For as long as I've had a Dahon folding bike–about 10 years–I've been flirting with Brompton bikes from afar. The Brompton is the bike I really thought I wanted, but couldn’t afford.
Have you ever had a crush on a woman, and you knew–you knew–she'd be perfect for you if you could ever get a chance? Then one day the stars align. You get your chance. You get a date.
You count the hours and minutes until the you meet up with the object of your infatuation. You eat nothing but Tic Tacs for breakfast and lunch. You can feel that your life will never be the same.
Then there you are, across the table from her. You're having dinner, making conversation, and… and… And she's kind of a letdown. She's smart, and pretty, but not so much more than other women you dated.
And then you start to notice her idiosyncrasies. Not deal killers, but little things you know would take some patience and getting used to. Perhaps she talks about her cat just a little too much.
The evening ends. You’re still interested. Just disappointed not to have been swept off your feet.
Has that ever happened to you? Just wondering.
I had a week-long fling with a Brompton in Washington, DC. We were set up by Ed Rae, Brompton’s rep for all of North America.
Ed tried to prepare me for flying with the Brompton. “It’s like a Jedi mind trick,” he said. “Don’t call it a bike, because that triggers the airline’s policies and extra charges for bikes. If they ask you what it is,” he said, “tell them it’s your personal mobility device.”
I put the saddle in my suitcase, rolled the bike through security, and went to the gate.
I said, “I’d like to gate check this,” as though I were saying, These are not the droids you’re looking for. But inside I felt like I was checking into a cheap hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Jones.
It worked though. I evaded the bike fee, as well as the additional baggage fee.
The problem with having this fling in DC, was that the Brompton was competing with my memories of living there for years with my Dahon.
Monday morning, I pedaled to the Metro. With practice, I’d mastered the famous Brompton fold, and could do it in about 30 seconds–if I hurried. That’s about ten seconds longer than it takes me to leisurely fold my Dahon. Those ten seconds matter when you have an elevator full of impatient DC commuters waiting for you.
On the Metro, as the train rocked from side to side, I had to keep a hand or a foot on the folded bike to keep it from falling over. I remembered the technique I used with my Dahon. I would spread out the fold a bit, creating a stable three-point stance. I couldn’t do that with the Brompton.
That was another one of those little things to get used to.
A few things have changed in DC since I moved out of the area. They’ve developed a bunch of excellent new cycling infrastructure. And the Metro has really deteriorated.
Along with those changes, folding bikes are less of a novelty than they were a few years ago. One afternoon during rush hour, I was carrying the Brompton toward the faregate. A station manager called me over, and handed me a photocopy of Metro’s Bike ‘N Ride guidelines with these passages already highlighted:
Metro allows non-collapsible, conventional operational bicycles, as well as tandems, electric powered, and “opened” folding bicycles that meet the size restrictions inside railcars from Monday through Friday at any time except 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., all day on Saturday and Sunday…
Folding bicycles and non-collapsible bicycles of all types that are folded or disassembled and enclosed in carrying bags, cases or boxes are deemed “luggage” items and are permitted inside railcars at all times.
I politely thanked him, turned around and walked as though I were leaving the station–until I was just out of his view. I removed my helmet and draped my windbreaker over the bike, using the Velcro on the cuffs to strap it down.
I turned back around and went right through the faregate without drawing the station manager’s attention.
I never had this kind of problem with my Dahon, but that was a few years ago. Ed Rae (the Brompton rep) told me that, “Brompton has to pay for the sins of other folding bikes.” Most folding bikes (including my Dahon) have their drive trains facing outward when folded, which means that on a crowded train, somebody might get their pant leg on a greasy chain or derailleur. The chain and chain rings on the Brompton are on the inside of the fold.
When I first acquired a folding bike, it radically transformed my urban lifestyle. Within a few months, I couldn’t imagine life without it. I imagined the differences between the Dahon and the Brompton would be as dramatic, but they weren’t. They were noteworthy, but not dramatic. And it’s these differences, including price, that might–and ought to–drive the purchase decisions for someone considering a folding bike.
I never would have tried the “gate check” stunt with my Dahon. It’s too big for that. But I don’t have a jet-setting lifestyle where I really need to. Other people do.
The increased enforcement of the Metro policy requiring a carrying bag is a nuisance. But Brompton sells a cover–essentially a curtain–that disguises the bike better than my windbreaker did. This too might be harder to pull off with a slightly bigger folding bike.
Bromptons, depending on the features, can weigh anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds. This one weighed 26 pounds–my Dahon weighs six pounds more. Those extra six pounds don’t bother me, but they might make a difference to another cyclist.
So, like most flings, I got to do some things my regular bike won’t do. And like most indiscretions, the deceit and subterfuge nagged at my conscience. I can happily say I’ve been cured of this crush. I confessed everything, and my relationship with my Dahon is more solid than ever.
And with that episode behind me, I will bring you my clearheaded, post-infatuation, review of the Brompton later this week.
Here is the clearheaded, post-infatuation review:
Brompton: The Sex Pistols of Folding Bikes >>