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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:catyak
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:57 pm (UTC)
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The adjustment is needed because it seems to fail to get quite far enough to cleanly change up a gear, or I find that it's capable of pushing the chain off the edge. Hence wanting to watch what it's doing.

I have considered swapping the gear change levers for something on the handlebars but haven't quite managed it yet. Can it a generic kit or manufacture-specific? (Also where's the best place locally for the bits?)

I think my home insurance covers the bike anywhere as a named item but wouldn't if it wasn't. YPMV :-)

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:cartesiandaemon
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:04 pm (UTC)
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I never have, but It's only about the size of a large briefcase, isn't it? Which I'd guess is common but hellish to try to take on a crowded tube.

I don't know anything about london, but my first worry was cycling in it at all. I know some people do, they may have advice.
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From:rmc28
Date:August 7th, 2006 07:45 pm (UTC)
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I was a bit nervous cycling in London the first time (following Tony, who has lots of experience from when he lived there). To be honest, I found it easier than cycling in Cambridge - the roads are wider and the taxis don't seem to be so homicidal.

This is based on cycling King's Cross - Paddington and back a few times. However I quite often used to walk between places within the Circle line when I had time, and I'd be quite happy to cycle most of those places.
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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.
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From:flats
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)
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Changing at Bank always seems to take a million years*, and the Waterloo & City line is closed until September. Fastest route I've found seems to be Picadilly to Oxford Circus, then Northern to Waterloo - but that takes about 30 mins, and I've walked it in 35 before...

* Tho maybe that's just the Central line.
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)
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My intuition (given that I'm not working in the centre of Waterloo station) is that the best thing to do tube wise is direct KX to Elephant and Castle. But I could be wrong (and it very much depends on which of the three DoH buildings I end up in)
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From:piqueen
Date:August 7th, 2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
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Be careful cycling actually at Elephant and Castle. The roundabout it is on is one of the major accident blackspots in London. Debbie was even hit there whilst cycling. It does have nice underpasses though so you can walk to the right road safely.
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From:boyofbadgers
Date:August 7th, 2006 01:46 pm (UTC)
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The best route by far is Kings Cross - Oxford Circus on the Victoria then Oxford Circus - Waterloo on the Bakerloo. The change is cross platform at Oxford Circus, which makes for a much quicker journey. Going via the Bank branch of the Northern Line takes forever, and the other obvious routes (changing at Euston, Leicester Square or Warren Street) all have time consuming changes and/or involve slower lines.
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From:samholloway
Date:August 7th, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
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Confirmed that this is the best KX -> Waterloo route. I thoroughly researched all the options: this wins hands down, a) because of the cross-platform interchange, b) because the Victoria line is faster and more frequent than most of the other tubes.
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From:flats
Date:August 7th, 2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
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I got the colour of the line right, then, if not the name! I meant this route, honest...
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From:piqueen
Date:August 7th, 2006 04:24 pm (UTC)
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The Waterloo and City is closed at the moment for maintenance and not due to reopen for a month or so.
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 12:39 pm (UTC)
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My colleagues usually leave them in the office- another advantage over ordinary bikes you may have to leave on the street.
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From:mobbsy
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
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But there must be times when people wish to leave them safely somewhere. I wonder how they cope?
We first buy an OK cable lock, find it snipped through on the ground of the cycle parking area, then when the police recover the bike, we go and buy the best D-lock we can. This weighs about 1.5kg, which is a significant fraction of the entire bike. In theory it should lock onto the frame, and even provide a useful carry-handle, but in practice it just gets dangled over the handlebars in time-honoured fashion.

Not all places are very Brompton friendly. They'd allow a rucksack of the same size, but not a bike. Brompton supply an anti-jobsworth bag for the purpose of turning a bike into a piece of luggage.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:August 7th, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
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I keep my d-lock in the my front bag when I'm not using it.
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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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From:mair_aw
Date:August 7th, 2006 06:06 pm (UTC)
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As robhu said, I have a Brompton. It has three gears, regular handlebars, and a broken regular seat. It has a luggage rack on the front and the luggage block on the front. Occasionally I rave over it on LJ.

Cycling on the flat, I would /like/ a higher gear, but I'm not sure you get very much higher for the 6-gear one. When I took it to the Dales I would have liked a lower gear.

http://www.paul.sladen.org/brompton/brompton-pictures/shopping.jpg
For luggage, the front pannier rocks. If you're able to borrow a bike, try to borrow and fill a pannier with it. But it is an absolute sodding pain to carry. Awkwardly handled pannier in one hand, Brompton in the other, nightmare. So i just use a backpack for work. The "swanky new" thing sounds better.
You can also do things on the back with boxes and things.
http://www.ipcress.net/images/brompton_box6.jpg
But not your regular panniers, no.
You can carry a friend on the back though :)
http://www.paul.sladen.org/brompton/brompton-pictures/two-people.jpg

The dynamos - especially the back dynamo cable tends to break with all the folding and whatnot. you can carry clip-on LEDs anyway.

The weight - one of my arms is slightly fatter (or rather, maybe, more muscled) than the other now, and I've got used to it. But when I first got it, I used to find it hard work dragging it up to floor 2 of the WGB. But, if you get the skate-wheels fitted on the back, it's very easy to wheel along the floor. This is also a vast improvement when taking it on the Eurostar and having to walk the length of sixteen coaches to find your seat.
Unfolded, the seat hooks over the shoulder, and it's easy to carry further distances because it's better balanced. Or something

http://www.paul.sladen.org/brompton/brompton-pictures/over-shoulder.jpg

KX->Waterloo is about 10-15mins cycle, and despite other posters' comments, I haven't noticed it being significantly uphill in the times I've done it. Although the Brompton can be taken on the tube, I hate the tube and love having the bicycle as a means of avoiding it.

Lock - I don't carry a lock for it, and I never lock it anywhere. (I could, I have locks at home for my big bike). In cinemas it usually gets tucked away in the kitchens. We did get refused from the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, but that's the most hassle I've had with it. Carrying it around shopping centres is a real pain, but I don't go shopping much. I push it around the supermarket in the trolley.


Me, i wouldn't pay the price of a Brompton for the advantages of using it in London. I paid the price because I thought it was cute, but what I really get out of it is much more flexibility and freedom when travelling, both in the UK (visiting people you can cycle from the station and don't have to be met, and can nip off and do things, and so on), and abroad. On a canal boat trip? Bored? Cycle down the towpath... I find it much easier to not bother booking tickets and accommodation and so when I know I can travel 10 miles if that's where the nearest unbooked campsite it... oh, I don't know how to catch the way it changes things, or how much to blame the bicycle, but it does have this tremendous sense of freedom, and I rarely go anywhere without it.

Um. yeah. Who got me started?
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
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:-)

Do you think the back pannier rack and exciting skate wheels are worth it, then? I thought about it, but I assumed that with a front bag and back pack I'd usually have enough carrying capacity, at which point the pannier rack is just extra weight / something else to break. And the easy-wheels sounded excessively cute, but I can imagine very few places where it's allowable to push it on the easy-wheels but not allowable to just push it as a bike.

(I've wanted one for aages, but the London job is a very handy excuse :-) )
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From:mair_aw
Date:August 8th, 2006 11:03 am (UTC)
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I find it's always handy to have the back rack although i guess you could manage without it. but it's nice being able to just flick things under the bungee. because it's low uyou can put things like a hiking backpack on wrapped around the seatpost) quite easily too. it's also handy for standing the bike on...

skate-wheels: tube, eurostar, shopping centre, long corridors at work ... airport, puncture ...
... get as big ones as you can, and soft not hard

(of course, getting such things fitted later is a possibility)
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From:sphyg
Date:August 7th, 2006 08:45 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, what's the job?
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From:atreic
Date:August 7th, 2006 08:54 pm (UTC)
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Civil Service (statistician) Faststream, Department of Health. The idea of me doing any stats seems hilarious from where I'm sitting, but I got through the assessment, so that's not my problem :-/

The process so far has taken forever, I'm only going to believe in the job once I've actually been working there a month or two...
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From:sphyg
Date:August 8th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Coo, good luck with the commuting of doom.
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From:windthing
Date:August 9th, 2006 07:49 am (UTC)
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A friend of mine just bought one of these Strida bikes and seems quite chuffed with it.
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