For every person online raving about Bromptons, there will be someone trashing them. They have a cult following and a few serial haters (I suspect that many of those who are negative about them have never ridden one, or not ridden one far enough to see past the initial twitchiness and inevitable foibles, inherent in such a machine).
Every bike is a compromise. Each is perfect for one particular role, probably quite good in a number of other roles, and quite likely awful for the rest. As well as the issue of specificity v. generality, there are also the issues of quality v. price, and weight v. strength.
The bottom line is this … you are the person best-placed to determine whether a Brompton is the right bike for you. Nevertheless, here are some of the reasons why I bought mine (followed by some reasons why you shouldn’t buy a Brompton, in the interests of balance … as well as some alternative bikes you could consider):
The reasons for (the ‘pros’)
- The fold, which makes it compact and portable (which is why most people buy one);
- It’s fast foldability and fast un-foldability, which make it the best option for taking on public transport, when you want to ride the bike before and after your journey (every other bike requires longer to fold/unfold, or is more bulky);
- It’s made in the UK, where I live – call me old school, but I like the fact that the frames are hand-brazed and painted in the UK, and that the bikes are assembled here too (I’m not sure how many of the 1200+ parts are made here, but I suspect a fair number of them are);
- It fits me well-enough (only custom-built bikes fit their owners perfectly);
- The engineering aesthetic – you’ll either appreciate this or not really care, but the tolerances to which it is manufactured and the attention to detail are a pleasure to behold (especially the raw-lacquered frame version, which I chose);
- The range of accessories available (including all sorts of bags);
- The ability to systematically upgrade the base model that you buy, including fitting a Rohloff speedhub (a major undertaking, best outsourced to someone like Ben Cooper at Kinetics), and/or disc brakes (ditto);
- They hold their value well;
- You get to join the Brompton family … no, it’s not really a cult 😉
The reasons against (the ‘cons’)
- Initial cost – despite the fact that Bromptons hold their value well;
- Theft – especially in cities, because thieves know how much they are worth;
- Poor fit – Bromptons are unlikely to fit everybody, despite all of the various permutations of handlebars and seat posts etc that are available … after all, ‘one size fits all’ fits nobody perfectly … be sure to try before you buy, if at all possible;
- Speed – let’s face it, you won’t win any races, unless you’re intent on competing in the Brompton World Championships (don’t forget your jacket and tie) … I average about 11-12 mph when touring (based on routes involving a fair number of hills);
- Uphills – although this is possibly a fitness thing, and dependent on the gearing you choose (unsurprisingly, I’m finding hills easier as I spend more time in the saddle);
- Cleaning can be a bit fiddly – just because a Brompton has a small frame, don’t think that there is less maintenance required;
- A significant number of parts are proprietary, which could be an issue if you are touring in an area where access to spares was limited (and you haven’t packed any).
Alternatives (not an exhaustive list)
All of these other brands have their own advantages and disadvantages, all of which need to be weighed up if you are intent on buying a folding bike (literally in some cases … Bromptons aren’t that light, but some alternatives are behemoths). Also, some of their price tags make a Brompton look positively cheap in comparison 😉
It is testament to Andrew Ritchie’s original design that a Brompton still has no direct competition, IF your overarching needs are a combination of true compactness, speed of fold, and a reasonable ride. If an accomplished ride is the most important factor in your decision-making, you should probably look elsewhere.