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Why I bought a Brompton folding bike

Published: 11 August 2020

Brompton M3L folding bike on the pier

I’ve owned a Brompton M3L folding bike for a week now and really love it, so much so that I wanted to share with the Internet why I bought one and the buying process I went through to own this awesome machine.

The company has not paid me to write this article. I just wanted to share my positive experience with the bike that may help others in their research.

I have also written an honest review of the folding bike to help you decide whether a Brompton is right for you.

Thanks and enjoy!

A folding bike? That’s cool!

When I first heard about the existence of folding bikes a few years ago, I really wanted one. I liked the idea of folding up something that was cumbersome to carry into a nice little package that could be taken with you on public transport without pissing off other passengers too much.

I didn’t really need a folding bike because I live in London; you have trains, the Underground, buses, taxis, riverboats, rickshaws and a million other ways to get around the city. If you held up £20 in the middle of Leicester Square on a busy weekend and shouted, “I need a lift to Harrods to buy some expensive shit!”, I’m sure some random would come scurrying up to you, take the money out of your hand, pick you up and give you a piggyback ride to the department store about two miles away, all without you having to say another word.

With transport being so convenient in London, my rational mind told me not to buy a folding bike, so I left it.

What the hell is that on my belly?! Oh, it’s my belly.

Then a few weeks ago, I noticed while looking in the mirror that my belly was protruding more than usual. I knew exactly what was causing this; eating too many packets of crisps. On average, I would eat a packet a day. But this was something I would never give up. Ever. I love them more than some of my relatives.

I had to come up with a solution to lose the belly. It wasn’t that big but because I have skinny arms and legs, they made it look bigger than it actually is.

I hate almost all forms of exercise, apart from walking and football. However, walking does get boring sometimes and it can be hard to get numbers for a decent game of football. Going to the gym wasn’t an option because I knew I would go a few times and then never go again. It would be like throwing money into a rubbish bin like it was an empty crisp packet.

Then I thought of cycling. I’ve used the Santander bikes around London and really enjoyed them. And they’re pretty cheap. They cost £2 to hire and you get unlimited 30-minute sessions within a 24-hour period. However, if you keep the bike for more than 30 minutes, you get charged another £2. You could cycle around London for hours and spend much more than you intended to. I hate being on a meter so couldn’t keep using them. Buying a bike was the only option.

It had to be a folding bike because I live in a shared house with seven randoms so there’s little space to keep my possessions; I would have to store it in my moderately-sized room.

I finally had a better reason to buy one than just thinking it was a great concept!

Which one do I buy?

The search for folding bikes began. I had no idea how much they cost or which brands were worth considering but I thought a budget of £300 would be enough for an entry-level folding bike that I could use occasionally for exercise so my friends wouldn’t think I was pregnant.

I started by searching for ‘folding bikes’ on Amazon. Most of you avid and professional cyclists will be thinking to yourselves, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?! Searching for a bike on Amazon! Mental case!”. But my reasoning for starting with Amazon was that is where I buy 99% of my stuff so I thought I would find a decent bike with my budget on the site.

The only bike brand that was worth considering based on customer star ratings was the Ecosmo. The one that caught my eye had 20” wheels, seven speed, weighed 12kg and cost £275. It looked perfect so I proceeded to skim read the customer reviews as I do with any other relatively expensive items I buy on Amazon.

The general consensus of the bike was it was good value for money but there were a few negative reviews that highlighted the poor quality of the bike, and one customer mentioned he got rid of it after a year because it was “mechanically unreliable and ultimately not worth the time and money to keep it on the road”. That put me off. I just wanted a folding bike that required minimal maintenance and would last a good while. The search continued.

I Googled ‘folding bikes’ and retailers that I was familiar with, like Halfords, Decathlon and Evan Cycles, appeared in the search results, along with Brompton, a brand that I had never heard of.

It took a gander at the Brompton site, watching their videos and reading their very persuasive reasons for buying one but after checking their prices, they wouldn’t be on my list of potentials. It was waaaay out of my budget. It was going to be one of the aforementioned retailers that I could trust.

I spent the next few days browsing bikes on their sites as well as other retailers around London and narrowed it down to the Carrera Intercity from Halfords for £375, B Twin Tilt 120 for £200 from Decathlon and the Freespirit Ruck 20” for £375 from thebikeproject.co.uk. However, like the Ecosmo bike I found on Amazon, I decided not to go with any of these three after reading negative reviews about their build-quality, weight and issues with folding.

If I wanted a decent folding bike, I would have to reluctantly increase my budget, and this led me to consider the Dahon after doing a little more research. But after watching this Brompton vs Dahon comparison video by BikeFolded on YouTube, where they viewed the former as superior in terms of performance and resale value, I decided to give the Brompton some serious consideration.

After browsing forums and watching videos on YouTube, everyone who owned a Brompton loved them – particularly because they were easy to fold and unfold – and recommended anyone considering buying a folding bike to buy one.

During my research, I came across a really informative video by this guy who runs the YouTube channel Everyday Cycling giving his long-term review of the bike, covering various aspects including comfort, folding size and process, design and accessories. His review was very thorough and he sold the bike so well, I was edging closer to buying one.

I also came across the Reddit Brompton community page where owners shared their experiences and photos of their bikes like it was their first-born child. I could see the love that these people had for them. That was it, I wanted a Brompton!

Brompton It Was

I went onto the Brompton site to see what was available. I didn’t really know what I was after so I just randomly clicked on the cheaper models but they were all sold out, including their most basic model, the B75 costing £745, a couple of hundred pounds cheaper than the next expensive model. I was gutted. It felt like going to Sainsbury’s to buy the Walkers crisps 12 multipack, only to find they are sold out (yes, that is how much I like crisps!). I knew that other retailers sold them but I wanted to buy one from an official store because this would be a big investment; if there were any issues with the bike, one of the staff would be able to fix it on-site.

On each of their product pages that were sold out, they had a link to find your nearest store – what they call Brompton Junctions – so I clicked through to see if I could buy one in person. Being in London, my nearest store was in Covent Garden.

While browsing the site, I also learned that you could test ride their bikes before making a purchase. You could just turn up to a Brompton Junction and take one for a spin without making an appointment. However, they also stated on their website that due to COVID-19, they were limiting the number of people visiting their stores and sales of one bike per person so I decided to email them to check if I could come in for a test ride that same day as I didn’t want to waste a journey into central London.

The Covent Garden Junction team replied an hour later but the anonymous sender who responded had misread my email, thinking I wanted to buy one instead of wanting a test ride. They mentioned that the earliest appointment I could make to buy one was the 12th October, more than two months from that day. “Jesus!”, I said to myself. I didn’t know Bromptons were that popular. But then I realised that this waiting time made sense; more people would rather get around the city on bike than risk catching the coronavirus on public transport.

The same person who replied to me realised their mistake and sent another message, saying that I could come to the store any time but there may be a bit of a wait due to the queuing system they had in place. I thanked them, took a shower and made my way to Covent Garden.

The Test Ride

I approached the store and immediately noticed the barrier they had at the entrance. I looked through the glass door and saw one customer inside so I waited with excitement. I was minutes away from test riding a bike that pretty much everyone on the Internet was recommending!

While that customer was being served, one of the staff saw me standing outside so she came to the door and asked how she could help. I told her I would like to test ride one of their bikes to which she replied, “Which handlebar type would you like to try?”. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t have a clue what she was on about. “What handlebars do you have?”, I asked.

She went onto explain the three types of handlebars they had; the ‘S-Bar’ that has a low riding position, the ‘M-Bar’ at medium height and the ‘H-Bar’ being the highest. She said that if you don’t know which type you’re after, it’s best to try the ‘M-Bar’ first and then figure it out from there. So I tried that one first and handed over my credit card and ID as insurance; I’ve heard Bromptons are hot property and people have had theirs stolen.

I took the bike to the alleyway behind the store and tested it there. The handlebars felt comfortable and after two minutes, I knew I wanted a Brompton. It felt smooth to ride, it had good manoeuvrability, quick acceleration and the brakes worked well.

I then tried the ‘S-Bar’ but instantly knew it wasn’t for me as it was too low.

The ‘H-Bar’ felt just as comfortable as the ‘M-Bar’ and couldn’t decide between the two so I settled with the latter.

The Interrogation

I went back into the store and another member of the team, Thiago, asked me what I thought of the bike. I told him I loved it and wanted one. Little did he know, he was about to be subjected to 30 minutes of questioning by someone who knew nothing about bikes.

I asked pretty much every question that a novice would ask about the folding bike and bikes in general, including the folding and unfolding process, how easy it was to carry when folded, which one was best for casual riding in a park but could also be used for commuting, how comfortable the seat was when riding for long periods, maintenance of the gears, if the Brompton Junctions abroad could fix the bike if there were any issues with it if you took it on holiday with you, how long the warranty was, etc, etc.

Thiago was very knowledgeable and patient with me and I could tell he was very passionate about the bike and brand, owning one himself. This was one of the reasons why I bought a Brompton; if I ever had any problems with the bike, experienced staff like Thiago would be able to fix it.

After the interrogation, the only thing left to do was to book an appointment to make a purchase. I remembered from the email that his colleague sent me earlier that I would have to wait at least two months before I could buy one so decided to book it now so I didn’t have to wait any longer. If I changed my mind at a later date, I could just easily call them up and cancel it. I turned to Thiago and said, “I’m sold! I want to make an appointment.”.

Riding off into the sunset…or just down the street

He replied, “What I can do for you is sell you this one today”, pointing to a green M3 model on the shelf (the 3 representing the number of speeds). My heart started racing. I wasn’t expecting to own one so soon but I was excited that I could leave the store riding on one of their bikes that very same day, despite being told the waiting time was over two months.

I took ten seconds to think about it as it was a big investment. After giving myself a headache thinking for so long and hard, I decided to buy one, but I didn’t like the green so asked if they had the same model in a different colour. Thiago pointed to a purple one, but again, I said I wasn’t a fan of the colour.

He looked around the shelves again. A few seconds later, he said the titanium was available. Perfect! I liked dark colours. 99% of my wardrobe is either black or grey. I took it and then we walked over to the till to sort it out. I was smiling hard inside but kept a poker face.

After a few minutes playing with the till, Thiago said that one of the mechanics needed to give the bike a good once over to ensure that it was in perfect working order and that it would take 20 minutes. I said that was fine and went for a walk around Covent Garden and its surrounding streets.

I returned to the store, only to be notified that the mechanic who was meant to be checking my bike had gone for his lunch the same time I had left 20 minutes earlier and asked me to come back again in 15 minutes. I had spent the last 4 days researching folding bikes so another 15 minutes wasn’t a big deal. I left the store again and took a wander around the streets I hadn’t walked down earlier.

When I returned to the store, the bike was waiting for me at the till. This was it! I could finally ride it. It reminded of the time when I was 19 and I went to the car dealer to pick up my first car, a Peugeot 106. I was filled with excitement. Thiago unfolded the bike and said “There you go!”. I thanked him for all his help and rode back home while trying so hard not to smile like I was demented.

It was a massive joy cycling through London on a bike. I felt like a commuter, even though I wasn’t heading to work or doing anything in particular that day. Before, I never understood why people rode bikes in the city when they could take the Underground or a bus that would get them to their destination much faster than bike could but now I knew why. It was that feeling of freedom and cool breeze in your face as you coasted down a busy road. It was exhilarating!

However, as I was riding through Shoreditch, I noticed that the saddle had slipped down so much that I was practically peering over the handlebars like a toddler sitting at a dinner table trying to see over it. I stuck out my left arm to indicate to other road users that I had to make an emergency pit stop, adjusted me seat back to the right height, turned around and then headed back to the store.

When I got there, I mentioned my problem to one of the team and minutes later, one of the mechanics came out onto the street and tightened up one of the screws. Sorted!

I knew I had made the right choice buying a Brompton, knowing that if I was cycling around London, I could just take it to the Junction team in Covent Garden and they would remedy the problem there and then.

I rode off again feeling happy with my new toy. Cycling was going to be my new hobby.

And after a week with my Brompton, I’m happy to say that my belly is less prominent!

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