Yesterday was my first commute on a Brompton bike. I have been itching to take one of these awesome folding bikes out for a ride since the first day I started working here at NYCeWheels. It has been nearly a month that the Brompton bikes have been sitting there tempting me, sleekly folded among the other folding bikes at the front of the shop. I was dying to get a feel for how they would ride and had spent a fair amount of time playing with our Brompton color picker trying to figure out what my fantasy Brompton would look like. Finally! After patiently waiting I got my chance to take one out for a spin.
Mark, the main sales guy, let me borrow his Brompton S2L after work. His Brompton has a raw lacquer finish, with 2 speeds and fenders. It looks really sharp and is perfect for cutting quickly through the city. I knew it had to be a pretty decent ride, Mark regularly commutes with it from Brooklyn. So promptly at 7:10 I left the shop and made out for 82nd and Broadway, all the way across town.
Well actually, before I left I had to unfold it. I had seen other people unfold the Brompton before. It looked like fun. Mark unfolds his in a flashy 2 step process that makes peoples eyes pop. One second he is holding the folded Brompton and the next it is standing up ready to ride. All told it took about 30 seconds for me to unfold it. As I rolled the Brompton folding bike out of the shop I was curious to see how it would stack up to my normal commuter bike, a full sized road bike. I am fairly tall, 6 feet 2 inches, so I was also skeptical about how well the Brompton would fit me. Over the next half hour all my skepticism evaporated.
This Brompton folding bike was a great ride. The two speed gearing was great for commuting. The large front chain ring compensated for the smaller wheels by giving me more pedal power and I had a gear for hills and a gear for cruising. Bromptons actually have rear suspension integrated into their design. This is critical on the rough New York streets. The Brompton handled well at higher speeds as I raced traffic across town on 85th. When I got to Central Park it was time to see how a Brompton bicycle would handle less stop and go riding. I pulled into the loop of the Central Park Bike Path, my mind set on racing some of those speed demon roadies.
I knew I had no real chance, but I figured, "Hey, at least I can get a laugh out of it later!" So I pulled in behind a pack of spandex clad carbon fiber racers and started pedaling furiously. Well, I wasn't exactly left in the dust, but I can't say I was any competition either! That's not to say that the Brompton isn't fast, on the contrary, it is among the fastest folding bikes. So having tested myself against impossible odds I slowed down and decided to enjoy the rest of the cruise through the park.
The ride of the Brompton folding bike was very smooth, not jittery like some folding bikes. To test this in the extreme I decided to see how far I could ride with no hands. Turns out, I could have probably ridden home without touching the handlebars again! Maybe that's an exaggeration, but it really was incredible. Even my full sized road bike shimmys around a bit without hands. Brompton bikes really seem to be well made.
Now leaving the eastern border of Central Park, I rode to Broadway and made my way for the large book store on 82nd street. I had to pick up a book for a class I am taking. I wasn't sure if the security guy would let me into the store with the folded Brompton, but I figured it was worth a try. I passed through the front door with the compactly folded Brompton bike in my right hand and smiled as the guards glanced at it with curiosity and then went back to their business. My book was on hold, so I took the Brompton bicycle right up the register and set it down next to me.
Once I got my book it was time to go home. I live around 134th and Broadway so I can take the bike path in New York's scenic Riverside Park. As I was leaving the store a man immediately came up to me and asked if he could watch me unfold my Brompton. Apparently he had been looking into them for a few days, watching videos of people unfolding them, and really wanted to see someone unfold one in person. So, brimming with pride at owning (or at least test driving) such a cool bike, I agreed. I unfolded the Brompton bicycle and made him hold it to see how light it was. "How fast is it", he asked. I looked at my watch and saw it was about 7:30. It dawned on me that I had actually gotten across town and taken that long detour through Central Park in only 20 minutes! "Fast!" was all I could say.
After a wonderful ride up the Hudson River in Riverside Park I was faced with the final test: how would it be to carry the Brompton folding bike up to my 5th floor walk-up apartment?
It was easier than I thought. The Brompton is light and compact, so I could carry it with one hand up the stairs and right into my living room. With a sigh, I tucked it under my desk. I would have liked to ride it all night.
All in all it was a fun commute from 85th and York. I was able to get across town quickly and take the Brompton with me wherever I went. It handled smoothly on rough pavement and at higher speeds thanks to its long wheel base design and rear suspension. This is really the king of folding bikes.
Brompton bikes come in a variety of setups to suit your personal riding style. The most popular seems to be the Brompton M3L, a good starting point for people new to the Brompton family of folding bicycles.