Brompton: The Sex Pistols of Folding Bikes

Brompton: The Sex Pistols of Folding BikesBrompton is the Rolex watch of folding bikes; the VW Beetle of folding bikes; the McDonald’s hamburger of folding bikes; the Marlborough cigarette of folding bikes…

What I mean is, Brompton is the iconic folding bike. And it deserves to be.

Brompton Fold
The Brompton Fold | Image: Wikipedia

In articles about the Brompton bike, the word timeless comes up often. But I doubt that the word was used at any time during the first several years of production and sales.

The reality, I suspect, is that Brompton has taken a goofy looking bike and made it iconic. By which I mean, it no longer looks goofy to us; it looks timeless; it looks like the folding bike to have.

To paraphrase a recent and obnoxious iPhone campaign, Yup, if you don’t have a Brompton, well, you don’t have a Brompton.

The success of Brompton, however, is not due solely to good marketing. Andrew Ritchie’s design really is ingenious and elegant. It’s been tweaked over the years, but Brompton has found no cause for any fundamental design changes. The bike rides well, and folds into a very light and compact package.

The folding bicycle is among a few innovations that have transformed the way people use and think about bikes.

Brompton belongs in the pantheon of companies that took a cycling innovation out of novelty status and made it part of mainstream cycling.

In a way (and I say this grudgingly) the Brompton is the iPhone of folding bikes. Just as Apple did not invent the smart phone, Ritchie did not invent the folding bike. But Brompton, like Apple, raised the bar, and expanded the cultural appeal of what had been a product for nerds and eccentrics.

Brompton in Washington DC
In the parked position, Washington DC

And like other iconic brands such as Apple, a community/cult has developed around the bike. I imagine it’s nearly impossible for two Brompton owners to pass each other without exchanging a knowing wave–or more likely, a secret signal.

Other companies have tried to make folding bikes look cool or modern, with sometimes ridiculous results.

For example, Strida tries pathetically to strike at the heart of Brompton. Their site explicitly tells consumers about their bike’s “real cool appearance” and then claims their bike is “the only folding bike in the industry that doesn't make you look like a ‘granola type.'”

Strida: Your name calling only betrays how desperately envious you are. The cult of Brompton has thicker skin–and better bikes–than that.

Strida LT
The Strida LT | Image: Strida

The Web is full of gushing reviews of the Brompton bike. In side-by-side comparisons to other folding bikes, Brompton almost always wins.

In a previous post, I wrote about overcoming ten years of coveting a Brompton bike. Now I need to write my own review. But what can I say that hasn’t been said?

The bike I tested was not ideal for me. But almost none of my complaints couldn’t be overcome by a custom build–and your credit card number.

Brompton Handlebars
S,  M, and P-Type handlebars | Photo: Brompton

This bike had the S-type handlebars–which are straight. I probably would prefer the P-type handlebars which would allow me to be either upright or hunched over, depending on my mood.

I found the six-speed configuration a bit fiddly. It combines a three-speed Sturmey Archer internal hub with a two-speed derailleur. That’s two shift levers for only six gears. I think I could live with the simplicity of just the three-speed hub.

Brompton Bike with O-Bag
The O-Bag by Ortlieb

The rear mudguard has a roller wheel on it, so the bike can be pulled like a cart when folded. It was kind of tippy, so I’d probably prefer the “R-Bike” mudguard integrated with a rear rack, plus Eazy Wheels for a more stable combination of four rollers on the ground.

At my height (5′ 10″ on a good day), I don’t need the telescopic seat post. The standard seatpost will do fine.

The black O-Bag (made by Ortlieb) was a tight squeeze for my 17-inch laptop, so I’d probably go with a simple folding basket and wear my laptop in a backpack like always.

DIMPA Storage Case from Ikea
Ikea's DIMPA Storage Case | Photo: Ikea

I don’t think I’d get a Brompton travel case. Brompton’s rep, Ed Rae told me about the DIMPA storage case available for $4 from Ikea. (Ed suspects the DIMPA was designed by a Brompton owner). I just saved you a bunch of money.

All of that comes to about $1,500.00.

What? A little pricey? Do you want me to have an icon or don’t you? At least I didn’t choose the titanium frame.

Well, I still have my Dahon. Maybe it’s a poor man’s Brompton.

But you can’t say poor man’s Brompton without saying Brompton.

And that’s my point. Brompton, more than any other folding bike company, has defined and transformed cultural ideas about what bikes can do.

The iconic band The Sex Pistols didn’t invent Punk. And they really only released one studio album. But when Never Mind the Bollocks… was released in 1977 their contemporaries looked at the high bar The Pistols had set, and they asked, “What are we going to do now?”

The basic Brompton design was developed the same year, in the same country, and bike makers are still asking the same question.

Brompton and Dahon
Does this bike make my Dahon look fat?


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