Act of aggression

A site dedicated to cycling rants about Brisbane ...and a board game

New bicycle!

 

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A little over a week ago my new bicycle arrived, a Brompton from the United Kingdom.  This bike is to replace my daily commuter, a Dahon Speed which I bought from a friend 2nd hand. 

I love the Dahon, and have replaced just about everything on it to keep it going over the last couple of years.  My daily commute is 30km round trip, and I’ve used the Dahon for most other trips too, so conservatively I’ve done over 20,000 kms on it.  At initial purchase price of $200, even adding in costs of replacement parts, my estimated running costs have probably only been between 1 and 5 cents per kilometre.

For those who want to know these things, my Brompton spec is H6R, with the following additions:

·      Extension seat post

·      Shimano hub dynamo with lights

·      Brompton bespoke folding front basket

·      ‘Eazy’ wheels (for rolling the bike with ‘eaze’ when it is folded up)

Bromptons can at their worst be described as a funny, quirky little urban bicycle.  At their best they can be described as a modern engineering masterpiece, bordering on art. 

A good folding bicycle is for me a lot like an Apple iPad.  When the iPad came onto the market I really wanted one because it was such an attractive example of industrial design, but I wasn’t convinced of its utility.  Once I had purchased an iPad, however, I couldn’t imagine life without it.  It’s just so damned useful! 

Same with a good folder.

When I handed over $200 for my Dahon I thought it might get used once in a while.  However it soon became my everyday ride, stashed under my desk at work (no more stuffing around in the building basement locking it up) and unobtrusively tucked into the corner of a train carriage when the weather turned nasty or after a late night out.

I say a good folding bike, because people I know who have bought incredibly cheap designs from supermarkets or department stores haven’t used their folders nearly as much as I have.

So given the utility of a good folder, the brilliance of the design, and the advantage of having a good look (and a couple of quick rides) of a friend’s Brompton, I had very few qualms spending money on a Brompton of my own.

Besides, I’m a sucker for an industrial design icon.

There was an 8 week wait from ordering to expected delivery, which unfortunately dragged out to 10 weeks before the bicycle actually arrived.  Due, I suspect, to Brompton bicycles now being imported via a local distributor instead of directly by Australian bike shops.  The bicycle arrived in a box, all folded up, and apparently ready to ride. Usually when I purchase a new bike, I spend a couple of hours going over it to make sure everything is assembled properly, lubricated, and adjusted correctly before I ride it.  I was lulled into a false sense of security on this occasion, and have since lost a piece that presumably hadn’t been tightened up properly at the factory, and hadn’t been picked up by the shop I bought it from who assured me they fully inspect the bike before couriering it on to me.  The bike shop was very good about it though, and posted me a replacement piece straight away.

The bike was couriered to me because I chose not to buy from the local Brisbane shop: previous bicycles bought from that particular shop have been woefully assembled, needing almost a complete rebuild on one occasion, and the shop is becoming notorious for bad service. Unfortunately the next closest Brompton dealer was in Sydney, almost 1,000kms away, although I have since discovered the newly appointed distributor also operates from Brisbane.

The positives

The engineering that has gone into this bicycle is awesome.  Its fold is more complicated than the Dahon, and takes longer (although I’m still inexperienced at folding it), but it is much more thought out.   

 

 

The Dahon just folds in half, with the seatpost then getting lowered and the steering stem folded over too. The finished fold is just held together by a magnet and metal plate near the front and rear axles.  My Dahon, being older, is slightly more advanced than the modern Terns or Dr Hons which share its lineage: the modern bikes have the steering stem fold outside the bike and held from flailing about by a rubber strap.  Whereas my older Dahon is designed such that the steering stem folds inside the two halves.

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The Brompton’s folded size is smaller than the Dahon, but its real achievement is that, when folded, the Brompton is much easier to carry about and is a lot more stable.  My Dahon won’t stand by itself when folded, but needs to be leant against a pole or wall, and is unwieldy to carry.  In contrast, the folded Brompton is much easier to carry, stands solidly on its own and can be rolled about with ‘eaze.’

The day my Brompton arrived at the office coincided with the first torrential downpour of the storm season. Riding it home on-handed from the station, through several inches of surface water whilst holding an umbrella, I was first struck by how incredibly well balanced the Brompton seems to be.  Track-standing was incredibly easy, even with little to no getting used to the bike.

Despite its diminutive look, the Brompton is also incredibly comfortable to ride.  I opted for firm suspension because when test riding the standard suspension seemed too soft.  The bicycle has rear suspension by means of a rubber block between the main frame and its hinged rear triangle, very reminiscent of Alex Moulton’s suspension solution for Issigoni’s  Morris Mini Minor.  However I will probably upgrade the suspension to something adjustable as the firm block seems too firm.

The Brompton is designed for front-mounted luggage, with a bespoke mounting system and a matching range of bags.  I opted for the cheapest luggage option: an open topped cloth bag with carry handles.  Even the design of this bag is good, with simple, integrated cantilever support, and the ability to completely remove the cloth from the frame if necessary.  The bag is also cavernous, easily carrying everything I’d usually stick into a pannier and with room for my messenger bag which, on the Dahon, I usually had to wear over my shoulder.  The bag is almost too big, because it invites me to put too much heavy stuff in it which does make the bicycle feel a bit too front heavy, exacerbated no doubt by the 16” wheels.

The bicycle also comes with some neat additions, like a Zefal pump in a frame integrated mount. a bell integrated into the left-hand gear lever (there’s not a lot of room on the handlebars for mounting things) and bespoke elastic straps for the bespoke rear luggage rack. The left-hand folding pedal is also a bespoke design, appearing to be considerably sturdier than generic folding pedals offered for other bikes.

The negatives

As Peter Eland would politely put it, there are perhaps just a few little niggles. Having an important part fall off because it wasn’t tightened properly being, of course, a pretty major one.

The front-heavy feel of the bike when carrying stuff in the front-mounted luggage, combined with the small wheels, do make the bike feel skittish and slippery or uneven surfaces need to be ridden upon with care.  On my first ride into work I had to brake heavily due to a stupid cow throwing open her car door in traffic, and the back wheel locked up.

While the rear light has a stand light function (remaining illuminated when stopped),however the front light does not. 

Both front and rear mudguards have additional mudflaps, the rear mudflap being rubber. However the front mudflap is made of a thin cloth which doesn’t look too long lasting.  I’ll replace it with one cut out of rubber when I get the chance.

On my bicycle the main Brompton decal had a couple of unsightly air bubbles which now can’t be shifted, but probably could have been taken care of easily when the decal was first applied in the factory.  This doesn’t affect the bike’s performance, and is really only a small, personal annoyance.

All up, it really is an amazing piece of machinery and I am, to use Brompton’s native language, well chuffed with it.