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Five days by Brompton: Life made simple?

A sceptic of the Brompton, I used one for five days to see if everything would become that little bit easier

Joe Robinson
18 Apr 2018

The Brompton bike was designed for people just like me. I live in the outer suburbs of London and take the train in to Cyclist HQ. It's 1.5km from my home to my local station and about the same from Charing Cross to the office.

I don't drive so my reliance on public transport is greater than most. Especially in my home town of Dartford where everything is a little more spread out than in the city. When I need to run errands I either reluctantly take my carbon road bike, jump on a trundling bus, or walk.

Logic would then suggest that the Brompton would be my perfect match, yet up until last week I had never used nor even considered using the innovative folding bike brand.

I was unsure on whether it would really make life easier and at £855 for the entry level option I was struggling to see the value for money.

So with Cycle Surgery currently offering prospective customers the chance to try before you buy at specific events in the south of England currently, I thought I would give a Brompton a go and see if it really was mustard.

Day 1 

I needed to get my head around assembling the Brompton first. I have watched many the businessman and woman jumping off the train and having the bike ready to ride seemingly in milliseconds, and it's pretty impressive when done well.

The visual instructions are similar to those found in an Ikea flatpack: plenty of images, and the arrows are partnered with explanatory text that makes life relatively easy.

It took 10 minutes of reading and observing to get my head around the various clamps and hinges but then I was able to get going on the bike. The first attempt saw me scratching my head as to why the back wheel wouldn't unfold.

However, my second attempt saw me undo the seatpost, thereby unlocking the bike and allowing the rear wheel to swing into position. That was that – the knack of setting up the bike had been got and it had barely been out of the box 20 minutes.

Day 2 

My first day of taking the bike to and from work. Assembling the bike, I rolled from my house down the hill towards the station. 

A journey that normally took 15 minutes on foot had been reduced to five. The usual rush to reach the train had been abated and my options for a seat improved accordingly. 

On this occasion, the Brompton fitted neatly into the luggage rack at the end of the carriage out of the way of the hoard of rush hour commuters and still within eyeshot so no light-fingered thieves could try their luck.

By the time I reached the office, I had shaved 30 minutes off of my commute time and probably expanded my life expectancy by the same thanks to the stress-free bike ride that replaced my usual frantic rush to get into work.

The journey home was also relaxed, again I stored the bike in a luggage bay and sat by the bike. I got an earlier train because the bike got me to the station sooner. I ended up getting home 20 minutes earlier than usual, just in time for The One Show.

Day 3

Working from home, I thought I would pit the Brompton against a few errands I had to run – see if it would be convenient enough to take to local shops, meet a mate for a coffee, that sort of thing.

My first activity was going to the local shops for some essentials like bread, milk, Panini World Cup stickers. While there is a reasonable set of shops a few hundred metres from my house, I prefer the parade of stores a few miles down the road because they offer stuff like organic honey yogurts and Bakewell flavoured flapjacks.

Usually, a journey to these shops would take a 10 minute round trip by bus with an extra 20 minutes of waiting around for the thing to turn up (usually two appear at once).

With the Brompton, I halved my journey time getting to and from the shop and returned home with all I needed in 15 minutes. I didn't need to fold the bike down and simply threaded my cafe lock through the rear wheel, frame and a railing.

A task that usually took the best part of an hour now took me a quarter of that. The Brompton was proving extremely convenient.

Day 4

All was going well until day 4. Like usual I rolled down to the local station to get my usual 8am train. However this time it was different. 

A succession of signal failures in the New Cross area had caused delays which in turn had made my train double busy. The luggage compartment was already taken and I found myself with only one place in which the Brompton would fit, outside of the toilets. 

An hour later, I had made it to London now knowing that I could hold my breath for at least a minute at a time to avoid the pungent smells coming from the heavily used loo.

Fast forward to six o'clock and SouthEastern had obviously not fixed the signalling failures which led to another packed train. 

I tried my best to make myself small but the folded Brompton took up room which could have otherwise been taken by another passenger. Cue the moans, groans and cutting tutting from disapproving commuters. 

I wanted to blame Brompton for this. It gets as small as it can but it does assume space. It can be awkward and get in the way when on the train but realistically it's no different to a large suitcase of a baby's buggy.

Fundamentally, SouthEastern should supply trains which don't pack you in like sardines with more carriages and more services. Then my Brompton wouldn't have been an issue and the extremely stern-looking woman on the 18.25 to Dartford would have not rolled her eyes at me.

Day 5

My last day by Brompton. I wanted to test it to its limits. It's billed as a 'city bike' but I was unsure as to whether the three-speed drivetrain would be up to the test in every metropolis. Sure, London is flat but Bath isn't, either is Edinburgh and have you seen San Francisco?

I took the Brompton on a little journey to Sevenoaks, a fair sized town a bit further into Kent. There are flat city-like bits but there are also short hills and testy inclines connecting the two parts of town, in a similar way to Bath.

Turning out of the train station, it's a gradual 4% climb into town for about 500m. Shifting down to the Brompton's most forgiving gear I was able to spin my 90kg frame up to the High Street pretty easily.

Then, brimming with confidence, I took the Brompton a step to far by heading for a small 12% kicker that takes you through to the town's park. This was too steep and I had to dismount and walk the rest of the way.

It should be said that you can buy a six-speed Brompton which will no doubt ease the worries of testing inclines. It may not be a match for somewhere as extreme as Bristol or San Francisco but it'll do the job nine times out of ten.

After five days by Brompton, my head had been turned. In day-to-day life, most tasks had been made extraordinarily easier and saved me a lot of time. 

It also goes without saying that the added time on the bike, and rolling through the streets was relaxing and enjoyable. The stress attributed with commuting had halved.

The issue of tutting co-passengers and steep climbs does fill me with some doubt but realistically these are no the fault of Brompton or its bikes, just of my inability to climb and Britain's terrible transport system. 

If you flat out disagree with everything I have said or want to pass your own judgements then luckily Cycle Surgery are offering you the chance to test a Brompton for free.

At three TryBrompton events in the south of England, you will be given the chance to test the foldable bikes yourself and decide whether they will make your life much easier. For more details visit the Brompton website.

TryBrompton events:

  • 22nd April - Bristol
  • 29th April - Brighton
  • 6th May - Bluewater Shopping Centre, Kent