Brompton Update

So it’s been a few months since I woke up one morning to find a Brompton in my garage.  In the interim since then, I’ve put a few miles on the Brompton.  Some of those miles have been alongside the companion Brompton of my wife, Ms. RG.

Some of those miles have been pulling my daughter on her bike, with a Trailgator.

And some of those miles have been just bombing around.

The Brompton rides happily in the back of my car, ready for action.  The small size and portability are great assets, and enable me to sneak in a bike ride many times when otherwise I’d be driving or not exercising at all.  I’m still evaluating, but here are some early thoughts:

  • I upgraded to the 3 speed hub, so it’s a 6 speed Brompton now.  If I was doing it all over, I’d have started with the 6 speed.  For around town and commuting use, the added weight and complexity is outweighed by the gearing.  Sure, fewer speeds are simpler and lighter–absolutely.  That lightness and simplicity is pretty irrelevant for me…I don’t go long distances carrying the bike.  When riding, however, the ability to shift (usually to a lower gear) is a godsend.  Being able to shift down means that you can ride comfortably without having to work hard at it.  That’s important for a recreational/commuting bike that is not intended for exercise.  I don’t want to sweat if I’m going for a mid-workday ride to Chipotle.  Gearing means I can get there in comfort.
  • For what I ride it for, if I were doing it again, I’d probably do one of the sub-gearing options (smaller chainring, to reduce overall gearing).  I have NEVER been maxed out in the highest gear…but I spend a LOT of time in the slowest gear–riding with my daughter, etc.  The Brompton is so incredibly stable at low speeds that it’s a joy to ride…so even if my daughter is riding her bike solo (without the Trailgator), I still often take the Brompton, because it’s so comfy to ride at a 5 year old pace.  Because the center of gravity is sooooo low, it’s a great ride to accompany a junior biker.
  • The Trailgator works really well with the Brompton in some ways (super easy to adjust, etc.), but it does have a tendency to turn the saddle on the Brompton if you turn too tight.  It would be more ideal on a ‘regular’ bike.
  • When it’s hot out and I’m in dress clothes, I’m still driving instead of biking.  I can’t spend my work days in a suit looking as if I’ve been out biking when it’s 90 degrees out.  I’m hopeful that the cooler fall days will give me some more flexibility.
  • The integrated generator hub lights are a godsend.  To date, I use them more for “being seen” than for “seeing”, but they’re fantastic.  It’s great to be able to hop on the bike and ride, without worrying about switches, batteries, or visibility.
  • I continue to wear a helmet at all times when riding.  I feel really strangely naked without one.
  • The front bag I have for the Brompton works really well, and surprisingly doesn’t have an adverse impact on handling, even when really loaded down.  It does create some additional frontal area that is noticeable when trying to hustle on a windy day.  (Sorry.  I’m a nerd).
  • The stock Brompton saddle is amazingly perfect for riding in normal clothes (i.e. without a chamois), and has been very comfortable for all of my riding thus far.  Unlike a Brooks, it is also impervious to water or poor conditions.
  • The stock Brompton tires roll well, hold air well, and have reasonable traction on all surfaces.
  • The stock fenders are very resilient.  They do not like gravel.  For that matter, the small tires don’t like gravel either.  This is not a gravel bike.
  • Converting from 2 speed to 6 speed gave me a chance to consider and understand all of the inner-workings of the Brompton, including how all of the shifting mechanism works, how the wheels come off, etc.  I’d strongly suggest learning this all in a comfortable environment, before you have to learn it with a flat tire.
  • I haven’t had any flats, and the tires hold air for a very long time.  Schrader valves are easy to fill, and the included frame-mounted pump is easy to use.
  • The ‘raw lacquer’ finish is awesome.  I wouldn’t go any other way.  Except for Ti.  Ti is always an acceptable choice.  My wife’s orange is nice too.  But not as nice as raw lacquer.
  • My wife has the H profile (higher) bars.  My Brompton has the standard bars.  The H gives a noticeably more upright riding position (a little over 2″ higher, perhaps).  I’m comfortable on either.  I don’t really have a strong preference on this one.  The wife finds the H more comfortable because it puts less weight on her wrists.  That may be of interest to other non-cyclists.
  • One of our bikes has the extended seatpost, and the other has the dual-telescoping seatpost.  The regular seatpost is just fine for persons up to about 6′ tall.  For me, I use the dual-telescoping, and fully extend the main section, without adjusting the second section.  That is perfect leg extension for casual riding.  For “fast” riding, I could raise the second section about an inch and get aggressive…but I don’t.  My wife’s bike has the extended seatpost, which works fine…but doesn’t let you fully collapse the saddle down to the frame.  In retrospect, I probably would get the standard seatpost on both, unless I was contemplating loaning the bike to an incredibly tall friend.  At the other end of the spectrum, if I tip the bars back a bit, my 4th grader niece loves to ride the bike.
  • I have the “firm” suspension block, and my wife has the “soft”.  You can see hers moving noticeably over bumps.  Mine just barely takes the hard edge off.  As I’m more accustomed to bikes, the firm is just fine for me.  When I ride her bike hard, I can notice just a pinch of unwelcome frame bobbing.  But for her, the soft block helps take the edge off of tiny tires.  Since she doesn’t really go out hammering on her Brompton (who does?), it’s a worthy selection for her.  I’d stick with Firm for me.
  • The folding mechanism is brilliant.  It’s incredibly easy to use.  I wouldn’t say that it’s intuitive (I spent a good 10 minutes cursing it the first time I tried to unfold it), but once you learn, it’s easy.  Oh, and remember to make raising/lowering the seatpost the first thing you do when unfolding, and the last thing you do when folding.

All in all, the bike has the feel of craftsmanship to it.  It feels like a piece of quality.  The welds are beautiful.  The handling is impeccable, and belies the small size of the wheels.  The accoutrements are beautiful to behold and joyous to touch.

What would I say if you’re ordering one?  GO AHEAD!  But seriously:

Get the 6 speed.  Consider going to a lower-geared 6 speed, particularly if you will be riding with kids/riding with loads/riding on hills/riding slowly.

Get the H bars if you’re tall, if you like sitting upright, or if you have wrist issues.  Otherwise, get the standard.

Get the hub generator/light package.  It’s unobtrusive, and there when you need it.

Get the Ti.  (If you want.  I didn’t, and I don’t miss it, but it’s Ti.  I’d feel wrong not telling you to get Ti).

Get the firm block if you’re over 200#, if you ride exclusively on smooth roads or if you’re an active cyclist.  If you don’t meet those criteria, consider the soft block.

Get the stock Brompton tires, unless you’re going to be racing.  And if you’re going to be racing, get a different bike.

Get the front luggage block.  It’s cheap, and at some point, you will want a front bag.

Get the fenders and easy wheels.  They take away an excuse to not ride, and make ‘folded bike handling’ easy.

Don’t pick an ugly color.

Try the stock saddle first.

Try not to smile too much.  People will think you’re smug.

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