Brompton's P Line Urban models bring a dose of considered, performance-orientated refinement to the classic tried-and-tested folding bike icon. However, while you'll appreciate the lighter mass both on the road and especially when carrying folded, you might be less enthusiastic about the accompanying reduced weight of your wallet.
The classic description of a Brompton goes something along the lines of: the small-wheeled folding bike that rides like a non-folding big-wheeler. Certainly, the ride quality of any Brompton is exceptional, and probably all the more so when your eyes are telling you that you are rolling along on 16in wheels. In the case of the specific version I'm testing here, the 'P' in P Line stands for Performance, with this model hitting the scales almost 1.5kg lighter than a standard Brompton A Line. That means it feels particularly quick on descents and flats, and getting up to speed is fun and straightforward.
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The only blot on its performance copybook is that climbing can be slightly more of a chore. That's perhaps down to control more than power transfer: we have the 'high' model here on test, with a deeper U to the handlebar design, which I found made the front end feel just a tad remote and a little flighty.
In fairness, you quickly get used to it and I expect the straight bar version would feel more directly connected. Improving matters, I also tested the P Line with Brompton's Liberty Backpack fitted. When there was a bit of weight over the front wheel, front end control felt noticeably more planted.
Considering you're holding a handlebar that is attached to effectively one extra-long tube, and your saddle is also attached to effectively one extra-long tube, comfort is surprisingly good.
As part of the weight reduction process, Brompton has fitted a titanium fork and rear triangle, as well as a redesigned rear suspension block. These measures, along with the sheer length of the Brompton frame design, help to dissipate a lot of under-tread lumps and bumps.
Of course, you can't ignore atrocious road surfaces entirely and those diddy 16in wheels are still there, but I don't think any non-folder riders will complain. Over the course of a long ride, it's a more than acceptable place to be – I actually feel better on the Brompton the longer I ride, which is a nice problem to have. Even for a fair-weather cyclist, 30 minutes to an hour's commute is very easy.
As I mentioned, the P Line has undergone some slight tweaks, without doing anything to adversely affect Brompton's winning recipe or losing the famed Brompton fold (watch Liam getting it right, eventually, here).
The A and C Lines' steel fork and rear frame triangle have been replaced with titanium versions, reducing frame weight by 700g but maintaining ride comfort and performance. That light weight is impressive, although I think it's probably more appreciable when being carried than while being ridden.
One of the reasons for Brompton's continuing success is the firm's attention to detail so, despite the drive for reduced weight, the P Line doesn't do without the usual Brompton features. There's the mounting block at the head tube for Brompton's proprietary luggage range; the main frame is really beautifully finished, in this case, in a smart metallic 'storm grey'; and oversized roller wheels have been fitted to our test model (a non-rolling version is also available for £80 less), making folded, off-the-bike manoeuvring very easy.
One of the criteria we have to cover in the road.cc test report below is about toe overlap with the front wheel. There is absolutely no issue in that regard here – length-wise, the Brompton really does feel like a big bike. But there is one unusual quirk: I spent a lot of my time on the Brompton wearing suitably 'urban' cycling jeans with reflective turn-ups. However, these had the habit of catching on the rolling wheels as they passed, mid-pedal stroke. It's not a big deal by any means, but beware of those turn-ups!
The P Line comes with Brompton's own patent-pending 4-speed derailleur gearset. It's a really fascinating setup, just a little different to a typical rear derailleur design. Brompton says it's superlight – it is, at just 60g – and compact – again, true as it doesn't inhibit folding. For a daily rider, it also seems particularly sturdy.
All that means nothing if it's a nightmare to use, but the happy truth is quite the opposite. I must say, I came to this test not prejudiced about the Brompton's performance but perhaps unconsciously biased in favour of the traditional complexities of thumb and finger shifting. That left me a little perplexed, at least initially, because this Brompton gearing system is confusingly simple. It uses a single thumb-shifter that can either be flicked right to go into a higher gear; or flicked left to go lower. It worked really well and shifting performance is impressively secure.
The gearing choices themselves are somewhat limited. The 50-tooth chainwheel at the front is allied with a cassette that features 11, 13, 15 and 18-tooth sprockets at the back. It's not a bad spread at all, in fact it's very good for most city duties, but if you decide to do too much adventuring you might find yourself running out of climbing options.
That said, I live in a pretty hilly area and Christmas still lingers round the midriff, but I got to the top of every climb without a coronary event, so it's good enough.
I'd normally talk about brakes next, but to get that funky drivetrain onboard, Brompton has created a wheelset specifically around a new rear hub. Again, Brompton talks about the wheels' light weight, sturdiness and all-round resilience to city life. They're also now fitted with hex key axles and a new hanger mount for easier repair and maintenance.
What we're really interested in, though, is: do they roll well? Again, it's hard to find fault. I'm not testing 16in-wheeled folding bikes every day but what I can say is that, combined with the fitted Schwalbe One 16 x 1 1/8in tyres, performance is great. Grip is good, even in damp conditions, and they offer decent amounts of comfort despite the limitations of their size.
Talking of grip, the P Line's rim braking performance is similarly constrained by its design and the traction of those small wheels. Of course, refugees from the early days of the 26in/27.5in/29in wars will be all too aware that tyre/road contact areas are equal in size, if not shape, for any tyre at the same pressure – even ones as diddy as this – so grip isn't a problem.
But the outright performance of rim brakes now feels a little old-school when even entry-level rigid hybrid bikes are coming with discs. These unbranded calipers are okay, but not much more. That said, Brompton certainly goes big on the charm factor, with logos of the three-step fold process adorning the inside of the diminutive brake lever blades.
Those sorts of little touches alongside more practical considerations continue throughout the bike. I love Brompton's Pentaclip mount for the saddle, meaning one single bolt attaches the saddle to the seatpost and adjusts the saddle's horizontal level, as well as its fore/aft positioning.
The saddle itself features a bit of carbon and the P Line's various clamp levers have been drilled to leave no weight unlost. Brompton's left-foot folding pedal is genius.
In use, it all works very well. That lightweight saddle won't feel out of touch to any road bike rider transferring to a folder. The new curved profile mudguards do their job and don't seem to rub, no matter how much abuse the bike gets.
Even the handlebar grips, despite being ultra-slim and seemingly nothing more than foam, feel fantastic in the hand.
Value and conclusion
I might be gushing a bit, mainly because I think the Brompton P Line is such a well-rounded package. But let's be serious for a minute because, at £2,324 for the bike you see here, this is serious money. The last folding bike we tested, just before Christmas – the Axon Pro 7 – may have come in at almost £2,000, but that did have the excuse of being a folding e-bike.
When it comes to more performance-orientated, pedal-power-only folders, Tern has some interesting options, such as the Verge X-11 for £2,700, which weighs essentially the same as the P Line at 10.2kg but comes with a 10-42 rear cassette and disc brakes. Or Airnimal does the £1,700 Joey Sport, again with full-size derailleur gears and disc brakes, although also featuring an 11kg all-up weight.
However, I think the greatest competition to the Brompton P Line probably comes from within its own stable. The classic A Line starts at £850, weighs 11.5kg and comes with a 3-speed hub gear, while the C Line starts at £1,250 for the Urban model, which weighs £11.2kg.
If you simply want the ultimate Brompton – and if you can source one – there's the T Line that weighs an astonishing 7.45kg but costs an equally staggering £3,770.
> Buyer’s Guide: The 6 best folding bikes for 2022
So, with that in mind, who is the Brompton P Line really for? If you were dipping a toe into the Brompton world, you'd probably go for one of the cheaper options. If you want ultimate performance and already have almost £2,500 burning a hole in your pocket, what's another £1,250 between friends? Perhaps most obviously, the P Line could be bought as an upgrade. But I do wonder, if you already love your existing Brompton, are the benefits significant enough to warrant the outlay?
Despite those doubts, and despite the not insignificant price tag, we have to recognise that the Brompton P Line is a fabulous machine. It rides beautifully; it's chock-full of clever features; it weighs just a fraction over 10kg; and it is a Brompton, after all. The most important question is, is it the best Brompton for you?
Fantastic and innovative high-performance option from Brompton, but it is pricey
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Make and model: Brompton P Line Urban
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Precision drawn heat-treated steel tubing main frame with hand brazing; superlight advance rear frame made from titanium with a replaceable hanger
Fork: Titanium fork with a threaded headset
Chainset: 6061 forged aluminium crank with 50T chainring and integrated chainguard
Rear derailleur: Patent-pending direct mount Brompton 4-speed
Cassette: 11, 13, 15 and 18t
Shifter: Brompton 4-speed trigger shifter
Brakes: Unbranded dual-pivot calipers
Wheels: Superlight front wheel - lightweight rim, double-butted spokes and aluminium hub body; lightweight rim, double-butted spokes and aluminium hub body
Tyres: Schwalbe ONE Black 16 x 1 1/8in
Saddle: Superlight saddle with chromoly rails, carbon reinforced base and lightweight padding
Seatpost: Brompton extended chromoly steel tube - gloss black
Handlebar: 'High' as tested ('Low' and 'Mid' also available)
Grips: Superlight lock-on grips with precision ground foam adhered to ultra thin engineered core
Accessories: Front luggage mount; front and rear mudguards
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Brompton says, "Performance. The lightweight transformation. Superlight compact 4-speed gear system fine-tuned for city riding. Covers all contours."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
In pricing and weight terms, this model sits firmly between the 'traditional' steel A and C Line Bromptons, and the ultra-exotic full-titanium T Line model.
Overall rating for frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Handmade in London, and beautifully done.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The main frame is still Brompton's normal heat-treated steel tubing, but the fork and rear triangle are titanium.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
On-bike geometry is something of a luxury in the folding bike world! In this case, with the high handlebar option on our test bike, you do sit quite upright, so I personally would like to try the low or mid option to get a bit more weight forward.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Reach is really good – this is a long bike for a folder. Although it has an extraordinarily long seatpost already, if you're much more than my 6ft height you might need an extender (available from Brompton).
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes indeed. Despite the tiny wheels, the Brompton is a comfortable place to be.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes – it's near perfect.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer is impressive.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
No toe-clip overlap, but a bit of trouser turn-up interference with the roller wheels.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Very lively initially, although that can be tempered.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
I felt front control was just a tad flighty to begin with. You do get used to it, and if you fit any weight to the front in the form of some Brompton proprietary luggage, it significantly helps to calm things down – it feels very good with a bag up front. For my tastes, one of the less upright bar options might be more suitable.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Saddle is a bit sports-orientated – personally I liked it but new cyclists might want something with more padding.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
It's hard to really suggest much in terms of changes – Brompton has designed this to be as effective as possible, literally straight out of the box.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
No changes recommended.
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Rate the bike for climbing:
Probably the bike's weakest area. Seated climbing is okay, out of the saddle not quite as good.
Rate the drivetrain for performance:
I was really impressed by the P Line's drivetrain.
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
It's a new design, but it looks sturdy.
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
Rate the drivetrain for value:
It's hard to say really – it's a proprietary system.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The shifters are particularly fun and work very well – shifting was super secure. Overall, I was very impressed by the new Brompton 4-speed setup.
Rate the wheels for performance:
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Brompton says they've been tested to cope with anything daily use can throw at them.
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Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
The tyres offered decent grip, even in damp conditions and worked very well.
Rate the controls for performance:
As mentioned, I'd prefer the lower handlebar – Brompton has alternatives available. Otherwise, everything was very good.
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Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Handlebar grips don't look like they offer much but actually feel really good.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The unbranded calliper rim brakes are a tad underwhelming in performance terms.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? If I had the money, yes.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes. But I'd probably recommend a less expensive Brompton more highly.
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Tern has some interesting options, such as the Verge X-11 for £2,700, which weighs essentially the same as the P Line at 10.2kg but comes with a 10-42 cassette and disc brakes. Or Airnimal does the £1,700 Joey Sport, again with full-size derailleur gears and disc brakes, although also featuring an 11kg all-up weight.
However, the greatest competition to the Brompton P Line probably comes from within its own stable. The classic A Line starts at £850, weighs 11.5kg and comes with a three-speed hub gear, while the C Line starts at £1,250 for the Urban model, which weighs £11.2kg. If you simply want the ultimate Brompton – and if you can source one – there's the T Line that weighs an astonishing 7.45kg but costs an equally staggering £3,770.
Rate the bike overall for performance:
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Use this box to explain your overall score
If you want a high-performance folding bike, the Brompton P Line really should be your first port of call. There's very little compromise in terms of its abilities – it's fast, comfortable, fun and, when you find the right setup, offers great control. From frame design and manufacture to componentry, it's a fantastic complete package. However, even lower-spec Bromptons are already a bit of an investment, so a £2k+ bike really needs to offer something special. It certainly feels special to ride and there are enough special ingredients to justify the premium, but only the prospective buyer can decide if it's worth the extra cost.
Age: 39 Height: 6'0 Weight: 16 stone
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mtb, Leisure
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