Here’s a bike I never thought I would buy. A Brompton folding bike.I first started noticing the category of “folding bikes” back in 2008 or 2009. I’m not sure why I started developing an interest in small wheeled bikes. About the same time there were stories in the local paper about the possibility of passenger train service being restored between Duluth and Minneapolis. Passenger rail service had been discontinued in the early 80’s. I couldn’t think of a reason to buy a folding bike. It was basically a curiosity of mine. With the talk of rail service I started to imagine day trips or weekend trips to Minneapolis. A folding bike would be the perfect multi-modal companion. I decided if the rail service ever became a reality I would buy a folding bike. After hours of reading on-line articles and reviews, it seemed to me the Brompton would be the bike for me. It’s a well engineered bike, made in England. It’s known for it’s high quality construction and for having the smallest and fastest fold.
Fast forward to 2012. Rail service between Duluth and Minneapolis was still a dream. It was lost in the planning stages and started to seem less likely. I had saved up a large sum of money for a planned cross country trip on the TransAmerica Trail. I was planning a 3 month leave from work to accomplish this. Long story short, I started and ended the trip in Oregon. That’s a story for another day. I returned to work a few weeks later with a sudden increase in available funds in my bike budget. I spent about a thousand dollars doing some upgrades on my 2006 Surly Pugsley. In January of 2013. My wife had a weekend retreat to attend in the Twin Cities. I came along for the ride. While she attended her retreat I would visit some of my favorite bike shops and do some shopping at REI.
One of my favorite shops is Perennial Cycle in Minneapolis. It just so happens that Calhoun Cycle is also the only Brompton Dealer in Minnesota. I walked in the shop and about 90 minutes later came out carrying a Brompton S6L. The bike you see above. I was able to test ride several different models (models, meaning different handlebar set-ups) and pick the the one I liked the most. I also test rode the bike I bought. It’s the only bike I own I was able to test ride before buying.
The buying process is rather straight forward. There are two methods. Buy an in stock bike from a dealer like Perennial Cycle. Or Build Your Brompton online. Get all the options you want. It is then delivered to your nearest Brompton Dealer. I was thinking I would be ordering a Brompton and not expecting to find one with all the options I wanted. Calhoun had one with everything I wanted. When you build your own you start with a base single speed model and pick the options you want. If I had done that, this is what I would have had to pick. I got the “S” model. There are four different handlebar configurations. The “S’ is the flat bar. I’m short and prefer a slightly aggressive stance on the bike. The “S” bar gave me a nice fit. I have the 6-speed model with lowered gearing. It’s a wide range 3-speed Sturmey Archer internally geared hub with a two speed derailleur (2 x 3 equals 6 speeds) with a smaller chainring to provide a lower climbing gear. The “L” stands for “mudguards w/o a rear rack”. This gives me the model, S6L. Other options included a front carrier block and Brompton S-bag luggage bag. A Shimano Dyno Hub Generator with front and rear lights. I would have had to upgrade the tires to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. My bike originally had the optional Brooks B17 saddle. I’m not a fan of Brooks saddles. I swapped it out for a cheaper Brompton saddle. A saddle that is surprisingly very comfortable .
I didn’t yet know how I would use the Brompton. The start of train service has been pushed back to 2020. I wasn’t even sure I’d like it enough to ride it. What I discovered is a bike that rides very nicely. The steering can feel a bit twitchy at first due to the small wheels. I got used to that after a few rides and don’t even notice it anymore. The small wheels accelerate quickly. It feels sturdy and solid. There is a hill I routinely hit between 40-42 mph on the Brompton when descending. It feels very solid descending at 40 mph. I’ve used it for leisure rides. I’ve commuted on it regularly except during the winter months. I like to throw it in the back of the car whenever we travel anywhere out of state.It takes up very little room. It stays dry, clean, and secure inside the car.
Riding rural roads in southern Michigan during a visit to relatives.
Car camping at a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
Riding along the I&M Canal Trail in Joliet, Illinois.
During the first year I had it I tried to get into the habit of working it into my normal bike rotation. I had a goal to ride it 1,000 miles in the first year. I only ended up putting on 380 miles. In the second year I kept the same goal of 1,000 miles on the Brompton. I exceeded it with 1,440 miles. I loved every minute of that year. Most of my miles were work commutes. But I did quite a few leisure rides covering distances of 20-50 miles per ride.
In November of 2013 I upgraded the stock generator headlight with a halogen bulb to a Lumotec IQ Headlight. This was a big improvement in the ability to light my way.
Thanks to a company in Bangkok called Brompification, I’ve done some rather nice modifications to my Brompton.
In April of 2014 I did quite a few upgrades. Original parts that come on the Brompton include parts made of plastic. Brompification makes nice CNC machined parts to replace original plastic parts. They work in steel, titanium and aluminum. I replaced the Lever Bolts and the Hinge Clamp Plates. The original levers are plastic. The Brompification hinge clamp plates improve on the design of the original. The originals rotate around when you are trying to tighten them down. It takes some fiddling. The Brompification hinge clamps are locked in place and don’t rotate.
I replaced the plastic Seat Clamp Quick Release.
I replaced the plastic Rear Frame clip with a stainless steel one.
I replaced the plastic Easy Wheels with thinner aluminum wheels. New on left, old on right:
I really enjoyed upgrading this assortment of parts. It bumped up a notch the already high quality of my Brompton.
In November of 2014 I upgraded the Chain Tensioner. This also functions as the two-speed derailleur on 6-speed Brompton’s like mine. The original chain tensioner is a big piece of plastic. The Brompification chain tensioner is a beautifully CNC machined aluminum component.
At the same time I upgraded the Chain Tensioner I added some simple bar ends to the straight handlebars to give me another hand position. This increased my comfort on longer rides.
I finally have the Brompton built exactly how I like it. It’s a great little bike that rides more like a normal sized bike. It was a gamble buying it not knowing what I’d used it for. It turns out I use it the same as my other bikes. It just has the added benefit of folding down very small.
Also, I’ve got the “fold” and “unfold” down in the 10-12 second range. I practiced it a lot. Here’s a fun video of a folding competition at Perennial Cycle.
My small wheel dreams now seem to drift to a Moulton now that I have a Brompton I love. A Moulton has now become my “small wheeled” dream bike.
This one’s a beaut!!
I was wondering why the Brompton caught your eye. I’ve almost given up on rail service actually running between Duluth and Mpls. Whenever you and your wife make it back to the cities, I’d love to meet up with you both. Of course, if given the opportunity, I’d also like to pick your brains about the AT.