Chrome Bike Backpacks and Messenger BagsXtracycle Bike Cargo Kits, Parts and AccessoriesOrtlieb Bike Bags & PanniersUtility Cycling - Use Your BicycleBanjo Brothers Affordable Cycling GearCygoLite Bike Lights: Engineered to ShineRideKick Electric Powered Bike TrailerBionX: Electrify Your BikeBike Tech Shop - The Experts on Cycling with CircuitryPlanet Bike: Better bike products for a better worldMiiR Bottles one4oneCommuter Bike Store Breezer Uptown Infinity

Me and Mrs. Brompton

by Ted Johnson

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.

Brompton piggyback on rolling lugage

Brompton on a pedestal (my rolling luggage)

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.”

Brompton on the DC Metro

On the DC Metro

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.

Dahon Three-Point Stance

My Dahon's Three-Point Metro Stance

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.

Windbreaker as a Brompton carrying bag

"Carrying Bag"

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.

Brompton and Dahon folded envelopes overlayed

The Brompton in front of my Dahon

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.

Brompton Gate Checked

Gate Checked

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 >>

 
Burley nomad 269

6 Responses to “Me and Mrs. Brompton”

  1. Gunther says:

    Yes, that has happened to me…

    The quality of the posts on this blog have gone way up. Thanks for the entertainment and in-depth coverage. Good stuff.

  2. Josh says:

    I read this, “Folding bicycles and non-collapsible bicycles of all types that are folded or disassembled and enclosed in carrying bags” and I understand it to mean that the bike can be (1) folded; or (2) disassembled and enclosed in [a] carrying bag. I realize that it could just as well be read to mean that all bikes must be (1) folded or disassembled; and (2) enclosed in a bag, but, you know, just sayin’.

  3. Al says:

    run out to target and buy a $5 large laundry bag in your preferred color. A lot cheaper than the Brompton bag and it will work as well at camouflaging your bike.

  4. When I first got my Brompton I was “cheating” on my road bike which I had to lock up (nervously) all over New York City. So my experience was more of total relief at finding that: 1. I could do anything I had done with my road bike with the Brompton (a 6 speed with fenders) and 2. I no longer had to worry about having a nice bicycle in the city for fear of theft and 3. I didn’t have to carry my super heavy bike chain any longer. With those 3 factors bouncing in my mind I didn’t ride my road bike for nearly 4 months. I’ve gradually gone back to alternating between the two but only because I can bring my road bike in to the shop!

    Great post, I enjoyed the honesty with which you treated every aspect of your experience.

    -Peter

  5. k says:

    The Brompton fold really shouldn’t take more than 20 seconds at most. Many owners can do it in around 10 seconds.

  6. Dr. M says:

    A very candid appraisal! My Greenzone Folding bike is alloy and weighs about 24lbs. It also came with a carry bag which I use when taking the train.
    Brompton has 6 speeds and so does the Greenzone. The only thing is the wheel size. My foldy has 20inch wheels and I think the Brompton’s are smaller than that. Not sure what size the Dahons have either but I wish would compare the ride as well.

    Thanks!

Leave a Reply