Today, the ISWE staff visited Accent Bicycles located in Carmel, Indiana. David Tortora, the Indianapolis areas' Brompton expert showed us around some of his extensive stock of foldable Brompton beauties. We'll interview David in an upcoming blog entry. For now, we'll discuss some first impressions of the Bromtons, benchmarked against the ISWE Birdy.
First of first impressions are that Bromptons fold small, really really small. Take a look at the comparison with the ISWE Birdy, which folds to a size common for most foldable bikes with 16" wheels. The Brompton is much more compact. Theoretically, a new Birdy folds to 21" tall x 30" wide x 15.4" deep (9702 cubic inches). A Brompton, on the other hand, folds to 23" tall x 22.2" wide x 10.6" deep (5412 cubic inches). The side by side comparison really shows the difference.
Check out the width comparison. In the real world, the Brompton folds smaller than the Birdy in height, width, and depth. More importantly, the Brompton also folds smarter. When folded, the Birdy has little bits sticking out everywhere. Part of that, of course, is the ISWE staff's fault for putting on bar ends. Some folks have figured out how to make those things fold also, but it really is a major modification. That combined with a Brompton-style folding left pedal would make the Birdy more compact, but it still woldn't be as solidly compact as the Bromton. Not only does the Brompton fold to a compact size, it stays that way. While the Birdy's front wheel has a tendency to unfold itself in two troubling directions, often with no notice, the Bromton clips together and stays together. You can darn near shake the thing like a Basset Hound shaking a sock monkey and it will stay folded and secure. That's a big deal when you're loading it in the trunk of the wife's car. You don't have to worry about scratching any paint--not that the ISWE staff has done that :) The left folding pedal on the Brompton is an excellent touch. It makes that side of the bike virtually flat. That makes it set well in the trunk. While the Birdy flops around, the Brompton stays where you put it. That left folding pedal also makes the Brompton easy to carry. SImply pick it up by the saddle and you're off, no odd parts sticking out to jab you in the shin.
What is it they say, "Two Bromptons in the boot are worth one Birdy in the trunk." Hmmm?I don't imagine anyone says that exactly, but I was able to put two in the trunk of the Swimbo's (She Who Must Be Obeyed) Volkswagen Jetta.
Not only was I able to fit two in the trunk, there was plenty of room for other stuff to spare... stuff like Swimbo's grocery bags! There was also a lot of room vertically. I could imagine fitting two Bromptons and enough luggage for two for a couple of days with little or no problem. No roof rack. No bike rack on the rear. No problem. Excellent design.
For comparison, here's how the ISWE staff normally rolls. There's still room in that trunk, but it's hard to access. Note that the Birdy and a Bromton are both 16"-wheeled bikes, virtually the same size unfolded.
One of the little bits sticking out on the Birdy is the seat hinge. It has sharp edges that have scratched and marred the inside plastic trim in that trunk. That will be a little secret between ISWE readers and staff. We'll consider Swimbo on a need-to-know basis. Rest assured with a Brompton, such an occurrence of scratching would be much less likely.
Overall engineering on the Brompton is just plain smart. Here we see two really super cool features of that engineering. 1) Notice the semi-folded, "parked" position. Flipping the back wheel of the Brompton under the bike serves as a really solid kickstand. The ISWE staff just broke the kickstand on the ISWE Birdy. If only we had this function. 2) Notice the messenger bag. One really cool feature of the Brompton is the luggage block. It's a little trapezoidal thing attached to the headset. It enables one to quickly and easily clip on all sorts of luggage from the T-Bag for touring, to a basket, to this bag, the S-Bag, for general messenger bag type stuff. No sweaty back here. Just clip the bag on the bike and go.
Just below the bag, you can see the halogen lighting system on this Brompton. It operates off of a Shimano hub-driven generator. No batteries here. Turn it on, start riding, and it lights both the head and taillight. It also charges a small battery in the rear to power the lights during stops. It really is a neat system. The drag it creates in the on position is virtually unnoticeable. My experience with battery-powered lights is that, when you need them, they are either dead or missing (because you popped them off of your bike to use as a flashlight). This is a very smart design.
And here we see the little blue Brompton in shopping cart mode. When the bike is completely folded, the luggage block remains accessible. Clip on the internal-frame bag or basket and you're off to the store or office or wherever. You can actually pull the bike along with the handle of the bag. It rolls on the four casters attacked to the rack. Cool. I could really see this option coming in handy. The Birdy has been so handy that even stopping long enough to lock it to a bike rack seems a nuisance. Why not just fold the bike, slap on the bag, and let the little guy carry the weight of your laptop all the way to your meeting. I'd really like to give that a try.
One of the many advantages to folding bikes is security. I once met a bike store owner in Columbus, Ohio who was absolutely paranoid about carrying his bikes around on roof or trunk racks on his vehicles. Imagine that, always being stressed out wondering if someone's stealing your seat while you're in the grocery buying Twinkies (Did they stop making those? I hope not.) Why not stash your little bike in the trunk instead. Rooftops are no place for bikes or politician's dogs. Keep them inside the car, safe, and happy. They are family after all.
Overall Brompton Advantages:
If the ISWE staff could have only one folding bike (which is subject to the approval of Swimbo) it would probably be a Brompton. In that the point of a folding bike is to fold, and the Brompton does that like no other folding bike, there really is very little question. It folds easier, smarter, smaller, and more solidly than anything I've encountered. A+ to Andrew Ritchie. For this fold, one pays a little in performance, but only in a way that actually increases the character of the experience--again, like shifting the standard VW bus. The fold, combined with the ride character, and the virtually endless array of Swiss-Army-like accessories, makes the Brompton an easy choice. Now, if only we can convince Swimbo :)
Thanks to Dave Tortora at Accent Bikes in Carmel, Indiana for providing ISWE entre to the wonderful world of Bromptons. Stay tuned for an interview with Dave. For more information on Bromptons, feel free to contact Dave directly via the Accent Bicycles website.