For those wondering why there hasn’t been a blog post for a few weeks, I’ve recently changed jobs and have been focusing my attention settling in to an awesome new role and a new commute (by train) from Banbury to Oxford. What a great excuse for a new bike!
Step up the Brompton SL3 ‘Raw Lacquer’ folding bike.
For anybody reading this review in the UK, Bromptons will be a familiar sight on city roads and stations with the clever design and unmistakable shape making for the perfect solution for urban portable transport. If you’re viewing from elsewhere… read on for what I consider to be one of the UK’s greatest design feats and most interesting exports.
Here’s a little walk-through of the performance of the bike from a ride and practicality viewpoint.
The Bike – Brompton Raw Lacquer Review
Although there are many options for customising your Brompton the design from the rear wheel to the front stem stays the same across the entire range. Here we have the ‘S’ model which includes the straight handlebars rather than the classic U-shaped found on the ‘M’ models. Essentially, the bars are lower to give a more sporting position and a slight weight saving.
Further weight can be saved by opting for a titanium rear triangle as well as a two-speed option to ditch the geared rear hub in favour of a simple derailleur. This one has three gears so it does include the Sturmy Archer rear hub. I kept the hub for its beautiful simplicity and three gear ratios suitable for anything you may encounter around town. I did save weight, however, by opting against the dynamo lighting powered by a heavier front hub. All-in-all, the bike tops the scales at 11.6 kg.
The ‘Raw Lacquer’ is a premium paint option. Having seen it in advance, I fell for the way it accentuates the detail of the metal and intricate welds. With so many Bromptons on the roads and railway’s, this one really does stand out.
For the full range of colours, options and specifications head over to the Brompton website where you can begin to build your own with their online tool.
There is a simplicity to the hinged design which makes people stop and stare every time I perform this feat in public place. It just shouldn’t be possible to fold a full function bicycle this small. What’s more… the design puts all the oily mucky bits in the middle well away from your clothing as you pick it up to carry or stow in a vehicle.
Here’s Brompton’s YouTube clip of the process.
And here’s the step-by-step stages of operation.
First stage is to fold the rear wheel and triangle under the frame. This is achieved by undoing the small catch located at the back of the seat post quick release. This also acts as a very useful stand whenever you come to park the bike and need both hands.
Next step is to undo (twist) the main frame clamp and fold the entire front end back on itself. There is a slight lift required to ensure the clip located on the inside of the fork hooks the inner chain stay.
After this you’ll use a second twist clamp to undo and fold down the handlebars. There is a clip to secure the handle bars to the frame.
Once in this position you can undo the seat post quick release to lower the saddle and lock everything in place. Once folded completely, the package is fixed to enable you to lift and carry the bike from either the underside of the saddle or the frame. Handily, the bike is also on wheels to enable you to manoeuvre the folded package into small spaces or even wheel as portable luggage.
Oh… and last but not least… for complete potability the left pedal has a clever pivot also to ensure both sides have no jutting edges or protrusions.
That’s just a quick run through the folding procedure but you really have to see it in action to appreciate the intricacies of the engineering and how everything in the frame has its own little purpose. Even the design of the chain stays and rear triangle fit beautifully with the long seat post doubling up as the final locking mechanism. It’s a testament to the design that no other folding manufacturers have managed to achieve such a neat and compact design when folded.
This is the bit where I was most surprised.
I’m going to write a little bit more but three words sum it up really: Agile. Sturdy. Adaptable.
My first ride of a Brompton was on a hire version from Brompton Dock (see below). By mentioning that now I’m trying to convey just how much punishment these small bikes can actually take. The hire bike had clearly suffered many miles of use but was still functioning perfectly in every respect.
From the minute you start pedalling you forget that you’re actually riding 16 inch wheels on a frame that doesn’t even reach your knees. It just feels like a normal riding position (albeit slightly more upright if you are using the M version) with acres of adjustability in the seat post so it’s easy to find the ride height to suit your optimal pedal power position or simply whatever you are most comfortable with. Everything about Brompton is solid so you never have to worry about cheap components and/or finishing gear.
You feel the quality immediately as your feet reach the aluminium pedals and fingers squeeze the lightweight die-cast brake levers (all are Bromton’s own units). Each bike is shipped assembled and adjusted in the factory so will have benefitted from a professional set up.
Power transfer from from the crank is impressive and stiff. It’s never a difficult to perform a fast pull off from the traffic lights to keep with, or even overtake, other commuters. The stiffness, however, is compensated generously by the suspension elastomer mounted between the rear triangle and the seat tube. I’ve only used the ‘firm’ version but there is a softer option available (recommended for riders under 70 kg).
The small wheels really come into their own as you weave the bike through the streets to negotiate small gaps and turnings. Some may find the steering twitchy if they are used to larger wheels and wider handle bars. After a few settling in rides however, I would call it extremely responsive.
Gears are selected by a three position selector on the right of the handlebars clicking upwards for higher speeds and back down for easier hills and starts. The gear ratios are suited to town use but again (as with all things Brompton) there are options for alternative ratios and even a double up (hub + derallier) to offer six gears.
The Sturmy Aarcher Hub is a thing of beauty. It’s also a functional wonder! Click here for an explanation of how it works.
For such a tiny bike it’s a real pleasure around town. Obviously the smaller wheels are not going to soak up bumps and I have to actively avoid hops and curbs. That aside, you’ll soon forget you’re on a folder and just begin to enjoy cycling. I mainly use it for shorter journeys but there are those who have been known to undertake full continental tours on their Bromptons.
For me, it’s already opened up a whole new element to my cycling meaning there’s barely a day that passes where I’m not on two wheels.
I’m not sure about other countries, but, here in the UK, getting a standard bike on train (particularly at peak times) has become something of a lottery. Most trains now only accommodate three bikes for which advance bookings bookings are often required. Not for the Brompton! Folding down to such a small package means the Brompton is accepted on all trains and will easily stow in a standard luggage compartment. Being on small coaster wheels makes it even easier to roll the bike between cases and/or manoeuvre into small luggage sized gaps.
Since the rail companies (on my route at least) have limited the carriage of bikes, the number of Brompton users has risen noticeably. There’s barely a journey where I don’t see at least one other either on the train or the platform.
Another little surprise. With a very sturdy plastic bracket located on the steerer tube, Brompton have quite ingeniously added a accessory line more akin to a fashion range.
The steerer mount mates with corresponding plastic bracket which allows a range of panniers and messenger bags to be built around a removable cage.
After riding the Brompton for week or so I soon made the shift to the ‘S Bag’ just to keep my back clear of of rucksack and aid portability at the station. The advantages are not just cycling bag free but the bag will stay attached to the bike even in the standing position meaning you can set every thing up in seconds with a quick release just behind the mount.
I’m not going into huge detail here, just to say that if you don’t fancy shelling out for the cost of a Brompton you can still take advantage of its commuting abilities by hiring one for your journey.
If you see these lockers on your travels you can hire a ‘M’ version for as little as £2.50 a day with the convenience of returning your hire bike to any other dock in the country.
The process is web and text driven to provide you with unique access codes allowing collection and drop off via key pad access to numbered docks (or lockers).
It’s a very nifty service which I’m continuing to use for journeys where I want to travel with the convenience of a Brompton but can’t take my own.
Conclusion – Brompton Raw Lacquer Review
At a minimum new price of near £900 you will certainly be parting with a sizeable amount of hard earned cash to become part of the ever growing Brompton club. Demand is increasing so you’ll often find yourself on a waiting list to take delivery. The increasing number of users (like me) have recognised the sheer versatility of the design and a bike that is built to last. Re-sale values are testament to the durability of the design and components too.
I can’t fault the ride. Yes, it may lack the gearing options of non-folding bikes and the smaller wheels do take some getting used to. These (minor) sacrifices, however, are more than made up for in convenience when travelling and the guarantee of continuing your journey on the train.
If there is one downside, it’s the nerves I have of the bike being targeted by thieves. Re-sale values are amazingly high (barely below new price) and, given the folding capabilities, the Brompton makes for a quick getaway. It’s not really a bike to lock to lamp post but, then, you have the ability to carry it in to many locations anyway.
I’ll be keep my Brompton for many years to come.
In case you are wondering what all this is has got to do with triathlon. Well… someone obviously thought it was possible!
Seriously though. This is just the first in new series of bike reviews coming soon to TriedOnline.