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The Brompton World Championships: Racing with style

In-depth
7 Aug 2019
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Words: Joe Robinson

For the thousands of tourists who made the pilgrimage down London's flag-lined streets of The Mall to the Queen’s city residence of Buckingham Palace, Saturday 3rd August may have left them a little confused.

Not because the roads had been shut down for a weekend of cycling festivities that centred around Britain’s most famous boulevard but more so by the 600 men and women sporting a mixture of suit jackets and cycling shoes, lugging their folded Brompton bikes down The Mall’s leafy pavements to a race start line.

Once the day’s main course, the RideLondon Classique women’s pro race had packed up and left, out came the quirky, fun and unpredictable dessert of the 12th Brompton World Championships.

A celebration not only of the popular commuter bike but active travel and cycling in general.

Simple in concept, exciting in practice

Brompton racing is as unique as the bike itself. It would be easy to let 600 hitters from around the world take to the line clad in clinging skinsuits with bikes made to look like Frankenstein's monster just to save a watt or two. But that’s against the brand's British Pimms-drinking, strawberries and cream spirit.

So, instead, since the first event back in 2008, there have been a few simple rules in place.

Number one is the attire. All entrants have to wear a suit jacket, collared shirt and tie. Shorts, skirts and three-quarter length trousers can be worn but matching suit trousers are always recommended.

In fact, the only cycling-specific clothing you can opt for is the mandatory helmet and some cleated cycling shoes.

Number two is how the race starts. In order to balance the playing field between pure athletes and Brompton fanatics, the race is started Le Mans style.

That means every bike is folded with all competitors forced into efficiently unfolding and assembling their machines before being able to go anywhere.

This combination doesn't quite deter the serious from entering but certainly encourages a whole host of riders of all abilities to take to the start line.

For the love of the bike

At the front of the grid of 600, a competitive 50 or so riders have modded their bikes with racier tyres and extra-large chainrings in the hope they can be crowned champion.

However, the real story and where the admiration of the watching crowd lies, is within the 550 or so extra riders made up of amateurs, fancy-dress enthusiasts, Brompton lovers and one Cyclist web writer.

For example, there was Randy, a 60-something international pilot based out of Philadelphia, USA. He used some of his yearly-allocated free flights to make the start line, such is his love for Brompton.

‘Being a pilot, I take my Brompton all over the world with me, it is fantastic,’ Randy tells Cyclist. ‘This bikes been some incredible places but, honestly, the best place I’ve ever ridden is on the Grand Union Canal in London.’

Then there was Martin and Isabella. Perfectly dressed in matching red power suits, this happily married couple from Munich raced the Brompton Worlds 12 months previous, caught the bug and jumped on a flight back to the UK to do it all again.

‘We entered the race last year and enjoyed it so much we came back,’ admits Martin.

‘Both of us ride our Bromptons to work every day so coming to an event like this is pretty special,’ says Isabella.

The final rider to catch my eye before we all shuffle off to our starting position is Suzie from Somerset who, after complaining that London craft cider is ‘truly awful’, explains she loves Bromptons so much she has even given her bike a name.

‘This bike is called Titania because it is made of titanium,’ says Suzie. ‘It’s a racier model that only weighs 10kg which I have owned for 3 years. I actually rode it at last year’s event and finished 20th overall in the women’s category and 9th best British woman, too.’

It turns out Titania is one of six Bromptons currently loved by Suzie, who has come dressed as a physical representation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers because ‘yellow is a happy colour that makes you smile’.

On your marks

You’d be forgiven for thinking the racing would be slow considering the bikes which are being raced but you’d be thoroughly mistaken. The lead group of hopefuls jostling for the win barely dip below 40kmh as they shoot around the 2km lap.

Led by former WorldTour pro, commentator and Brompton lover David Millar, the racing at the pointy end is no less intense than the closing stages of a Grand Tour stage.

Ok, it’s maybe not that intense, but the faces of pain and concentration give away just how difficult it really is.

Eventually, local lad and former profiteer from Brompton racing Alec Briggs takes the bunch finish to win the men’s category while its Keira McVitty who takes a solo win in the women's category. They are both awarded a Brompton for their troubles.

And as for the amateurs behind, most of them cross the line in dribs and drabs having been lapped long before the finish despite clocking an average speed of more than 30kmh in the 16km of racing.

Not that anyone was truly fussed by being lapped, as at the finish every competitor just seemed chuffed to have taken part and earned themselves the complimentary gin cocktail on completion.