Why did I choose a Brompton? For me, it took a bit of a journey. But not a long one.
Apart from a few years when I first got my [P]s, the bicycle has been one of my transport options for shorter trips. In the past 10 years or so, it’s also evolved to be my preferred way of getting most places. Speed. Ease of parking. Not getting caught in traffic. Taking alternative routes and shortcuts. I’ve (partially) chosen jobs based upon ease of riding there and, most recently, two overtly bike related jobs. I find it convenient, it’s the only exercise I ever get, but mainly, I’ve come to the conclusion I like to ride because its fun.
So yeah, I love bikes for transport, for those who can make it happen and/or it works for.
At one point, in my then growing collection of bikes, I happened across a Dahon Vitesse D7 at a good price. I thought it would make sense to have a folding bike in the stable and it certainly was very useful at times. Any one-way trips, multimodal, or to have a bike that would fit most visitors, as well as teaching a few adults (folding pedals and a saddle that can go low enough so their feet are flat on the ground can help initially) were its role. But, and this is important, would I actually ride it by choice? No, not really. It was ‘logistical‘ riding. When the convenience of a folder was there, I’d ride it. At other times, no – I had other, nicer riding bikes. It wasn’t a bad ride, it was just, meh.
Fast forward a few years and at one of those bike-related jobs I had there was a Brompton which was essentially a ‘pool vehicle‘. I had to return a cargo bike to its supplier, and then get home, so I thought, hey, here’s a chance to try one of those British thingoes that get all the hype. Being a folding bike owner I thought I’d be OK with unfolding it. Fail. Lucky I checked this YouTube video before being out in the wild with it. A quick test ride… OK, yeah, it’s a folding bike with typically agile steering.
So I ran my errand with the Brompton as my payload and then after dropping the cargobike off I unfolded my transport for the 16km ride home.
It was an M3L in Canary Yellow and pre 2013 as it had the older brake levers. The saddle didn’t quite go high enough, but that was OK for this trip. The first thing I noticed was the gearing was much steeper than my Dahon, and it made great use of it. Small 20″ Dahon wheels can accelerate quickly and these high pressure 16″ ones even faster.
In the midst of, well not quite getting lost, but certainly not quite taking the most direct route, I found myself taking quite a few corners on unfamiliar back streets and really settling in to how it rides. I then hit the Capital City Trail just near the north of Edinburgh Gardens in Fitzroy. I clicked it up into top (3rd) and I had a little ‘moment’.
You know in movies when they use the ‘pull zoom’ effect? Well, that happened on my ride on that Brompton. An epiphany. I got it. I instantly understood why this bike receives such high praise. It just felt…right. In fact… no, could I? I tentatively took the weight off my hands and… oh. I should not be able to ride a twitchy folding bike no hands (but not far, as I quickly put them back on as it started to turn a little faster than I’d hoped.)
The remaining 8 kms or so home had me with a massive smile, and with each pedal stroke, an increasing aversion to my Dahon.
A few weeks later I borrowed that M3L again, and it sealed it. I’ve always had bikes I’d lusted after (cars too, for that matter). But, I really, really wanted a Brompton.
Fast forward and after trying S, M and H handlebars I knew I wanted the M (front luggage versatility plus a more sedate ride for me than an S would be) and I eventually decided upon a 6 speed. My current commuter was a 3 speed and although that’s all I needed, I thought I should get the Brompton that could be used for the most purposes, including towing my dog to work. Colour? It had to be raw lacquer. Oh, but then the Black Edition was announced and the white version just popped for me. I didn’t call it until I saw it in the flesh and yes, an M6L Black Edition in White was mine. I love the Brompton saddle, but I love my two broken-in Brooks saddles more and so I’m now in the process of coming to terms with a Team Professional Special – it’s getting better every ride.
I can fold reasonably quickly now, and so the size and ease of the fold is still a major benefit for me. But, the thing that I am still surprised about, each and every ride, is just how accommodating it is. I’ve done seven (?) Melburn-Roobaixs now, and two on Bromptons (the first time, not mine). That can be quite a punishing ride. When riding home after my first year attempting it on a Brompton I had another ‘moment’. I’m not saying I felt ‘fresh’ afterwards when it was time to get back in the saddle and ride home – but I felt fresher than I have on any other bike I’ve ridden in it.
If, only a few years ago, had you asked me if a folding bike would be my first choice to ride on my commute, I’d have laughed it off. Nowadays, I’d recommend a Brompton.