When it comes to folding bikes, Brompton is the most famous out there, known for its quick fold, its compact size and portability along with its surprisingly agile ride.
Why it's a design classic
The Brompton’s standout feature is the ease with which it folds. The back end swings underneath the frame, the frame folds in two via a super-strong hinge, the seat post drops through the seat tube, the handlebar/stem flips down, and the left pedal folds in. The process takes 10-20 seconds for experienced users.
The pivoting rear triangle allows the bike to be shortened while keeping the chain in alignment, while the chain tensioner arm can swing through a wide arc to control the chain during folding without it coming loose. The large hinge in the frame lets the front wheel come around to be positioned next to the rear wheel, and the stem’s hinge is positioned at 45° to the rest of the bike to allow the handlebar to flip down and sit alongside the wheels.
Once folded, the Brompton measures 585mm x 565mm x 270mm wide so it’s easy to carry on public transport or fit into the boot of a car, which is why it’s incredibly popular with commuters. The compact size also means it takes up little space in your home or office; you can store it next to your desk where you know it’s safe, rather than locking it in a public place.
Brompton has been hand-building its bikes in London for nearly 30 years, today’s models not straying far from the original that was designed by Cambridge educated engineer Andrew Ritchie. He sought funding and launched the Brompton company himself in the 1980s.
Most Bromptons are based around the same one-size-fits-all steel main frame (although a lightweight steel/titanium version is available too). You then choose the spec to suit your requirements: the number of gears, the type of handlebar, whether or not you want mudguards and a rack, luggage, and so on. The bikes aren’t just built up in London, the frames are made in-house to a high standard rather than production having been outsourced to the Far East to reduce costs.
The fact that all Bromptons look similar has helped to build the brand’s identity, not just in the UK but internationally. The Brompton is viewed as a quintessentially British product, up there with the Mini and red telephone boxes as a design classic, but it works equally well on crowded buses and trains worldwide.
Although the Brompton is best known for its foldability, that’s not its only distinguishing feature.
“What might surprise you about the Brompton is how much fun it is to ride,” said Dave Arthur in our recent review of the S6L. “It really does put a smile on your face as you make your way along the road.
“There's no sense you're riding a bike that is able to fold away in seconds with a hinged main frame. It’s impressively direct, handling with no vagueness when leaning over into corners or dropping down steep hills.
“It's nimble and agile. The lively steering takes a little getting used to at first, but you quickly tune into the quick reactions.”
Bromptons start at £800 with the S6L we reviewed coming in at £1,090. That might not sound cheap, but you might save a whole lot more in reduced commuting costs.
Find out more www.brompton.com
We say Easy to fold and a delight to ride, the iconic Brompton is hard to beat.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.