For many, the Brompton is the definitive folding bike. The design has changed little since it was released in 1979, this means that it’s much easier to obtain spare parts than for some other folding bikes. Since folding bikes use many special parts, this is an important consideration. Despite its age, the Brompton remains one of the best folding bikes. This in-depth review looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the Brompton.
- Very compact and easy to fold
- Handling much better than most folding bikes. If feels like a real bike.
- Easy to maintain over long periods of time.
- Lots of well-integrated accessories such as bags and child seats
- Strange gear options don’t allow wide ranges or easy increments.
- Brakes not up to the premium price.
- Could be easier to roll when folded.
Folding and Unfolding the Brompton
The Brompton really is very easy to fold and unfold in just a few seconds. The initial fold uses a hinge in the frame, which folds the front of the bike around from the side, while the rear suspension arm also swings the rear wheel down and underneath the frame.
It’s relatively easy to carry out both of these movements together as a single action. This is slowed down only slightly by the need to unscrew a clamp on the main frame hinge. Everything just works. While many other folding bikes feel awkward and can get caught during folding, the Brompton just seems to slot into place every time. It’s not quite as fast as the single action fold of a Strida, and you do need to bend down to fold it, but it’s a very slick fold non-the-less. The final operation in the quick fold is to loosen the seat post’s quick release and slide the seat post down. This locks the rear swingarm, which in turn holds the front forks. The Brompton becomes a solid and secure folded package. Small roller case style wheels allow it to roll along the ground.
At this stage, the handlebars are still extended but they make a useful handle to pull the Brompton along. When walking long distances it’s easiest to pull it along behind you. To navigate tight spaces it is easier to swing the bike in front of you and push it. When pushed it is easier to make tight turns. As with the fold, it’s definitely not as easy to wheel along the ground when folded as a Strida but it’s better than most other folding bikes.
Fully folding the bike involves folding the left pedal and dropping the handlebars next to the bike. A small clamp is very easily unscrewed to release a hinge at the bottom of the long stem and the handlebars then fall naturally in place. A sprung clip at the top of the fork then engages with a plastic knob on the side of the stem, this holds the handlebar in its folded position.
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Brompton ride and handling
The Brompton really excels as a bicycle. Once unfolded and riding along, it feels like a real bike. Although it can feel slightly twitchy with lower bar positions I enjoy the more lively ride. When pedaling hard or cornering at speed the frame feels rigid, a real contrast to the very noticeable flex on most folding bikes. This gives me confidence to ride at higher speeds than I would on other folders, although it is let down slightly by the lack of disc brakes.
Brompton currently offers 3 handlebar options, giving the choice of three bar heights: 1072 mm for the H Type, 1015 mm for the M Type and 935 mm for the flat S Type handlebar. How upright these feels will depend on how tall you are. I’m 6′ (182 cm) and find the S Type gives quite a sporty position, similar to a cross country bike, while the M Type is more like a traditional city bike. There is also a P Type, which is bent around providing two different ride heights, although Brompton is not currently offering this on new bikes.
I’ve been amazed at how well the Brompton can cope with riding quickly through a city. When I’ve occasionally lost grip on a corner I’ve found it drifts in a controlled way with the rigid frame and sensible geometry allowing me to keep control. Similarly, it’s reasonably easy to bunny hop up curbs. For pure riding performance, it isn’t as good as a Birdy or Airnamal, but those bikes don’t fold as well as a Brompton.
Specifications of the Brompton
Bromptons have four gear options: Single speed, 2-speed derailleur, 3-speed hub gears, or a 6-speed that combines the 2-speed derailleur and 3-speed hub.
The 6-speed option is set up to reduce the size of the steps between the hub gears, more than to increase the overall range. This results in a reasonable overall range of 302% with relatively even steps of 23% to 28% between them. However, to change gear in these smaller steps means shifting up on the hub as you shift down on the derailleur for every single gear change, which is very awkward. This seems a strange way of doing things when both Shimano and Sturmey Archer produce very good 8-speed hub gears that would give much more convenient gearing.
Older Bromptons used quite low-quality rim brakes that were definitely an issue. These have now been replaced with dual-pivot rim brakes which are much more effective, although still nowhere near as reliable for stopping in the wet as disc brakes. Many bikes in this price range now use disc brakes and it would be nice to see Brompton offer this as an option.
Good quality mudguards are fitted to keep you clean when it’s wet.
Luggage and child carrying
There are lots of luggage options available for the Brompton, including a child seat that still allows the bike to fold. The most popular type of luggage on the Brompton is a front bag attached via the special Front Carrier Block. This is a plastic bracket mounted on the head tube that clips into specially made luggage for the Brompton. This means that the bag doesn’t turn with the handlebars, so it doesn’t affect steering. The bags can be quickly detached when the bike needs to be folded or you want to take the bag with you away from the bike.
The IT Chair is an unofficial child seat available for the Brompton. It allows a small child to sit in front of you so that they also hold onto the handlebars. I think this is the best way to carry a child on a bike, it puts their head close to yours so you can talk and look at things together. They also feel safer in this position, with your arms around them. What’s great about the IT Chair is that it has very little impact on the folding of the Brompton. When it’s time to release the seat post quick release and slide the seat post into the frame, you simply lift the saddle up slightly, to unhook the IT Seat where it rests on the frame and rotate it slightly to the side. The seat post is then dropped into the frame as it would normally be when folding a Brompton, bringing the IT Seat into a folded position along the side of the Brompton.
Overall, the Brompton is definitely one of the best folding bikes. It largely deserves it’s reputation although there are better bikes