Sunday, May 18, 2008

Some mods/upgrades to the Brompton M3L.

I'm really enjoying my new Brompton M3L even though I have just a few miles on it. It is a solid riding bike. For a lot of new bikes, I always make adjustments after an initial riding period. Adjust the brakes, tighten something...not with this brompton (at least not yet). The only adjustment I've done is for fit. I moved the handlebars slightly towards me. The suspension, basically a rubber circle in the rear triangle, is perfect for my weight. Not too stiff and not too squishy.

Anyway, let me report on some upgrades/modifications. First, I replaced the stock brompton seat, which was hard and uncomfortable, with a Bell MTB bike seat. Ok, I bought this seat at walmart, but it has served me well on other bikes. It has an anatomical dimple/hole and no springs for suspension. I was kinda worried that I would have to invest in a pentaclip, which promises to make every saddle compatible with the brompton seat tube. As I mentioned earlier, Brompton accessories tend to be pricey. I didn't need to get the pentaclip. The Bell seat came with a saddle adapter that fit perfectly on the seat tube. These adapter clamps are also available at your LBS for about $2-3. They look like this:

Second, I ordered and installed the Brompton front carry block ($30), which allows you to fit a number of bags to the front of the brompton. I followed the instructions from Channell Wasson (see:). Channell is the top dealer (perhaps the only one?) for Bromptons on the west coast. Basically, you just have to tighten it so you won't lose the bag as you're riding. For my first bag, I purchased the folding basket ($99). This is a open basket with a built in lower support bracket. I can use it to put my work bag there as well as groceries or other things I can carry around.

The best thing about the front carry block is that it is connected to the frame, not the handlebars. That way, you can carry as much stuff in your basket/bag and it won't interfere with your steering. Most of the front baskets sold nowadays are attached or clip on to the handlebars. This affects steering and can make your bike ride more twitchy or wobbly. It's a weird feeling at first because you steer to the left and right and the basket does not move with it.

Brompton takes a lot of heat for its expensive accessories, but I'm really impressed with the quality and workmanship of these two items. So far these two have been money well spent.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

It's all about the fold: Brompton M3L Review.

Pros: compact folding size, stays folded, surprisingly speedy, reflective tires

Cons: price/pricey accessories, saddle, plasticky shifter

I have only ridden this bike for three short rides and I am very happy with my purchase. I am surprised with the speediness of this bike. You make a pedal stroke and off you go. You also want to keep going. This is probably due to the high pressure tires of the Brompton. They take up to 100psi.

I had expected twitchiness when handling the bike as other first time Brompton users have encountered. I found little to none. I got adjusted to the ride rather quickly. The ride does feel bumpy when dealing with bumps and undulations of the road. Perhaps this is due to the saddle, which IMHO is low quality, or maybe the hardness of the high pressure tires.
Besides the saddle, the two little wheels that allow you to roll the bike kept interfering with my pedal stroke. That is a nuisance. I kept hitting those mini wheels with my heels. I’ve developed an inside-out pedal stroke to compensate for this when riding this Brompton.

Another negative is the shifter. It shifts fine, but it doesn't look that durable. The material looks like cheap plastic. I'm afraid that I'll hit a parking meter and I'll break it.

The fold is the best feature of this bike. There are other ultra portable folders like the A bike or Strida, but those are very small wheeled, funky looking bikes. They look like a stack of 2x4s held together. This is a true bike that folds small. If you want a compact-no mess-quick fold, this is the bike for you. The chain is enclosed in the fold so there is very little danger of staining your clothing as you carry it. It is the most perfect fold I've ever seen. It stays folded! You can carry it for short distances, but the weight is heavy (25lbs). You can also roll it when folded, but the wheels are rather small and this can only work if you had perfect flat pavement.

Here are some examples of multimodal commuting this Brompton gives you: You bike in to work, you don’t want to ride home, you take a cab home (with your bike with you). You ride a while, get tired, fold up your bike, take a bus or cab to where you’re going. You ride, have a flat, call a friend for a ride or take cab/bus to your destination (with your bike with you). A lot of other possibilities.

This bike is a 3 speed. This is my first internally geared bike. The rear hub is a Sturmey Archer. One thing I was not expecting was the clicking coming from the hub. It is not loud, but is different when coming from relatively quiet externally geared bikes. I understand this is quite normal with SA hubs. A three speed may not work in very hilly cities like San Francisco. You’d probably need more than 3 gears there. Here in DC, which is moderately hilly, the 3 gears work fine for me.

A definite negative to this bike is the price ($950 USD). I am hoping that Merc is able to sell their bikes here in the future at half the price of a Brompton. That way, a lot of bike enthusiasts can discover what a great solution a multimodal folder can be. Competition between the two can ensue and maybe Brompton prices will drop. Brompton keeps production of their bikes in England, which contributes to their high prices. Also pricey are the accessories to outfit a Brompton. You can’t simply swap a rail saddle to a Brompton. You have to buy a Pentaclip adapter ($30). Ouch. The same goes for a front carry bag, which will run you about $100 (a front “carry block” + bag). A positive about the accessories is that they can be retrofitted to older and newer models (at least Brompton has promised that).

The Brompton “parked” state takes some getting used to. The back wheel folds up and the bike rests on those small wheels. This is a “resting” position for the Brompton. I have gotten used to lifting all my other bikes (from the rear) when pulling them up a curb, moving them to get closer to a pole or bike rack etc. The bike rear wheel comes up as you lift it! There is a clip that prevents this, but, again, this is probably expensive. To compensate for this, I’ll try to lift the bike from the front wheel from now on.

My M3L is a 2007 model.