Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beep Beep

So,  For the LGRAB Summer Games,  I really really wanted to ride a fixie.  We got home late Saturday from NYC,  and spent most of the morning Sunday installing the Scientist's birthday present- a replacement min-fridge for the one in the basement mini-bar that crapped out a month after we moved in.  Unfortunately the new one was ever so slightly larger than the old one, and it turned into a PROJECT.

So it took a bit longer than expected before it was installed and happily filled with diet Pepsi. I headed out to Harris to pick up the honey B66S saddle that I'd ordered for Gilbert.  While I was there, I thought I'd try to ride something fun.  My first choice was a Betty Foy.  I wonder sometimes just how fast I could be if I weren't riding a 40 pound bike.  I thought that I might take a spin on something a bit more nimble and see if that was something I could get excited about.  Unfortunately no Betty Foys on the floor this late Sunday just before closing.
I eyed the fixies, but was just too intimidated to do a rushed test.  Then, out of a corner of my eye, I espied the perfect thing- a Brompton!
Every time I see Elton's tricked out Brompton parked at Harris, I flirt with the idea of a folding bike.  Unfortunately necessity hasn't driven me that direction,  and the price tag ($1,300 to start) has put me off,  but I'm definitely curious about them,  and I decided to check one out just to see what it was like.

One of the guys I don't know there (maybe he's new,  maybe I just haven't had a chance to meet him before) unfolded one, and pointed me to the test helmets.  Unfortunately it was too close to closing, and since I wasn't really buying, I didn't make him help me adjust the handlebars, and I felt like I was having to reach WAY out in front of me to reach them.
I took a quick spin down a couple of blocks and back, and, ummm, I don't think I need a Brompton,  at least not at this point in my life.

It could have been the handlebars, but the steering was WAY more responsive than I am used to, and I felt like I was going to tip over at the least provocation.  And yes,  I rode a road bike all through college and high school and it seemed much more aggressive than that.   Again, I think it was partly the mis-adjusted handlebars, but still- very aggressive steering.
Otherwise,  it was fine.  It had a surprising amount of get up and go for such small wheels, and the gear shifting was smooth and controlled ( I rode the 3 speed IGH,  there is also a derailleur model).   Brakes seemed fine, although I didn't challenge them.   Overall I did have a bit of top-heaviness in the balance, which is to be expected, as the small wheels bring the center of gravity way down.  It felt like a solid, well built bicycle.

After I brought it "home"  I spent a while trying to figure out the folding mechanism on my own.  I had had the interesting experience of watching a Brompton rep do it (at Harris) in English the week before I went to Spain, and then watching another Brompton rep do it in Spanish while I was in a shop in Barcelona.   I managed to figure it mostly out on the 2nd try, and it is a pretty marvelous piece of engineering!  Like mechanical origami.

If I had no bike storage at home,  no bike storage at work, or had to take the train as part of my commute (was coming in from the far burbs for example)  I would definitely consider a folder,  but as an everyday bike I'm not convinced.  Admittedly my test ride was far from perfect, and I'd love to give it a better run,  but so far, my need for a tiny bike is not enough to overcome the obstacles.


  1. Yes, the steering is squirrely with those small wheels. I think you just get used to it. I don't think there is a ton of adjustment in the handlebars, we found out that if you tip them too much towards you the bike won't fold anymore.

    It's not something I'd want to ride for a hundred miles, but there were people who rode Paris-Brest 2007 on Bromptons. I once went from a 27" wheel to the Brompton wheels - talk about handling differently!

  2. a friend of mine in Singapore is a big fan of the Brompton and when I visited him, I took for a test spin and was also a little taken aback by the squirrely handling. I got used to it after fifteen minutes of tentative, round-the-block warmups; and have been very idly considering one for business trips. Still, as Charlotte said, I don't think I'd want to use for long distance; mostly because I imagine oversteering myself into a ditch once I get tired.

  3. I think it's somewhat important to remember not to steer with your hands when you ride something like that. Always important, but apparently more so with these. So, lean, steer with hips, control your balance with your lower body, etc.

    I feel like a well-balanced fleet of bikes would include three:

    1- a British Roadster (i.e. Raleigh, Pashley, or something Dutch)
    2- a French-style road bike or modern Riv-style road bike
    3- a folder like Brompton

    Now you are ready to (1) go from home to work in any weather, (2) tour within 100 miles from home, and (3) tour anywhere a plane/train/car will take you!

    Myself, I am missing #3 at the moment. :)

  4. Hmm, when folded, they always look like they've been run over by a truck to me.

    PS: the bike also revives memories of that old classic - "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman!"

  5. I have an M-type Brompton like the one in your picture. If I have not rode it in a while, the front wheel feels twitchy but the body soon adjusts and it is amazingly agile and fast on the bike trail I ride. Mine has been set up for touring with a Swiss Mountain Drive or Schlumpf drive set in the bottom bracket, providing 12 speeds overall. I bet if you were properly checked out on one, you would find it worthwhile to take camping or for multi=modal transport. Of course, I've got my big bikes too. Thank you.

  6. I think I might be the only person with a bike problem who has no desire for a folder. I think they're just funny looking, and not in an 'oh that's so cute' funny looking kind of way. Logistically I get the desire but if you don't *need* a compact bike, I just don't get it.

  7. That's funny Steve, I think they look like puppy dogs.

    MDI - for your #3 purpose I like your #2 bike, unless you're looking for #1 somewhere far from home, in which case #3 works well. :)

  8. I'd like to get a Dahon and definitely will if we ever move to a large city where I would regularly use public transit. I rode Giant's Halfway recently and really liked the ride. It felt surprisingly like my regular bike.

  9. Interesting. I have been wanting to test-ride a Brompton, but I know what you mean about folders being a bit squirrely.

  10. A great choice for a test ride. I actually wanted to test a Brompty, but the shop I visited didn't have any. Definitely would not want to feel rushed while trying a fixie for the first time, though that would be very interesting to hear about.

  11. nice! I do think they need adjustments and tweeking- when I tested one elton I came back two times to tweek it and I will say I did love it a lot.

    Sadly they have been out of betty's for a while. I think you would really enjoy that. I still dream about that damn bike. when I came back from riding it I was just grinning from ear to ear. I felt like some middle age guy must feel after riding a porche or something. sigh.

  12. Kevin in HampshireJuly 3, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    I see lots of Bromptons in London (where they are made, obviously) and I'm certain they are by far the most common folding bike on the roads there. Seeing one being folded as the rider's train arrives at the platform brings a smile to my face - ingenious engineering.