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.


Anonymous said...

Now that you've owned it a bit how do you like it? Specifically how happy are you with just 3 speeds? I'm moving out to DC soon and want a Brompton but I'm torn between a 6 or 3 speed. Some reviews even encourage the lower gear option on a 6 speed so I would really like your opinion.

pedaling fool said...

I'm liking it a lot. It is very functional. If this will be your only bike in DC, however, I would go with the 6 speed. DC is more hilly than people think so you will like those extra gears. I know that I will not take my Brompton on rides where I know I have to take those big hills. There is also a mod that you can swap out the front chainring to give you a more grannified lower gear. I'm usually in the middle gear with the lower one when I have to climb. I will probably wait to try this until I am out of warranty. Not sure if this kind of mod would void the warranty, though. Enjoy DC. This is one of the best places to bike.

Anonymous said...

The bumpy ride is probably due to the size of the wheels. Larger wheels take bumps better.

Anonymous said...

It was very interesting for me to read this blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon.

Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such stories. I like to read articles like that. Just add some pics :)

serious said...

We have just acquired our 2nd Brompton - a pre2001 M3L - and need a pump of similar age as the fitting seems to be different to the current models - any ideas if these are still obtainable and where they can be found?

pedaling fool said...

I would post on the bike forums folding bicycles subforum and ask this question. There are a lot of Brompton enthusiasts there.

There is a Yahoo group of Brompton enthusiasts, but it is dominated by folks from the UK. Depending on where you are this may work for your too.

Thanks for visiting.