Monday, 23 February 2015

Brompton M3L review

My Mum used to have something like a Brompton in the late 80's and even then, as a child that loved all manner of things, I thought it was rather silly.

The fold looked awkward and as did the single low top tube. Bluntly, it simply wasn't a real bike. And before I bought one a few weeks back and started to use one on a daily basis, I would have still agreed with the 5 year old me.

Cycle Scheme

Luckily, my company offers a great benefits package and it allows me to enjoy my two wheeled hobby perhaps more than I would or should be able to otherwise. Couple that with the fact that I hate the walking parts of my commute, I ended up taking the plunge to try out a Brompton.

My requirements

Before any major purchase, it's best to write a list of requirements so that you can accurately assess them against each option.
  • Could be stowed on a train during rush hour (there are strict limitation on what bikes can be on London bound trains)
  • Had some kind of street cred
  • Had a good reputation for reliability
  • Could take mud guards
  • Had a good supply of spares available
  • Wasn't too awkward to fold up or down
  • Would last 5 years
  • Would fit me comfortably and allow me to cycle efficiently
My M3L 2014 Brompton
In the end, it was always going to be a Brompton. It's synonymous with commuting and it's the final word in the best fold-up money can buy.

Which Brompton model to buy?

I'd done some prior research on sizing (there's only one size frame) and specs. I'd deduced that I'd want the M3L and in red (they go faster). In Brompton speak, M3L means it would come with a traditional handlebar, 3 gears, mudguards and a pump.

Below is a breakdown of what the different Brompton codes mean. You can even customise your own version on Brompton's website too.
Handlebar style Gearing choice Fixtures
S Sporty 1 Single speed E Minimal; no mudguards or pump
M Traditional 2 2 speed derailleur L Mudguards and pump
P Dual height 3 3 speed internal hub
H Upright 6 6 speed internal hub R Mudguards, pump and rear rack

Material
X optional lighter titanium forks, triangle and sundries

The art of folding

Neatly folder and taking up little space
on the train
Well, it's not really much of an art to be honest. With almost anything, it's practise that makes perfect. But to those who are unfamiliar with the few steps it takes to fold a Brompton, it can look like poetry in mechanical-motion (well it did to me when I first saw a chap swing and fold this bike from nothing into something. Marvellous).

Learn how to fold on the Brompton website.

What's the ride like?

My initial reaction to riding a Brompton was how twitchy it is. I usually ride very slack head angled mountain bikes, which means steering is slower and more predictable, so riding a Brompton almost feels like steering on a uni-cycle. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to get used to and within the week it becomes second nature.

The small wheels mean acceleration is quick and the rear 'shock' takes the sting out of the road and provide a very comfortable ride. I would still recommend to avoid pot-holes and bumps as the small wheels can literally become engulfed in some of the pot-holes in London.

The handlebars flex when you're really pushing it, but then this isn't a race bike. It's a sit-up and ride comfortably whilst enjoying your morning commute. It's still plenty fast, but with minimal and tall gearing, coupled with London traffic, you won't be getting up to full speed all that often.

Usually I modify my bikes within hours of getting them. New tyres, new brakes or saddle. Something has to change. But for the Brompton, it's testament to its sound specification that I haven't changed a thing. The saddle is comfortable, brakes worthy and the tyres have proven themselves over an English Winter. I couldn't be more impressed and satisfied.

Final thoughts

When I first started to write this post I had only had the bike for a few months. I've since been rather busy and I've now owned the bike for 6 and my thoughts on the bike haven't changed. It's still the right bike for commuting, it's recognised everywhere and it's been the tool that I needed to help reduce the frustrations and durations of my commute. On a short walking commute this bike has saved me 30 minutes a day at least. It also leaves me more comfortable when I get to the office and carrying heavier items, such as laptops, are less of a concern than when I was walking.

I truly wish I had bought a Brompton earlier.