29 July 2009

Please Explain the Brompton to Me

I get it... but then I don't really.

Please explain the Brompton to me.

I know the bicycle well and I'm of the opinion that it's a good bicycle, a lovely ride and wonderful design. I rode one on a 30 km ride in Japan and was amazed that I could effortlessly keep up with the gearheads. Transporting it around Japan on a train was easy, albeit clumsy.

In the self-ironic film above, I even rode it around a skatepark for a laugh.

What I don't get is the cult of the Brompton. It's a good bike, but it's not the best bicycle ever made. There's no such thing. And I understand brand cults - just look at the Mac crowd for starters - but what's it all about with the Brommie? I have a folding bike myself, a Mobiky, so I'm 'in the loop' regarding the trials and tribulations of folding bikes.

When I was at Velocity in Brussels back in May there were Bromptonites present and they were very visible. At the galla evening at the end of the week they all arrived in concerto. Charming in many ways, frightfully old school British, dragging their bikes into the coatcheck queue, drenched with Belgian rain.

I felt like I had wandered into a lepidopterology conference by mistake.

I don't wish to be flippant [in this post]. I'm sincerely curious. I can see that the Brompton is experiencing a revival. An old school quirk becoming new school hot. Wonderful stuff. Nice one. All good.

But let's hear from the Bromptonians, Bromptonites, Bromptidians.

What is it about the Brompton?


Joel said...

You are definitely the coolest Brompton rider I have ever seen. Big points for not wearing a reflective vest, all the rest is just icing on the cake. Another awesome video. Maybe this is a call for cyclechic Brompton shots.

henryinamsterdam said...

Hé Mikael,
I was hoping to see whether the Brompton's rear wheel would flop under you during some backflip or 540 or whatever air tricks the kids do these days. Fortunately not.

I'm also no fan of the cults that surround certain bikes or other objects (except WorkCycles of course, keep at it folks!) and bike cults tend to be particularly nerdy... those of Bromptons and recumbents maybe taking the top honors.

But amongst folding bikes the Brompton really is in a class apart for general handiness. Some other folders ride a little better, and a couple are lighter but nothing that rides nearly as well can fold so compactly and conveniently. For combining with public transport or cycling in a city where bikes really can't be left on the street the brompton rocks.

Mikael said...

absolutely, wonderful design.

i wanted to get more air, but i was wary of the 'folding in mid-air' factor. plus the fact that the bike was needed on the rest of the cycling tour of japan, so i couldn't trash it.

Erik Sandblom said...

It's the best production bike there is. Which part of that didn't you understand? :-D

Seriously though, a cult is a cult. To a certain degree it will be impenetrable.

Oh, and Steve Jobs invented the world wide web ;-)

Erik Sandblom said...

Oh yes and I prefer the term Bromptonaut.

JT said...

Funny, fresh video!

I don't like cults, in fact I tend to avoid them, but I have a Bromton and compared to other foldig bikes, it's wonderful. But I promise I'll never be going to a Brompton race!

A stupid but maybe real factor for creating a cult is the price: if you pay so much for a bike, you have to really believe it's the best thing around, or you'll feel fooled xD

Maybe it's something like "different (say exclusive) + well designed + high price + user friendly = cult"

Anonymous said...

It's practically the only bike you can take on a train in shitty UK... You try getting a non-foldable bike on a train. Or trusting ANY lock at a railway station with your bike... Suddenly the Brompton is the answer to a depressing situation.

Erik Sandblom said...

JT, you're probably right about the exclusivity part. But taking the Brompton on a train is a cheap alternative compared to owning and operating a car for the same journeys.

Maybe that's why there is a car cult? Because cars are expensive?

Martin said...

The nice thing about the Brompton is that it is sufficiently well made to accept either light or extreem modification to personalise it to suit everybody's usage - and that there are a number of persons 'out there' that either make and sell either parts or a complete makeover - and hundreds on forums that can give advice as to what's possible...

John Flood said...

I've been riding a Brompton for 3 years now so I'm a newcomer to this. But after my BikeE was stolen I was determined to have a bike that would not be stolen. Living in London (and probably anywhere else) means it's like to happen at some point.

For a city ride it's great. It has ample gears--you don't need 27 here. If you have a leather Brooks saddle like I do then your bum never gets sore as it does on a gel one.

OK, it's not for off-road but on London streets it rides along beautifully. Stop to go in a shop and it takes 20 seconds to fold. No other bike does it as quickly.

Mine's got a dynamo for lights; mudguards so I don't get wet; I have a rear rack; I have a bracket to carry a bag on the front. It's a nice little pack horse.

And most of all when I'm home I know it's safe indoors. Where's your bike right now?????

Anonymous said...

I think you get it pretty well. It's a great bike that happens to fold, or a folding bike that happens to be great.

I think people are enthusiastic because the design is neat, the price not stupid, and the niche it fills enables it to be life changing.

But even Brompton enthusiasts aren't blind to its faults and compromises, so I don't think cult is the right word.


Frits said...

Have you ever tried a Berndt folder? 14 speed Rohloff hub, belt drive, easy folding? Beats the Brompton hands down, except regrettably on price. Hm, not so sure anymore.

Doug said...

I think your example of Brompton riders is an isolated one. On a recent trip to London, I saw Brompton riders everywhere, and they seemed perfectly normal and varied. Brompton riders seem more determined to keep their bikes with them indoors, but that's due to the unique nature of the fold.

I ride a Brompton around NYC where they're less frequent, but it's the same cross section of cyclists that I see anywhere. Bromptons are great bikes, but ultimately, they're just a tool like any other bike - not the making of a cult.

Kiwehtin said...

I guess you have enthusiast "cults" for all sorts of things... I know there are Strida clubs in Taiwan, Japan and Korea (and to John Flood -- a Strida takes 10 seconds or less if you're used to it!). I think part of the attraction in the UK is that it's a "national" brand.

As for a "Mac cult", I think there has been a strong loyalty because of its qualities compared to other hardware and systems, ever since the beginning. As a person who enjoys the Mac, I have found myself continually dealing with DOS/PC/Windows users over the years who feel compelled to put down Macs for some reason. That seems like a cultish monomania to me...

At least these aren't among the car brand cults you find there...


Kiwehtin said...

ブロンプトン 万歳!


WestfieldWanderer said...

I've got a Brompton.
and a hybrid.
and a tourer.
and a mountain bike
and a tandem.
and a unicycle.
and a car.
and a van.
But I'm not in a cult.
Am I missing something?

Mikael said...

yes, you're missing a cargo bike. get shopping.

JT said...

Maybe here's another point: sometimes it's not the owners, but the "whishers" who make the cult.

Of course Mac/Brompton owners DO stay loyal, as Kiwehtin said. It's natural to be fond of some good stuff. But for example, many PC owners put down the Macs just because they'd like to have one themselves, but they can't for some reason.

It's the power of desire.

There wouldn't be a cult of the body if everyone was born as sexy as they liked.

WestfieldWanderer said...

Thanks for reminding me Mikael! :-)

I am saving up for one.

And I will be getting it from these folks.

Rafael Guerra said...

Try to travel with ANY other folding bike that comes with " real" bike riding quality, and prepare to spend 15 minutes (or 2 hours in some cases!) making it airport ready.

That's Why I ride a Brompton. What about you?

Erik Sandblom said...

I think the theft issue is a bit of a shame. I don't believe rampant bicycle theft is inevitable. I think it can be staved off if the police and the insurance companies etc put resources into solving the problem.

Mikael has a nice dialog here about bicycle parking and theft.

Mikael said...

i'm loving this. thanks so much for commenting everyone.

a mix of practical choice and lifestyle/brand choice.

fair enough.

me, i travel fine with my Mobiky. folds up perfect, weighs 20 kg, and it's easy to roll along in a variety of positions until i'm ready to ride.

not better or worse than a brommie, just my experience.

David Hembrow said...

I don't own a Brompton, but if I had a bike+train commute which made it worthwhile I'd probably get one. They are great bikes. Everything works. The more you look at it the more you realise it's all designed well and works well. Genuinely well engineered.

I don't understand the cult thing with the Brompton either, but the Apple cult is much more mysterious. An anonymous, short lived box with proprietary software. Not for me...

Anyway, more importantly... I'm surprised no-one else commented on you wearing a helmet !

(FWIW, IMO it's not actually such a bad idea for doing deliberately silly things on bikes)

townmouse said...

wait, I can't believe nobody else has mentioned it ... but was that a magic hat on your head there? Not done up, obviously, but it was still there.

As for the Brompton, it's British and it's well made. That is enough to make it a cult object these days, for its rarity value...

townmouse said...

Oops. Just read all the way to the bottom of David's comment. That'll teach me to be sarky

Just a cyclist said...

Why did you put that lid on if you did not buckle it up, was it because you had to?

dumptruck said...

The 6 speed Brompton is an abomination. Two custom drivers on an SA 3 speed with a chain not really readily available and a custom derailleur shifted by a custom shifter. I thoroughly detest the Brompton and look forward to when people go with more sane solutions as opposed to the Brompton collapsing bike.

Mikael said...

regarding the helmet... there was a sign saying 'helmets required on skatepark' and our hosts implored me to wear one. this being japan, i didn't want to be impolite so i did what the other guys did and didn't bother strapping it on.

i was hardly riding crazy enough anyway.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you made that post because I do not understand the Brompton craze either (I live in Brussels). Call me dogmatic, but my definition of a bike is the opposite of the Brompton :

- a bike should not be a symbol of social status. That's for drivers and their cars.

- a bike cannot cost more than its lock. It should be at least 20 years old and have a history and a name. You found it in your grandma's attic, in the street or at the flea market. However, when it is stolen or broken, you cry, because you own him/her a lot.

- bikes sleep in the courtyard with their friends, not in your living-room

- you often leave your bike without a lock in the street for a few minutes without fearing someone will steal it (jumping off your bike to buy warm croissants or flowers).

- you have at least 2 bikes : one in each station if you commute or 2 at home so if one is broken you don't have to wait until the shop repairs it.

- you use your bike in every circumstances because you are lazy. You can carry at least 20kg of grocery or a friend, or scrap you found on your way home.

I love Scandinavia, Berlin and the Netherlands because they do this so right.

BTW, folding bikes are cool for holidays, you can find them in auction sites (especially Germany)for as low as 20-30 euros.

le homme au velo said...

I got my Brompton in 2002 I liked the Style and Neatness of the thing, I had heard so much about them. Also the fact that they were not Chinese or Korean but British that really swung it for me,a European Bike one of the few Remaining.

When I took it for a spin I was pleasantly surprised it was very smooth and also quite fast. After having it now for 7 Years or so it is still going Beautifully.

It has a few Annoying Quirks that I hate. The Double Gearing System on the Six Speed makes it Harder to take off the back Wheel,The Tyres are very Tight when I got a Puncture I nearly Ruined the Aluminium Rim trying to get the Tyre off. I eventually had to take the Wheel to the Dealers to get the Puncture fixed. The Aluminium Handlebars does not inspire Confidence, I got the Little Plastic Barrel Thingy to help Strengthen it . Still it is a great little Bike for casual use and with the Bag it is also great for your Groceries.
I do not use it much now though prefering my Work Cycles Transport Bike for Trips around the City and for Hauling Stuff and the Raleigh for long Spins in the Countryside.

The Bromptons are getting very Popular in Dublin now,when I got mine only a few People had them but now there is quite a few People Gadding about the City with them. They are the only Bike that is allowed on Trains without Difficulties now in Ireland because the New Trains Irish Rail Bought Excluded People putting Bikes on their Trains,they got Rid of the Guards Van at the back of the Trains.Because of Protests by the Cycling Organisations they have allowed two or Three Bikes in a Former Food Storage Area on the Inter City Trains. But if you have a Brompton you can put it with you as long as it is in its Bag.

Robert P said...

I think it's important to dostinguish between people who ride Bromptons and Brompton Riders (Bromptonauts). They're certainly the most popular folder in Dublin - maybe 50% of all folders on the road? - partly due to some copmanies buying them for their staff in the last couple of years.

At VeloCity in Munich in 2007, a promo video for Velo in Brussels was shown on the last day. One scene showed a guy on a Brompton folding it up and taking it into a lift (elevator)- this elicited a small round of over-enthusiastic nerdish applause from a certain corner of the theatre. Ugh.

I guess, like many good products, there are users, and then there are Believers.

Erik Sandblom said...

If there's any resentment to "Bromptonauts", I find that a little hard to understand. The Brompton is after all part of a healthy, economical and green lifestyle. It's a little pricey as bicycles go, but as I mentioned earlier it's still a very economical way to get around compared to driving.

As the Velorution bicycle shop says, when you buy a bicycle, that's when you stop paying. When you buy a car, that's when you start paying. I think a lot of people could profit from that wisdom.

Anyway you're not supposed to take it too seriously when someone likes their computer, their bicycle or their favourite long-running science fiction series.

Bicycles for the people!

tight tyres
The tyres are indeed very tight and can be difficult to get on. It's a lot easier if you lubricate them with a little soap. But the easiest is to give it to a shop :)

Eva said...

I know what you mean about the cultishness of Bromptons, and I think -- as many have said before -- it's a combination of convenience, workmanship, and style. Bromptons are like a party trick that turn out to be just as good as "normal" bikes, and there is something of a wink and a nod that must therefore be shared amongst Bromptonauts because of it. A feeling that we're all in the know and thus in the club.

Also, I often noticed that Bromptonauts seemed to subscribe more to the Copenhagenize/Amsterdamize philosophy of cycling than the bulk of cyclists in London -- that is, we were more likely to be dressed in our usual (chic) clothes, riding more slowly, smiling, nodding at one another... It's easy to get drawn into the dirty rat-race feeling when cycling on London streets, and even though the Brompton can easily keep up with the faster bikes, it doesn't inspire that sort of nonsense.

I think there would be more of a cult around other bikes if they were as instantly-recognizable as the Brompton is: you can spot a Brommie from a long way off, just as you can spot a Ferrari or a Mac. It's distinctive and special, but perhaps the knowing nod amongst the cult members is more about how "unspecial" the Brompton is? since, in the end, it's just a good bike.

txell said...

i'm a new bromptonite. i know that the brompton is not at all the most beautiful bike of the world but it's the most useful in the cities with: theft problems, lack of bike infrastructures and few bike culture. 2 months ago i bought my first brompton, a lovely turquoise one with a brooks saddle and i'm so proud of it. i cycle more than 25km per day on my brompton, i keep it under my table at the office and on the cloackroom of the museums. i go anywhere around barcelona on my brompton! oh, you have to know that barcelona is the city where more bromptons are sold!

JT said...

Well said, Eva. One of the best explanations so far...

Erik Sandblom said...

Isn't anyone going to say it's a clown bike?

Mikael said...

well said, eva.
and thanks for all the comments.

barcelona is the place that sells the most brommies? amazing!

txell said...

The article is in Catalan, but there are some interesting figures. The sales of Brompton in Barcelona represent:
- 80 % of the sales of Spain
- 9 % of the world sales
A real phenomenon!

Martin said...

For a Spanish look at folding bikes, bicicletas plegables, check out:

Guía para elegir una bicicleta plegable

The article runs through various brands, including the Brompton.
Plus there are dozens of readers' comments at the bottom.

Actually soitu.es is a cool site and the section Hartos del coche has lots of bike-related stuff.

sladen said...

Trains, planes, buses, ferries, coaches, metros, trams, hitches, tubes, cycletracks and motorways (once, accidentally).

Britain, France, Ireland, Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, China, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Estonia/Latvia/Lithuania; even Belgium and Denmark....

Much as the damned thing annoys me somedays and you can end up going nowhere; I've yet to find anything that folds to such a neat, self-supporting forgettable (inconspicuous) package. Something that enables adventurous exploring, something which can transport such a great weight (or an extra willing person) with such a low and stable centre-of-gravity, or which can keep you alive and cruising at traffic speeds on the Garden Ring in Moscow.

Name me another vehicle that will do 49 km/h and fit in a bathroom of a Learjet without question.

(Just how to get to the airport or ferry terminal ...without a Brommie?)

2whls3spds said...

There are "cults" everywhere you look...even "Copenhagenizing the Planet" could be considered having a cult following ;-)

As far as the Brommie it is one of TWO compact folding bikes that I have found that I can ride comfortably. I am 1.9 metres (6'-3") tall with long legs, getting any bike to fit is a challenge. The other bike is a Bike Friday Tikit. (another cult bike :-D )


Tartan socks said...

To quote the Brompton literature:

"Every Brompton is built to order in our own factory in West London.Most of the critical engineering,from bending tube,through frame building to final assembly,takes place here........."

With so much of the cycle manufacturing moved to the far east,it is good to see a fine product,
produced in the UK and exported all over the world,to much acclaim.

If I could afford one,I would own one.

dm said...

and don´t forget it, it´s also Chic....

omanso said...

hi, I got a Brompton a couple months ago and it is amazing. it looks great, it is so easy to ride and everybody is staring at you when you are riding or just stopping at traffic lights, why? I guess because it is so beautiful,...now just lack more bike lanes, in my city, Valladolid (Spain) there is few km,...

Stephen said...

It's small it folds into an odd shape you can carry under your arm. Then it unfolds quickly and its whooosh your away. It has all the magic carpet qualities a larger bike just does'nt have that makes little kids and adults watch as you ride away.
I ride in London. Every day to and from work rain or shine. Its made for the city quick,nimble and very responsive.Tough as a commuter bike should be and it doesn't look like its made for another place like all those single geared,and racing bikes do.They look so out of place. Who rides in London with out brakes unless they are posing!!???

Anonymous said...

NYC suit wearing daily commuter w/ 3 speed titanium & Brooks saddle with those rally big springs.... Brompton sightings are increasing monthly since I began to commute on my first one about 4 years ago. Love the folding for running in & out of meetings in bike un-friendly buildings - think revolving doors & vigilant security guys. Small wheels are the only way to negotiate mid-town traffic. Fast, fun & well designed. What else do you need for the urban commute? Also - great support from NYCE Wheels - the coolest/least cool (depending on your outlook) little folding bike shop around.

Anonymous said...

"- you have at least 2 bikes : one in each station if you commute"

So you're the reason I can never find a parking spot at my train station!

Gunther Miklitz said...

After using my folding bike Brompton for almost a year as a leisure rider, I have become an enthusiast, but I experienced also a number of technical shortcomings (i.e.caster wheels nagging trouser cuffs) as can be read in my blog. A folding bike like this one is great for many riding experiences, but there are other occasions when I prefer myx e-bike or one of my traditional, unfoldable full size bicycles.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. The magic is called "well done marketing effort(tm)" - you should know this, Mikael.

Brompton started to be no longer a engeering-driven company when its founder stepped back from executive management.

Since that day the experienced Bromptoneers do have fancy logos covering all imaginable parts and even more parts where a logo can be attached to: Such as Saddles, replaceable flaps of front luggage, cranks, rear-lights and even apparel, leave alone fancy once-a-year-reoccuring gatherings.

That's pure marketing.

Basnylons said...

Brompton is the BEST.

Basnylons said...

B is the best.

Basnylons said...

Why B is the best ?

1) rides well in city

2) the most compact once folded and folds simply and rapidly

3) you never need to carry once folded it as it has wheels ( a folder you need to carry is useless for me )

4) not so heavy

5) the front bags are very useful and the rack can help to carry more

6) many options ( color, handlebar, gears, rack, bags, titanium...)

7) holds it value

8) handy as a shopping cart in supermarket

Find another bike having these features...