Andrew Ritchie, the inventor of the Brompton folding bicycle, is a smart fella who graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in engineering. After college, Andrew worked as a computer programmer, but after a while he realized that corporate life was not for him. He decided to work as a self-employed landscaper in London. During that time, his father introduced him to Bill Ingram, a funder from the Bickerton Folding Bike Company. After looking at the Bickerton’s design, Andrew thought he could design a better folding bike of his own. Andrew designed and built the prototypes in his bedroom of his apartment that overlooked a large church called the Brompton Oratory, hence the company name.
Fast-forward a couple of decades; now Brompton is the largest producer of bicycles in the UK. Andrew has received many awards for his design. Most recently, he was awarded the Prince Philip Designers Prize for his outstanding contribution to his industry – and it was presented by the man himself, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace on October 15. All Bromptons are handmade in their west London factory. Each bike consists of some 1,200 parts, over three-quarters of which are unique to Brompton; 80% of the componentry on their bikes is specifically designed and made for Brompton.
My introduction to Brompton bicyles was at this year’s Dirt Demo at Interbike. This is where I met Emerson Roberts and Andrew Finkill, who presented me with a nice clean Brompton to borrow for my remaining week in Vegas. They demonstrated how the bike folded, then tested me to make sure I was paying attention. After I passed the test, I was sent on my way to explore my new wheels.
The model that I was loaned was a Turkish Green Brompton S6L which retails on this side of the pond for $1178. The breakdown of the Brompton’s model number was S= Straight bars, 6= Number of gears, L= Fenders, and no rack. Brompton offers three different types of handlebars, four gearing options, and then you pick if you want no fenders, fenders or fenders with a rear rack. Once you have chosen those three main options, you can customize your ride with tons of accessories including titanium bits to lighten up the bike. The S6L is one of Brompton’s sportier models with the lowest and narrowest handlebars of the line-up. The 6-speed is an interesting set-up; it’s a combination of a proprietary 2-speed rear derailleur and a 3-speed hub. By using this combination they have managed to achieve a wide range of gear ratios. Even through I only tested in the flat desert, it felt like it had a vast gear range that could conquer a good-sized hill.
When we got back from Dirt Demo and we lined up all the loaner bikes in the backyard of our rental house, I started to worry. I was having wheel-size envy. When I saw the Brompton’s 16” wheels next all those big-wheeled bikes, I had visions of being dropped on rides and crashing on every curb and pothole I could find in Vegas. But after the first ride, I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. The Brompton is very stable, feels very nimble, and the rear suspension soaked up the small bumps providing a smooth ride. Thanks to the small wheels, I had the hole shot on every green light and the high pressure tires helped me maintain a nice fast speed. I did not have any problems hanging with the large wheel crowd. No wonder there is the Brompton world championship race: these are mini race bikes.
So how does it fold into a tiny 22.2" x 21.5" x 10.6" package? First you swing the rear-end of the bike underneath the mainframe, then undo the clamp on the mainframe and fold the front-end of the bike backwards, fold down the bars, drop the saddle and fold up the pedal and you’re done. Takes about 20 seconds with some practice. The bike locks into a nice tight folded bundle for safe storage and transportation (8 seconds when you get good). After returning the S6L to the Brompton guys after the show, I realized that I was going to miss the little bike. I could see myself owning one or two of these pocket rockets.
Website: http://www.brompton.co.uk/Tweet Print