Wednesday, February 27, 2008

So, back to the Brompton experiment.

It would definitely take some getting used to. My first impression was that it felt like a toy. Not to imply that it felt cheap -- a high quality, expensive toy, I mean. But toy-ish in size. The wheels are so small that they accommodate only a thin tire, and every driveway lip gives you a noticeable BUMP. I'd have to start being more careful, more choosey -- the big wheels I use now have sturdy tires on them that can bomb over anything. Plus the sales guy I was working with, Dean at Clever Cycles, says that with a small tire like that you have to pump it up about once a week. Once a week? Call me lazy, but that would be kind of a pain. A week goes by in ten minutes these days -- which means I would feel like I was pumping up my tires every ten minutes. I hardly ever need to pump up the tires I have now.

I do respect a salesperson who tells you ALL about the bike, not just the superlative features. It's a smart way to sell, because later as you begin to find out all the annoying things on your own, you won't be mad at the store. Instead you'll say, Oh there's that little blip they warned me about that I decided I could live with.

Another point is that despite its enormously attractive COMPACTNESS -- the main bait that reeled me in -- it isn't exactly like toting around your school lunch pail, as I had imagined. I sure wouldn't want to shlep it across an airport. But maybe I wouldn't have to -- presumably I could halfway uncollapse it and wheel it in front of me -- like a stroller, perhaps? I'll have to check.

It's not so much the weight of it, though, but the ergonomics of my body that makes it awkward to carry. If my shoulders were considerably wider than my hips, it could just hang down at my side, no problem. But they're not. My hips are about the same width as my shoulders. (Ever heard of it? It's a girl thing.) Which means that in addition to supporting the downward weight of it, I'm struggling to hold it OUT from my body to keep it from bouncing along my outer thigh.

You know what I mean? So anyway I'm broadening my horizons and looking at other brands. Of course I will give Brompton another look or two. Maybe I will adjust.


At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as carrying ergonomics goes, a better bag would help for longer distances. The thing to compare it to is carrying your full size bike. Ideally, you would ride into the train station, fold the bike, carry it on board, carry it off at the destination, and ride off. Schlepping across an airport is tough with any luggage, hence the little carts, yes? Val

At 10:26 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Ay. Bromptons are terribly clever and appealing but I just can't see them for everyday riding. Potholes become deathtraps. And they're just portable enough to deceive you into trying to port them when you shouldn't.

I've never used the bike racks on the buses and max, but they look perfectly serviceable. Is the idea to travel elsewhere?

Anyway, I'll be interested to see what you settle on.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Val: Hm, yes, those airport golf carts. I love them and always wish I could ride on them. I think maybe Brompton does make special bags or cases you can put the collapsed bike into -- I'll have to check out the accessories.

Dale: Potholes become death traps??? Oh NOooooo! That doesn’t sound good at all! Have you ridden one of these, or are you just supposing?

Regarding your portability comment -- that’s exactly what I was afraid of – thinking I could take this thing with me everywhere and actually finding it to be a huge pain to lug around.

As for the buses, it’s great they have the racks, but two racks per bus seems to be all they can fit on there. If your bus comes and both racks are occupied, you’re out of luck – you wait for the next bus. The light rail too is getting more and more use by people with and without bikes – which of course is good. But technically if it’s super crowded you’re not supposed to squeeze on with your bike.

Clearly these conditions are unacceptable as far as job commuting is concerned. You can’t just catch the next one when you’re trying to get to work on time. And no one’s going to allow an extra 30-45 minutes every single day just in case this happens. Public transportation takes long enough as it is.

I don’t know how often it’s happening that someone can’t get on. The system's not maxed out yet, but it's getting there. My wanting a foldable is more for security reasons. The payoff for riding the train is supposed to be that you can relax and read a book. On the MAX, as I wrote about recently, I worry that someone will steal my bike. I feel like I have to watch it like a hawk, which means I can’t relax at all. (see “Nice try larvae.” Granny Clampett wanna-be foils teen bike robbery jan 31 08) With a foldable, I could take it to my seat with me, whether on the train or the bus.

Though I do indulge in fantasies about traveling abroad with a foldable, I don’t have any definite plans to do that yet. I sure dream about it though. My secret strategy is to find the perfect bike and have my partner Lindi (not her real name) fall in love with it; then I talk her into buying one and taking them overseas to do some bike touring. Don’t let on. I gotta do this gradually.

Can’t wait to resume my search – you’ll be hearing about it.

At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have ridden various small wheel folders for varying distances, and I have to say that while potholes do become more of a hazard as teh wheel size diminishes, it is not the end of the world (or ride, more appropriately). When riding such a bike, one quickly becomes familiar with what it will handle and what it will not, and adjusts accordingly. I think that for the most part, a Brompton tire handles uneven surfaces better than a 700 X 23c tire, which you may see a few of on the streets. The security question is also a fine feature of folders. I used to frequently take one on small grocery runs, folding it and putting it on the lower level of the grocery cart as I shopped. No worries about locking up, and no walking to the rack when exiting. It's all a matter of developing the best adaptive strategy. Have fun! Val

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I have ridden them, but not enough to get used to them. Maybe you do just learn what they can handle & what they can't, like Anon says.

Yeah, it's a reasonable concern, about getting your bike ripped off. Fortunately I can take mine inside the building at work -- not everyone downtown can do that. I'd definitely worry about leaving one on the street all day. But I leave it outside stores and cafes all the time. Of course it's a not-at-all sexy $300 bike, not one of those $3,000 ones. The financial risk of it being stolen is not much greater than the financial risk of getting my car dented in the parking lot.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought Brompton nearly 2 years ago for commuting and errand running in London. It has literally changed the way I view the city in terms of accessibility and enjoyment.

I did have to tweak things along the lines of what you've experienced already. First, get the kevlar tires if you don't have them. The standard schwabe ones punctured regularly, replacing them is not expensive and for me to date, kevlar means no pothole worries whatsoever.

The biggest factor for versatility of is size in my experience. Get the smallest folder possible as it makes every difference in terms of inobtrusiveness and knocking into the shins of others - even a few inches matter. I've checked mine into Mirabelle and Hakkasan recently with no covering bag.

Learn to fold and unfold quickly. This sounds trivial right - a few seconds here and there. But surprisingly, once I learned to do this it made every difference. If it gets heavy to carry, I unfold and walk it, and fold up when appropriate. Learn to fold it in 10 seconds as I did, and you won't hesitate.

Keep it reasonably clean - just a wipedown will do. I even got a boring colour so it is less obvious - again all in the interests of carrying it into wherever I go. Brompton make a very light cover that fits just under your seat. At a glance, it looks like a garbage bag with a drawstring. Not exactly genius design, but an imperfect option if you ever get refused entry to someplace.

When I bought, Brompton was the best in terms of folding size and ease. If you find a better one go for it, but make sure they tick those boxed mentioned if you really want it to impact your day-to-day.


At 9:50 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Hey London person: Thank you SO MUCH for all your tips! You affirm precisely all the concerns I've been having. SO, I was right! Now I'm convinced more than ever that for my needs, fold-down size is all-important.

The kevlar tires sound like a great solution to raggedy pavement problems. Do the kevlars need pumping up once a week, like they told me the others would?

I love the Brompton garbage-bag disguise, as well as your idea to get a boring color. I was all set to get caution-yellow, but now I see that you need to draw as little attention to it as possible.

Your comments have really helped me. I've been feeling so stuck in a dilemma about this. Thank you again!!

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do not need to pump up your tires once a week if you purchase the correct tubes. I use the Schwalbe tubes and tires. The cheap tubes that come with almost all new bikes are lacking in rubber so they will not hold high pressure air for very long.

At 2:52 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

Just wanted to chime in and say that I completely get the girl thing! Just recently purchased a Brompton and while I'm sure I could somehow manage to carry it on and off public transport, if I had to carry it a longer distance it'd get awkward pretty quickly.

Not so much the weight, but just the fact of having the weight dangling off your arms and slightly out to the side. I'd much prefer to be able to carry that weight on my hips or shoulder somehow.. So it might not be coming with me to the grocery store. Otherwise I think it's a fantastic bike and am very happy with the design and size - it's perfect for my height when riding.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Most of this discussion took place over a year ago, except this last comment by Sarah, which just came in now, so I thought an update would be in order.
It's now June 2009. I went ahead and bought the Brompton a year ago this July, largely influenced by the commenter (above) who wrote in from London. All my doubts have proven to be exaggerated or unfounded and I have been ecstatically happy with it.
I rarely have to pump up the tires, since I got the extra-good ones (that's what Clever Cycles sells them with) and so far I haven't had a flat. As for potholes and driveway lips, you just learn what it can handle.
If I have to carry it more than fifty feet, I roll it along on its little roller wheels. Because the ones they come with are too small for the job, Clever Cycles replaces them with skate wheels. If I have to schlep it any distance at all, it's worth unfolding it for easier transport. It's not meant to be carried around as luggage - for me, it's too heavy for that.
The guy Todd at Clever Cycles quoted someone as saying "the Brompton is the only bike people fold up even when they don't have to." It's true, because it's just so nifty that it's totally fun to fold and unfold it.
This has been probably the most satisfying purchase I've ever made.

At 4:52 AM, Anonymous Yasmin :-) said...

Hey Kate, welcome to the lovely Brompton world ;-)

Is it possible for you to post a picture of your bike please? I am particularly interested with the skate wheels.

Many thanks

At 11:25 AM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Hi Yasmin. Yes, the skate wheels are a very interesting solution to the fact that those tiny 1940s furniture wheels that are on there don't really ROLL. I'll see if I can post a photo about that later today.(June 14, 2009)

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to pack a Brompton to take on a plane but not have to lug around a packing bag/case after arrival? Cardboard and bubble wrap are the thoughts that come to mind; disponse of them upon arrival and then buy new stuff before departure. Any other / better thoughts?

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Clever said...

phil, i just ride to the airport, carry the bike through security and on to the plane without any packing at all: , and then out of the airport. travel often and the bike is paid for in taxi savings.


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