One of the great things about riding bicycles, and small-wheeled bicycles in particular, is that it is a great way to get to meet and interact with a lot of really interesting, enthusiastic people. Recently, I had such an opportunity. I spent the afternoon getting to know David Tortora and his Brompton bicycles.
David Tortora is a bicycle enthusiast who operates Accent Bicycles in Carmel, Indiana, selling folding bikes and electric bikes. David has a great deal of experience with bikes and people. This allows him to expertly match a rider with the bike that most closely fits his or her needs.
Currently, David has a pretty impressive inventory of Bromptons. He’s also evaluating Tern folding bicycles as perhaps a lower-cost alternative to Bromptons for beginner riders or riders on a budget. Although David sized me up immediately as a Brompton fan, he couldn’t resist showing me his new Swiss-designed Stromer electric bicylcles. They operate in three modes: 1) bike mode (in which the bike operates basically as a cruiser-type bike that handles pretty well for its weight); 2) power-assist mode (in which the bikes purpose-built 600-watt electric motor helps you pedal and makes you feel like Superman; and 3) power-on-demand mode (in which the bike basically functions as an electric motorcycle). Wow.
David has been generous enough to contribute some of his thoughts on folding bikes in the form of a short interview. I hope you will enjoy reading it. We’ll look forward to keeping in touch with David in the future. Perhaps he can send us a report from one of his many Brompton cycling adventures.
If you are interested in folding or electric bicycles, don't hesitate to contact David directly at:
11700 Oak Tree Way
Carmel, IN 46032
Thanks again to David for a great afternoon and a great interview!
Barry Barker: During my visit to your shop, you mentioned first discovering Brompton folding bicycles on a trip to England. That seems like the perfect introduction to what is the quintessential British folding bike. For those of us who haven't had the opportunity to see a Brompton for the first time in its native land, can you share a little bit about what that was like?
David Tortora: Thank you Barry. I’d be happy to, as it was a very nice, educational experience for me.
I saw my first Brompton while visiting London about ten years ago. The first one I noticed was when I was going into a teashop for a cup of tea. As a side note, I do not drink much tea, but while in London, I just sort of go with the crowd. Anyway, as we were walking into the teashop, I noticed what appeared to me to be a crunched-up wheelchair. I had never seen a folding bike before so I had no idea what I was looking at.
When we were about to leave the teashop, an elderly lady got up to leave just in front of us. She was using a cane to walk and was walking quite slowly as it was apparent that she had difficulty walking. My wife and I walked very slowly behind her. She paid her bill near the door and proceeded to walk out the door. We paid our bill right after she did. When we got out of the shop, I saw her put the cane on the handlebars, flip the bike in a single motion into the riding position, and ride away better than she could walk!
Before I left London, I actually interviewed some riders. The night before we were to leave, we were in an outside pub and about a dozen riders all came by and every rider was on a Brompton. I went up to them and ask how they liked the bikes and how they use them. To a man (and woman) they said that they ride them to work, ride them to race, and ride them for general fun and travel. They had NOTHING negative to say about this bike.
The next day I was scheduled to leave in the afternoon. In the morning, I went to a Brompton dealer and purchased my first Brompton.
Barry Barker: Some people say the Brompton just feels different. I think I experienced a little of that riding your Arctic Blue M6R, it just felt right. What do you think it is that makes the ride of the Brompton feel so different from the ride of other bikes?
David Tortora: The Brompton was designed from the very onset as a folding bike. Andrew Ritchie, the inventor of the Brompton, had worked for Brickerton, another folding bike manufacturer. Mr. Ritchie felt that he could design a better folding bike. It turns out that he did, as this bike is considered by almost everyone as the best folding bicycle made anywhere.
The Brompton has many patents that protect its uniqueness. One of the very best patents is its unique contoured main frame. This allows the wheel to fit snuggly under the mainframe thus making for a much smaller over package than other folding bikes. Also, many other manufacturers use standard bicycle parts to make their folding bike offering. This clear compromise usually makes for a more difficult, less compact fold, and can compromise the ride as well.
Finally, many people feel that because of the 16” wheel that speed is compromised. This is simply not true as the Brompton is certainly fast enough. The 16” wheel does allow the rider to make much sharper turns than a bike with a larger wheel.
Barry Barker: I know I have a really nice memory of riding my Birdy folding bike around the National Mall in Washington D.C. It's a trip I'll never forget and I don't think it would have been so enjoyable, or even have happened at all, with a conventional 27" bicycle. Is there any favorite memory you have that you can share about riding a Brompton?
David Tortora: Yes. One place that I like to go is to Milwaukee during their many ethnic summer festivals. They have one every week. My wife and I have gone for four or five weekends every summer. We simply put the Bromptons in the trunk and go. Many times when we’re traveling with our Bromptons, we chuckle when we see others carting their bicycles on racks on the back of their cars. Usually, the wheels are spinning and if it rains, the bikes are filthy. Also, there is always the danger of a bike falling on the road and causing an accident. This can’t happen when you carry your Brompton inside your vehicle. Also, I’ve taken many trips to Chicago and ridden along the lakes and visited the popular spots for eating and enjoying the atmosphere.
Barry Barker: What advice do you have for people who are thinking about buying a new bicycle? Should they consider a folding bike? Should they consider a Brompton?
David Tortora: I think a folding bike is more practical for almost any occasion as it has flexibilities that are not available with a standard-size bicycle.
I would always consider a Brompton. The Brompton is probably the most costly but then again, it is considered by almost everyone to be the best folding bicycle made. I, too, am one of those people.
Barry Barker: You spent much of your career prior to bicycles as an entrepreneur working on the cutting-edge of computer technologies. You are also a long-time Indianapolis area resident. You know bikes. Throwing all of those things into the mix, what do you think the future holds for bicycling in the Indianapolis area? What does it look like ten years from now? What, if anything, should cyclists be doing now in anticipation of years to come?
David Tortora: To begin, Mayor Ballard, a bicycle enthusiast, has contributed much to embracing bicycling here in Indianapolis. I believe he has added close to (or maybe more) than a hundred miles of bicycles trails in the city. He also has his yearly summer ride and just last year started his day after New Year’s ride. The Monon trail, which connects to the Cultural Trail, which connects to the Canal makes for an excellent offering to/for bike riders.
In short, bicycling is fun and healthy. I ride to work almost every day in the summer. I typically lose about ten pounds without really trying. It also saves a bit of money by not using as much gasoline.
It seems like a forgone conclusion that bicycling will grow both here and in other locals. Actually, Indianapolis is still very much behind in its acceptance of bicycles. We do have some disadvantages, as the Indianapolis area is not conducive for commuting to work. Many people that live in Carmel, Fishers, and other surrounding towns simply do not have the correct roads to commute. I think someday that a high-speed rail connect (which has been discussed in Fishers) might solve part of that problem (i.e. commute to a downtown location and ride the rest of the way to work).
Barry Barker: Thank you so much for taking time to contribute to the ISWE blog. To finish things out, I would like to like to ask one more question. I'm fascinated with axioms, adages, maxims, and (for lack of a better word) rules of thumb. In your experience with bicycles, or folding bicycles in particular, is there one simple rule you can share with readers that will improve their bicycle riding experiences?
David Tortora: Yes, the folding bicycle is so very easy to take anywhere so, simply do it. Make it part of your life, especially when visiting other areas. You can see so much more when visiting other places on a bicycle than by walking and/or cab. Your latest trip to Washington DC essentially proved the point. Thank you, Barry, for this opportunity to discuss something that I enjoy so much.
Stay tuned for more from David Tortara in future ISWE Blog posts!
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.