As you probably know, Brompton is a manufacturer of iconic folding bikes based in London, England. I use the word manufacturer in the old fashioned sense - you can actually see people brazing up frames in their London factory.
The original bike was created by Andrew Ritchie, in 1975, in his flat near the Brompton Oratory in Kensington, London. A cynic might say that it is the folding bike of choice for a certain class of urbanites who consider themselves just-oh-so-cool, or, perhaps even more disturbingly, just-oh-so-intelligent.
In terms of gearing the classic Brompton kit is a hub gear. However sometime around the year 2000 Brompton introduced a 2 speed derailleur, designed to be used in conjunction with that hub gear. It is a peculiar device constructed of modern plastic but otherwise oddly pre-war in its design.
I have a strange and confused personal relationship with Brompton. It has four sources:
- I can't help but admire Brompton's idiosyncracy. Manufacturing in high-cost London, producing a gawky looking bike that just happens to fold up small, cleverly marketing this product to create an icon of metropolitan cool - there's a lot going on here that is beyond good - it's brilliant. But, but, but...
- One summer, many decades ago, the shop in which I worked was merrily selling the odd Brompton. At that time (and also today) Brompton made a big noise about quality. However we had a repeating problem with paint blistering and we could never get Brompton to take the problem seriously. Of course Brompton has completely changed its factory, its paint shop, its quality control systems and its senior management since then, but it left a strange taste in my mouth. If you live outside London, like I do, you sometimes find London folk curiously off-hand and hard to take. It's a style thing.
- And then a friend of mine who is a committed Brompton fundamentalist told me (and still tells me) that, because of their magic frame geometry, Bromptons ride just like a large wheeled bike. I agreed to go on a 40 mile ride with him, swapping my touring bike for his Brompton at the half way point. At the end of my 20 miles on the Brompton I was tired and sore like I have never been before. Now I know that Brompton offer a bucket-load of choices of handlebars, and I possibly did not spend enough time adjusting my position - but when my pal goes into one of his quasi-religious rants about the glory of Bromptons I just nod and smile. For me, a Brompton is a great commuting bike, but I don't quite accept it as a true manifestation of Almighty God on this imperfect Earth. It's a style thing.
- And then, and then, and then there are those front forks. This is a £1,000 bike, but the fork crown is a very, very, plain piece of pressed steel with sharp, stress-raising, edges, without any thinning or shaping. It would not look out of place on the cheapest of supermarket bikes. This is a £1,000 bike but the front fork ends are constructed by crushing the tube of the fork blades and cutting a slot in the end. They would also not look out of place on the cheapest of supermarket bikes. Now I have never known a Brompton have any problems with its forks, but I can't help thinking that a £1,000 bike deserves forks with a forged crown and solid ends. It's a style thing.
As Oscar Wilde predicted, I tend to forgive everything except genius.