Monday, 4 October 2010

Cycle Tribes: Brompton Bosses (warning- may contain sterotypes)

The Brompton World Championships
Today there is a tube strike, and in amongst the throngs of part-time cyclists there will be certain very recognisable types. Today I want to introduce you to the middle-managers of the road, the Brompton Bosses.

No London cyclist starts out on a Brompton. Having a folding bike if you live anywhere in Zones 1-3 seems pointless. Why would you settle for teeny-tiny wheels when you can have full sized, speedy ones? However, the hip young things living in Hackney that begin on a hybrid, graduate to racers and have a brief affair with a single speed can't hold onto their youth forever. A Big Job, commitment and children all force the inevitable migration to London's outer reaches, the green and pleasant lands of Virginia Water, Chorleywood or...somewhere in Kent. And so the daily bike commute becomes train-based, and a Brompton is purchased. From that day forth, said rider must leave behind their past life of devotion to real size wheels and extol the benefits of a folder.

Brompton riders are typically suited- those little wheels don't allow enough speed to make sweat a problem, and Lycra for aerodynamics would be laughable. They strap a shiny briefcase to the front and adopt a curious hunched over riding style to match their furrowed brows. Clearly men (and the occasional women) used to stress and competition, the frustration of not being able to compete with their sleeker, speedier fellow road users comes off them in waves. The hierarchy of the road is an inverse model of what they are used to in Lincoln's Inn or KPMG. No respect if shown for job title, but these daily humiliations are in general taken with good grace. Age and experience have been mellowing, for some.

However, the loss of dignity that is inevitable with a folding bike is richly compensated for in convenience. No endless debates on how to avoid your bike being stolen, no wet-trousers-syndrome from a saddle left out in the rain and the freedom to take your wheels anywhere. So us grown-up size bike riders may sneer, but perhaps, as they patiently fold and unfold in a ritual as soothing as the rosary, the Brompton bosses get the last laugh.

Image by dullhunk


  1. "Why would you settle for teeny-tiny wheels when you can have full sized, speedy ones?"

    Small wheels are in some ways more efficient and faster than large ones (google if you want to know about the physics/engineering). Speediness has more to do with gears (very well designed on Bromptons) and your leg muscles. Size of wheel is pretty irrelevant.

    I frequently overtake members of the lycra-tribe going up hills on my Brompton. You really should try one.

  2. You know what JdeP, I think I might. Interesting about the physics too.

  3. Definitely middle managers as part of the reason for the Brompton is saving the £100 per month off the season ticket by going to London Terminals instead of Zone 1. (This assumes your employer is part of the cycle to work scheme so you can get a loan and pay for the bike before tax.)

    Higher managers than us can of course afford tube or taxis!

    Your cycling to Middlesex University (Trent Park) on his M6R


  4. I have both...

    I have:
    1. a road bike (big wheels, light and really fast. A joy to ride my 22 mile round commute)
    2. A S6R Brompton, with sporty tyres and hard suspension.... anything that will make it faster and more responsive.

    While I love the beauty of my electric blue and baby pink Brompton... and the fact that I can put my shopping in the front, it really doesn't compare performance-wise to my beloved road bike and I certainly wouldn't have it INSTEAD of a road bike.

    My communter journey on my road bike is bliss in comparison to doing the same on the Brompton. Even if I do have wear proper cycling clothes with clip in shoes etc... it's worth it - cycling a road bike is so fun and exhilirating! Cycling it on a Brompton takes me 10-15 mins longer!

    In short... I wouldn't do a single journey longer than 8 miles on a Brompton. But it is lovely for pottering around locally and the lack of need to wear cycling clothes is a huge bonus. Plus you can take it anywhere!

    Now I just need to figure out a need to buy a third bike... hmmmm

  5. Bromptons (and other folders) are starting to be evident on the streets of Portland--I now see one or two every day going to and from the city center. Nothing like the brigade of Brompton Bosses you describe, though.

    Guys riding them here (I think I've seen one woman) look like architects, mostly, people who admire cool technical design. They always look like they're having a blast riding to work.