UK based manufacturer Brompton Bicycles produces folding bicycles based on a hinged bicycle frame and 16 inch wheels. Designed to be thrown in the car, taken on holiday and for ease of urban use; the Brompton could revolutionize your bicycle life.
Let’s face it, folding bikes are not for everyone, but the Brompton somehow manages to make them look a little sexy. Surprisingly there are about 22,000 bicycles produced by this company in Britain each year, and 70 percent are exported. They estimate their total production since about 1988 at about 150,000.
What makes the Brompton production quite unique is the absence of an assembly line. All the bikes are hand built in the factory including the 1,200 parts they’re comprised of. This makes for a rather labor intensive task, but the company believes this kind of attention and the testing along the way ensure a quality product – even it takes them six hours to build a single bike. But it seems they put that above chasing sales, which is actually quite refreshing and perhaps typical of historically quality British products. In 2009 they reported record growth that appears set to continue.
The Brompton is the last transport manufacturer based in London and the nation’s largest volume bicycle manufacturer, so it’s still making history today. Andrew Ritchie first filed the original patent for the design in 1979. Ritchie was an engineering graduate who was working as a landscape gardener when he came across the Bickerton folding bicycle and decided to improve it.
Friends backed the building of his prototype (15kg) and again stepped in when no licensees would take up the design, helping him produce 500 bikes. But it wasn’t until the mid 1980s he secured funding and was able to start full production. He cut the bike’s weight to 11.3kg (25lbs) and interest soared after the 1987 Cyclex exhibition. Andrew Ritchie still puts a Brompton or two in his trunk when he goes away for a weekend.
The Brompton shrinks both vertically and lengthwise during folding, which takes about 10-20 seconds so you can cycle right up until you board a bus or train. More current models have retrofitting parts to fit older models.
All models have a front luggage block to carry cargo and one-, two-, three-, or six-speed gearing options. Some Bromptons have been reduced to less than 8kg (17lbs) in weight and others converted to electric bikes with a motor weighing just 2kg (4.5lbs).
The Brompton is probably not for everyone as there are inbuilt limitations.*Custom made parts replacements take longer, repairs may cost more, 16-inch tires are less common, limited gears restrict the length of rides, manufacture is done in one frame size only and the handlebar height is not adjustable.
However if you’re adventurous and enjoy the convenience of literally packing your bike away at a moment’s notice, the Brompton could still be for you. If you purchase a Brompton you also become part of a unique and specialized community.
Owners can register on the Brompton website for support materials and to share pictures and stories with riders around the world. There’s even a Brompton World Championships and in 2010 will be the first annual US Championship.
- Standard Frames: Yes
- Custom Frames: No
- Retrofitting old bikes: No
- Year Established: Founded in 1976, mass production restored in 1988
- Products Made In: West London, UK
- Availability: UK and USA bicycle retailers, distributors with dealer networks in 27 export markets
- Types of Bicycles: folding bikes, electric bikes
- Construction Methods: Brazing
- Frame Materials: titanium, non-titanium, steel, low carbon frames