Review: Brompton S6L

By Karen Brooks

The Brompton brand is among the cream of the folder crop. Their bikes, including most of the parts, have been made in England since the early ‘80s, and in fact Brompton is currently the largest bicycle builder in the U.K. Brompton doesn’t offer models per se, but has a multitude of options that one chooses from to create a “custom” bike.

Handlebar choice is the primary differentiating option: the S Type bike, which I tested, has a flat handlebar for a racier position; the M Type has an upright, U-shaped handlebar; and the P Type has a multi-position handlebar well-suited to touring.

The base price for a steel-framed, singlespeed Brompton (of any handlebar type) is $1,050. My tester has six speeds, fenders, a telescoping seatpost, battery-powered front and rear lights, and a clip-on bag, for an as-tested total of $1,593. Titanium frame material is a lightweight option that adds $730-$800, depending on paint choice.

The drivetrain is unique—its six speeds are achieved with a combination of a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer internal hub (co-designed by Brompton) and a 2-speed external derailleur. The hub has a range similar to an 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub, but missing some in-between steps. The derailleur shifts between two closely spaced cogs. To move one step up or down the range, one must shift both the left shifter (controlling the derailleur) and the right shifter (controlling the hub). It’s an unusual and somewhat complex set-up, but effective, and saves considerable weight over an 8-speed internal hub. Brompton makes their own shifters; they have a clunky look and the ergonomics aren’t great, but they worked just fine and are built to last. For these and other proprietary parts, the company offers spares going back 15 years.

Compared to the relatively standard Dahon and Xootr folders, riding the Brompton took some getting used to. It has very quick steering. Long-term Brompton riders say that the fast handling becomes second nature before too long, and a full-sized bike starts to feel like a cruise ship. The fast steering and small, 16-inch wheels gave the bike a Mini Cooper-like demeanor when making quick movements and tight turns, a big benefit in congested city streets.

Occasionally, on two-lane blacktop, I missed the momentum of bigger wheels. Otherwise, this folder feels remarkably similar to a “normal” bike, helped by the “normal” wheelbase of 41.2 inches. The Brompton’s gearing proved sufficient for most situations, from fairly steep uphills to cruising fast with traffic, and I only wished for a lower gear once when carrying a significant load.

Folding is when the Brompton’s cream status becomes apparent. It’s the smallest folded bike in our test. Some practice is necessary to be able to execute the fold smoothly—fortunately, the bike’s logo hints at how to proceed. But the end result is a tiny, freestanding package with all the greasy bits tucked neatly inside.

I was able to fold the bike in a hurry after arriving at the station at the same time as the trolley, then carry it easily inside and tuck it under my seat. Two small luggage-style wheels help the folding action and can be used to roll the folded bike. The stealth stashing ability was excellent; I even got away with bringing it into a doctor’s office undetected. The Brompton bag I used was a smart accessory—it clipped on to the head tube for easy carrying on the bike, then I could sling it over my shoulder messenger-style. It even includes a rain cover.

This would be the perfect bike for anyone for whom space is at a premium, but who wants a folding bike that is capable of serious use, not just as a toy.

Correction: All Brompton bikes use 16-inch wheels. The original review listed an incorrect wheel size.

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