Joining the Tribe of Brompton [Updated – August 2013]

Last October my organisation moved offices from West to Central London, reducing my commute  from 9 miles each way to 5. I was running out of excuses not to cycle to work, reduced to arguing that there’s not much room for a bike in a flat with toddlers. Andrea suggested I try out his Brompton. Clever, sure, but how absurdly Lilliputian, I thought. Look:

But I climbed on, and rode round the courtyard outside. Something happened. In minutes, I went from feeling absurd and wobbly, to feeling exhilarated. This was genuine chemistry… I borrowed the bike for a week to cycle to Millbank, and it was heaven. I’d arrive at work wearing a broad grin – and returning the bike to him felt a real wrench.

So I decided to buy one through work. Little did I anticipate the knots I’d tie myself into, as first I confronted the Brompton order form, and then trawled website after website trying to understand what different options meant. (I haven’t cycled regularly since the early 90s…) What the hell was “lowered gearing”? Should I get 1 gear, 2, 3 or 6? Firm suspension or normal? Hub dynamo lighting? And as for the colour…

So, in case it’s helpful to others, here are the resources I found useful in deciding which Brompton configuration to buy.

First off, how much? They’re not cheap new – find out how not cheap they are in your country, and see what options you have, with the Brompton 2013 price list: CanadaChinaIrelandUK and USA. I’m lucky in that my office participates in CycleScheme, which shaves a portion off the cost (although there’s a good deal of lamentation online about how it used to be better).

Second-hand they can be picked up for less than half the cost of a new one. They’re incredibly well-built, sturdy bikes, and retain their value well. I kept an eye on Gumtree in the UK – but there are specialists who sell reconditioned Bromptons too: Phoenix in Battersea, London occasionally has them, and this company sold Matt Jones’ beloved model. The Guardian did a piece about Brommies recently that yielded some good comments and info.

[UPDATE August 2013 – I had my Brompton security marked with Bike Register by the police here in London at one of their free-of-charge cycle marking events. Definitely worth doing as an added security measure, wherever you are based.]

I ended up buying mine from Simpson’s in Kentish Town, London – knowledgeable, excellent customer service. [UPDATE, May 2013: As part of CycleScheme, you get a free service after 4/5 months – Simpson’s just did mine, and into the bargain swapped out my seat-post for an extended one. As a 6’1ft rider, I was finding the standard seat just a little too short.]

Clever Cycles – Build Your Brompton (Portland, Oregon, USA) has a handy all-in-one page offering a pretty good explanation of all the official options you have when considering a Brompton, and a few other third-party options worth considering. (Closer to home, here’s Future Cycles’ version, and there are others…)

NYCeWheels has a similar walkthrough and video explainers for every major option. Hmm, gearing – here’s an explanation even I can understand. They also have nice, clear explanations of which tyres might be right for you, the best handlebar type, the rack or no rack dilemma, and is dynamo lighting worth the extra half-kilo…

If you want to delve further into the minutiae of Bromptons, there are listserves and blogs galore on which people share their love of the Brommie, and their configuration – here’s a discussion I found especially useful in understanding about lowered and raised gearing, for example. A couple I particularly enjoyed are Lovely Bike and The Path Less Pedaled (which also has a detailed spec, and a load of accessory reviews). Here’s I Love Biking SF, I Love Brompton, and Cycling Intelligence.

Some accessories I considered included this handlebar bag (also covered here), and other aftermarket bits like this kid seat, this coffee cup holder, or this carry-handle. Finally, after a few months’ use, I am starting to consider getting Ergon grips, which should make longish rides more comfortable and less wrist-numbing.

Anyhow, after all that, I went for the M3R:
– M handlebars
– extended seatpost
– firm suspension
– luggage block
– standard 3 gears (no regrets yet)
– a rack with Eazy Wheels
– standard pedals
– standard saddle
– Ergon GP1 Grips (installed by Simpson’s, though there are guides to doing it yourself) [Updated August 2013]
– no built-in lighting – I decided against adding to the weight of the bike with a hub dynamo (which the dealer also advised might restrict what I could attach to the luggage block) and just use clip-on lights
– Schwalbe Marathon kevlar tyres (London streets require it)
- as for colour, I went for the simply gorgeous raw lacquer.

And yes, we’re still very much in love.

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