instead now I just know what gear I’m in. I also seem to be enjoying the slightly larger grip real estate.
Another small, but significant change is the bell. It’s moved from the left to the right, and again is integrated into the brake lever mount. It’s also now made from brass, and has a metal striker. It gives a nice bright tinnnng noise, with sustain that belies its small size. Given the cycling-along-a-shared-path test, I think pedestrians do interpret it as “please be aware I’m behind you” and not “getouttamyway!” which is always a bonus.
There’s a few other small changes or options available across the 2017 lineup, but it’s the above that are the biggest changes. So, is it worth it? If you’d like the extra cockpit space, I’d suggest definitely. If, ergomonically, you’ve always struggled with the ‘above bar’ shifters, that’s a good reason also. The feel of the shifting gears is also much more reassuring. The ease of changing grips is also great, as is their wider area – providing much greater options for fitting after market grips (no more cutting of Ergon grips required!). The reduction in flex is noticeable, however not magnitudinal. And hey, I also prefer the look.
There is, however, no way of fitting these upgrades onto the previous shape bars. So if you want them, it’s a new bike (or, at least, new stem and bars, as well as the shifter/levers/grips etc, once they become available as individual components). Given that (including labour) this is likely to add up to over $500, if you’d considered replacing your Brompton, I’d suggest now is the time. (That’s what I did!)