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I am thinking about buying a Brompton bicycle, and would like help… - Sally's Journal
August 7th, 2006
11:14 am

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I am thinking about buying a Brompton bicycle, and would like help and advice



I'm about to start a job in London. Some bit of my brain thinks it would be better if I had a bicycle that I could take to London - it would save me vital minutes of faff trying to find somewhere to lock mine at the station, and would mean I could get about at the other end. I'm still dubious about whether I could cycle from Kings Cross to Waterloo, or whether I could take a Brompton on the tube easilly, but it seems like a plan worthy of considering.

The brompton website has their catalogue, which lists the wide range of options available to somone considering spending far too much money on a folding bicycle. I went and had a potter on a few at Drakes the other day.

First you choose your style, which really seems to be about handle bars. There's the trad old fashioned Brompton handlebars, straight handlebars, and butterfly handlebars. I tried the trad and the straight at Drakes, decided there wasn't much to choose between them, and the trad was much cheaper. I've never had butterfly handlebars, and can't think of any great reason why I'd need them now - as they're the most expensive I'd want a reason to do it.

Then you can pay lots of money (almost twice as much) for a titanium frame. I am torn. On one hand, I am a weedy grrl. On the other hand, there isn't a huge amount of difference between lugging 9 kgs of bike around and 11 kgs of bike around. It's not like the weight magically halves. I think I'm tending towards standard frame - after all, I just need to be able to lift it on and off things.

Then there are gears - 2, 3, or 6. 2 doesn't give a huge range, and the 6 gear bike I tried out confused me (as in, I've been used to grip twist, and suddenly there were all these levers, and I couldn't work out which ones I wanted to change or what did what or whether I was going up or down) I'd like to think with practise I could actually cope with two gear levers, but it makes things heavier, and more expensive, so I don't think it's what I want.

Then (bored yet?) there's carrying capacity. The pannier rack is weight, and it looks so close to the ground I don't think I could put my panniers on it, so I'm tending towards splashing out on some of the Brompton-own front carrying stuff - probably the swanky new S-bag which has lots of pockets and a sholder strap.

What have I forgotten? It seems obviously sensible to pay a little bit more for puncture resistant tyres. I'd like it to be cornflower blue, but that's no-one's business but mine ;-) I don't think I want dynamo lights - it'd be more effort, and the wheels are very small - but I'm hovering on that one. I probably can't afford the swanky hub dynamo lights though.

The other point is that the lead time for ordering what you want is about a month to six weeks. But Drakes do have some in stock. So I could just go and buy one off the shelf, which means I could have one Real Soon Now, Like Today. But it'd be the Wrong one, and I'd probably end up paying more (they had lots of things with more gimmicks, as you would expect if they were trying to sell them to impatient London commuters).

Also, I know some of you reading this have Bromptons. A bit of me would really like to try doing the commute by bike, to see if it helps, or just adds another source of stress to an already stressful journey. It would be wise to do this before investing lots of money in one. If you would consider renting me yours for the day, I'd be very very greatful (and would of course look after it to the best of my ability etc)

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From:gerald_duck
Date:August 7th, 2006 10:56 am (UTC)
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I'm somewhat interested in Brompton bikes, but I suck at cycling.

I'd be very interested if anyone can offer opinions on just how much trickier than normal bikes they are to ride.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)
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Drakes are very happy to let you spend a large amount of time pottering up and down their side street on them. I found them almost easier than my usual bike (but then my everyday bike is in bad nick, and the Brompton I was testing was brand new)

Drakes are a family business, so are only open Monday - Friday though, which is a pain.
From:tamsinj
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:05 am (UTC)
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you could buy a 2nd hand bike for ukp20 and lock it up in london?

that'd let you decide if you're going to cycle-commute through london. obviously it won't save you the lock-up time though.
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From:piqueen
Date:August 7th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
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bikes in London disappear within days if not hours
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From:catyak
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)
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I have a 21-speed touring bike but I've never really got on with the front gear lever. They're both on the frame and I find that I need to look down for that one to make sure I've done what I need to[*]. As such, I tend to leave it on the middle sprocket and so effectively have a 7-speed bike. This copes with my ride to work admirably when I cycle.

FWIW my bike is a named item on the house insurance.

[*] I think it needs adjusting again, but if it always needs adjusting is that a sign of some other problem?

D
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From:pjc50
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
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Is it actually feasible to carry a Brompton on a rush-hour train, which I'd expect to be standing room only? Certainly rush-hour tubes are wall-to-wall packed. I'd expect cycling KX -> WL to take about as much time as the tube journey including change.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC)
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It's allowed. Whether it is physically possible or pleasent to do is one of those things I'm still pondering.
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From:purplepiano
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:32 am (UTC)
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I'm about to order a Brompton through the cycle to work scheme, as we were talking about in the pub the other night. I'm also going to be commuting from (somewhere in) Cambridge to London from October. The guy at Halfords (who we're obliged to use as the supplier) said there was a 16 week waiting time for built to order ones, so I hope I get it by Christmas! I'm coming to almost exactly the same conclusions as you - no point in the non-standard handlebars, rear rack, lighter frame or the extra gears. But I'm going to splash out on the hub dynamo, as the tax saving we get from the scheme is a good opportunity to save money on useful luxuries.

I rented one from a bike shop in London last week and did the commute for a day. After five minutes of getting used to its slightly different wobble properties, it was great. In the top of the three gears it's almost as fast as a normal bike. Certainly fast enough for regular urban riding, and it's easier to nip past traffic queues with the small wheels. Doing the fold and unfold is easy after a couple of times.

Cycle commuting in London does take some getting used to. I find that the hard part is the unfamiliar geography. But once you've decided on the optimal route from A to B, and got used to all the junctions on that route, it feels no different from Cambridge.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
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Drakes in Cambridge (this is of no use to you at all if you have to buy from Halfords) pre-order their built to order Bromptons, so they're already two months into the queue at the time you buy one from them, if you see what I mean. So there's a four - six weeks waiting time. It's a great win for their customers, and they sell the ones in the shop fairly quickly, so if they ever don't have an order by the time it comes to the front of the queue they just pick something fairly standard and take it into their stock. But I was very tempted just to buy one of the ones they have in. Still, the civil service have lots of perks, so investigating whether there's a cycle to work scheme before spending lots of money seems sane.

We can be Brompton buddies on the train... ;-)
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From:mobbsy
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:33 am (UTC)
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You can have a go on my Brompton if you like, or even borrow it for a bit. It's a "P" series (butterfly bars), I went for them for the options of either a high position (with brakes) for in-town riding or a dropped position for better distance riding.

I just went for the 3-gear Sturmley Archer. The derailleur in addition seemed to be an extra weight for not much more range of gearing. I won't be cycling it up any serious hills. I have the standard frame; I tried one of the ultra-light bikes at Drakes with Titanium, no hub gears, the small handlebars and so on. It was really quite wonderfully light, if I had a commute that meant I had to carry the bike real distances for some reason, it may have been worth the cost. As it was, I decided it wasn't.

I did go for the dynamo lights - that's been the biggest pain with the bike, the wires keep pulling out of the dynamo when I fold the bike (they're just clipped in, so no damage, just irritation). However, it's very handy having it all self-contained, and when working they're fairly good lights.

Unfortunately, the one bit of damage my Brompton suffered when it was nicked was the front luggage clip broke off.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:19 pm (UTC)
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Borrowing your Brompton for a bit would be really really great. If nothing else, it would be excellent to have a chance to try the butterfly bars (Drakes only had the straight and the trad in) Although I get very timid on racers, so I'm not sure I'd ever use the dropped position.

If I just cycle from KX I'd never have to carry the bike as such, I'd just have to lift it on and off trains. At which point I'm not sure the weight is as much of a feature. Of course, I may have been stupidly biased, because the titanium bike they have in at Drakes at the moment is flamingo pink, so my brain has decided against it...
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From:arkannath
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:51 am (UTC)
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Alternative route is KX-Bank (Northern line) then Waterloo & City to Waterloo.
From:ex_robhu
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:16 pm (UTC)
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I believe Quakers are experts on these things... mair_aw / mair_aw should have some handy suggestions...

Otherwise you could pop into #quaker and ask there - quite a lot of the time they're talking about Bromptons.
From:ex_robhu
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:17 pm (UTC)
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Also - have you thought of looking on ebay?
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:24 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I thought about it, but second hand Bromptons seldom go for less than 300 on Ebay, and the odds of getting the right combination of handlebars / gears / colour etc and it being in decent nick are quite small. Also one (or two?) of my friends had their Bromptons nicked, only to find them again on Ebay, and I wouldn't want to support that trade...
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From:smhwpf
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
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I'm not a big expert on Bromptons, but the KX-Waterloo cycle is perfectly feasible. You do what I call a "Bloomsbury weave" through the backways of that esteemed literary district, past the British Museum and down across New Oxford Street, then you go down Endell St. and Bow St. etc. down to the Strand, then you've just got to get across Waterloo Bridge and Bob's your uncle, except that there are already an awful lot of Roberts floating around, so let's call him Bill instead. Anyway, you can do the journey without too much main road.

You might want some reasonable gears for the journey, as it's quite significantly uphill from W'loo to KX.
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From:wellinghall
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC)
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If your budget is at all limited, decent insurance, lock, lights, reflective gear for you and the bike, and maybe even a mirror are all more important than extra gears or lighter weight.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:32 pm (UTC)
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But I already have a bike, and so all of that stuff that I want.

The lock is an interesting question (and one that I meant to muse about in the original post) - with the whole point of Bromptons being that they fold and you carry them around with you they're not made for attaching giant D-locks of Doom to. But there must be times when people wish to leave them safely somewhere. I wonder how they cope?
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From:pavanne
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:37 pm (UTC)
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I don't know anything about Bromptons, being faithful (possibly beyond the bounds of sense) to bikes with an operating history. However, I've been cycling in London with varying degrees of success for about a year now.

1. There appear to be very few hills of any size in London, so I wouldn't worry about gears too much.

2. Cycling in London is not, generally speaking, a pleasant experience unless you know exactly where you are going on the backstreets. Crossing the river might also be a life-threatening experience, and squeezing onto a rush-hour train from Cambridge with anything luggage-like will not be fun (if you can travel outside rush hour it may not be a problem). So I would test the route out before you buy something particularly for the purpose. You are welcome to borrow an ordinary bike from Baker Street for the purposes of Kings X-Waterloo route testing.
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From:emperor
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
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Hub dynamos are things of joy, and I miss the one I had on my dearly departed Raleigh.
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From:flats
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)
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Cycling King's Cross to Waterloo should be easy - it's a 35 minute walk between the two (when route = Euston Rd -> Woburn Place -> Southampton Row -> Kingsway -> Waterloo Bridge). IIRC, buses aren't much cop on that route - there's only the 59, and in rush hour it's very slow as the roads are clogged round Southampton Row.
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From:fanf
Date:August 7th, 2006 03:04 pm (UTC)
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I would go for the three speed. The derailleur is exposed mechanics and therefore more liable to have problems.

Definitely get the dynamo lights. So much more convenient! The size of the wheels makes no difference to dynamo efficiency - the only effect they have is to magnify the bumpiness of the road.

The pannier rack is only useful for having boxes strapped onto it, which is a rare requirement, but it does the job extremely well. The front luggage is fantastic and very useful. The S bag sounds more convenient than the trad bag for keeping bits and pieces.

I have found that the tyres on my B tend to get punctured only when they are getting old and worn.

Yes, the B is heavy, but in most cases you can wheel it instead of carrying it. It really is the perfect thing for your commute: you can tuck it under your desk in the office. In many situations you can take it into places (I have been known to check mine in at museum cloakrooms) but they are bulky so it's usually more polite to lock them up outside. Thieves know they are valuable so make sure your lock is good.
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