Perhaps It Has Begun!

By cjohnson | September 21, 2005 4:15 pm

I’m really excited!

brompton out and aboutYesterday, while on foot to a lunch meeting on campus, guess what I saw…. Another Brompton! You’ve no idea how exciting that is. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you most likely don’t, see my earlier posts here, and here.) Sure, it’s nice to be maybe the only bike of its sort in the city, and while tiring to have to explain what it is all the time, sure, it’s nice to get the rounds of applause and requests for autographs every time I fold or unfold it in public. But frankly, I really prefer the thought that people are waking up to the idea that this is the way to go: Cycling more, and using public transport in combination with that. As I’ve said before on this blog, LA is an ideal city for cycling (mostly flat, perfect weather most of the time) and the best way to take advantage of the bus, rail and subway system (sigh…yes, they exist, but there are gaps) is to connect them up with a bike. And a folding bike is ideal. A beautifully engineered, comfortable, and compact, really fast folding one is even more ideal.

That leaves one bike that fits the bill: The Brompton. Now, I want more people to move away from their tired excuses for using cars all the time (and I don’t just mean this city, or this country, by the way), and so I get excited when I see people choosing to cycle, walk, and use the buses and subways. It’s nice to see people making the same choices as yourself, if only as a means of cameraderie, and, ok, so that you can exchange a knowing wink with someone.

brompton on trainI’d sort of given up ever seeing another Brompton in this city, so seeing a brand new one just a few buildings away is just great! (I could at this point say that phrase that has been used twice in other post this week: “maybe someone’s been reading cosmicvariance”, but I won’t).

So now I’m keeping an eye out all over campus to see if I will ever see it again, and maybe chat with the owner who I only glimpsed briefly (and who’d ridden out of range before I recovered from being speechless at seeing another B), let her know she’s not alone, find out if she takes hers on buses and trains (maybe the bike does not know its heritage!), etc. So exciting!

So now that there’s two, maybe that means there’ll be more and more (like I’ve noticed more USC people on the bus in recent weeks…gas prices combined with common sense?). Perhaps the avalanche has begun…. Two of us is enough to get more people at USC riding them, then maybe our rivals, the UCLA campus, will get in on the act so as not to fall behind….and then maybe Bromptons all over the rest of the city (like has happened a lot in London), and then all over America…enlightenment at last! Hurrah!


P.S. I snipped those pictures from these websites: here and here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellany, Personal
  • Sean

    Come on, obviously they’ve been reading Cosmic Variance. You don’t think anyone would have the self-confidence to buy such a contraption without pre-existing social approval, do you?

  • Helge

    Hey Clifford, what about moving to a civilised place like Europe? You will find a lot of people riding bikes and using public transports. (And that’s not only true for poor students like me.)
    Cheers, Helge

  • Matt B.

    So, I take it your bike is still broken? Come now, you can’t expect me to believe in a folding bike! What’s next, a bike with one wheel???

  • janet

    Helge, I’m sure you didn’t mean anything much by it, but that kind of crack can be a bit demoralizing for those of us who are trying to change things here.

  • Clifford

    Helge… Europe as usual is not always as enlightened as it would like to think. I often find it difficult to get around in England and see people relying on cars more and more there. They’re actually going in the wrong direction in many many areas. So complacency is dangerous….. And look at the SUVs that are showing up in London and Paris, where they can barely move…..

    And before anyone starts up…I have lived there…I am from there…I go there every year for extended periods….


  • Clifford

    Sean: “Such a contraption”. Hmm…. if a mini cooper, or a smart car, or for that matter…an ipod or a powerbook is a contraption, then ok, it’s a contraption…. 😉



  • ljs

    my guess is you won’t see too many more bromptons but i do have to say it fits you perfectly!

  • a cornellian

    two comments,

    1) there are atleast two of those bikes on the Cornell campus
    2) one of my good friends uses a unicycle for commuting so that is kind of like a bike with one wheel.

    3) (no one expects the spanish inquisition) seems rather inefficent when comapared to a larger bike with a longer stroke length and larger wheels….and i can’t imagine that thing and hills get along to well….and gears…gears are good (i’m just surpmising the lack of from the pciture though, i could be wrong) (in short i second the contraption)

  • Clifford

    a cornellian:- Thanks for the comments. How can I say this…You’re so far wrong -based on remarkable arbitrary assumptions- that it’s funny and sad at the same time. People just assume the worst because something looks different, I don’t know why. (Now that reminds me of something…..)

    It is incredibly efficient, and is just as comfortable as a regular bike, on typical surfaces. My conclusion after riding this thing for so long now is that people have gotten so used to the normal-sized wheels that they just assume that they are that size for some good reason. They are *not*. It is just a convention. I think the original penny-farthing rider from long ago would also look at the wheels on a “conventional” bike and conclude the same thing. The facts: I am lighter and with the increased power-to-weight ratio can out-accelerate any car or bike, and match any bike for typical city speeds with no extra effort. This is because of the fact that it has gears, of course. Six, in fact. I actually hill-climb better than a regular bike of course (for the same reason that I can out-accelerate any regular bike)! I live up a long and very steep hill that I climb every day!

    “I could be wrong” is the understatement of the month so far! Bottom line: All that extra metal you’re schlepping around on your “regular” bike is comically unneccessary. You’re actually riding the cycling equivalent of a hummer. If you get something smaller it is more efficient, easier to take around with you (you don’t need to worry about it being stolen) and fits anywhere. Just anywhere.

    Good to hear that there are some Bromptons in Cornell (assuming they’re not Dahons. or Bike Fridays…some of the other (lesser, imho) folder manufacturers..)



  • boreds


    I ride a regular bike, and was wondering if the Brompton `feels’ any different (apart from a bit lighter). Is it more/less stable, for example? Presumably the smaller the wheels, the more you feel bumps in the road?

  • a cornellian

    My protest is based on the following,

    the distance you will move forward from one turn of the cranks is gear ratio * wheel circumference, hence to travel the same distance you will need a greater number of pedals on the Brompton than on a standard bike. This means that you are either spinning at the same rate going slower or spinning much faster for the same speed. I have assumed the same gear ratio for both, but that seems ok because a standard bike’s gear range shoudl easily be larger than a Brompton. (I reguarly use the full range, 1-21, on my bike gettign around Ithaca, to head off the statement that you don’t need all those gears)

    I would also raise the question of how much of a beating the frame can take. Being jointed like that must sifnifigantly reduce the stress it can take before it breaks.

    I also must ask what “typical sity speeds” mean. Ithaca is the closet thing to a city I have lived in and the bike speeds here range in speed too much to give a typical.

    Another random comment, if this set up was the most efficent the road bikers would have found it long ago (granted they are now requlated to triangle frames, but there were some really wackey frame designs that were deemed unfair)

    As for what i ride, I have a hydrid which is signifigantly lighter than a standard mountian bike. I ride year round as my primary method of getting aorund Ithaca.

    on the topic of strange bikes, have you seen those reclining bikes?

    but i need to stop typing now and go do work/go to class

  • Clifford

    boreds, a cornellian,

    Hi! It is a compromise. If I was going to do a sprint race, I would use a bike with larger wheels. If I was going on a rugged surface for extended periods, I would use a mountain bike – larger wheels, thicker tyres.

    But what I’m actually doing is going to work. So I don’t need to sprint, and I don’t need off-road capability. I don’t need huge wheels at all. I’m just carrying around a ton of metal I don’t need, at a size I don’t need. On a regular bike, I would not go above certain speeds in a city since it means that you endanger yourself – there are hazards such as motorists at junctions (you need to give them time to see you) people opening the doors of their cars (you ened to give them time to see you), and in any case, you can only get so far before traffic lights stop you. This puts an upper limit on what is your top city speed. Also, on your way to work you’re not trying to break any speed records… don’t want to be all sweaty. So with that sort of top typical speed in mind, I can tell you that all of those speeds are comfortably attained on the Brompton. As for hills, see my earlier comment.

    The lightness and smaller wheel size makes you much more maneauverable. Again, great for the city. With regards comfort…it’s very very comfortable…a cornellian: for the precise numbers on the gear ratios (which will surprise you – the drive train is different from a standard bike…it has an internally geared hub for half the gears – go to the first of the websites I gave at the end of the post.

    boreds: I keep an eye out for large holes in the road. It would course be a bit of a pain to hit one at speed. I would not try to hit a curb at speed either. Most people avoid those on regular bikes too, so this is not an issue. I’m not cycling on dirt roads or gravel roads….In a city (and remember, I keep saying this is a city bike), the roads are paved. So its hardly an issue. (real enthusiasts use special tyres and actualy do use Bs off-road).

    Longevity? They seem to last as long as any other bike. I’ve not heard of any problems due to the geometry, and I read lots of discussion about these bikes from people who’ve owned them for several years…They are extremely well engineered.

    Its all about using the right tool for the job. That’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that one should abandon the current model of bike, I’m just saying that there are other configurations which are just as good -arguably better- for use as a machine for commuting in the city. We’ve just talked about the reasons why I can do everything that you can do in a city situation. Now I can start talking about all the things you can’t do with yours. At any time, I can stop, fold my bike up, and walk into a store and look around. Or get on the bus, or the train, withough having to fiddle with special carriages, or bothering other people with it If I want to take it in the small trunk of my car to go promenading on the beach with it, I just put it in the trunk and go. No taking it apart. If I want to use it in another town halfway across the planet tomrrow, I just put it into a suitcase…no special bike boxes or carriers, no special permission or airline fee needed… etc, etc, etc.



  • janet

    Ipods and powerbooks are definitely contraptions.

  • Mike

    I was on a club ride Saturday and two of the participants had folding bikes. They were not Bromptons, but I forget the brand. They said that they liked them for travel. They take many bike tours and can fold them up and put them in luggage, so there is no extra bike charge as Clifford just mentioned. They claimed to have done 80 miles in a day on them. I tried one and it rode surprising well.

    However, I love my road bike. I love getting tucked down over the handlebars when I go downhill. However, as everyone knows the optimal number of bikes a person should own is one more than one currently owns, so I wouldn’t mind having a folding bike too.

  • spyder

    there are so many innovative changes occuring now in bicycle development, that to argue for one platform over another, requires–as Clifford seems to do–incorporating factors other than actual performance capabilities. I am fortunate enough to live in a nice city that allows larger bikes to be racked on buses, with which one can access not only most of the city, but also some of the regional trail access points as well. Several of the buses contain racks that also can hold the newer recumbent models(though not the 3 wheelers thus far). These are amazingly efficient and effective means of speedy transportation around cities such as mine where there are plentitude of hills and dales.

    25 years ago, when i was in peak performance shape, there was nothing more invigorating and thrilling than riding my road bike. At the time, teaching at CSUH, i felt nearly indestructible racing around the roads and hills of the cities of the East Bay region. Mike seems to feel that way about his now. Now that i am old and retired, i like the recumbent sitting down posture which supports my back and allows me a certain freedom when i carry groceries or books.

  • Clifford

    Hi spyder,

    You said: “I am fortunate enough to live in a nice city that allows larger bikes to be racked on buses, with which one can access not only most of the city, but also some of the regional trail access points as well”

    People may be surprised, but this is true for me too: All metro buses in Los Angeles have space for regular bikes on racks, and you can use them to go all about, and have access to the outdoors…..



  • David

    I have seen one of these being loaded on the train at Palo Alto heading toward San Francisco, presumably belonging to a Stanford person. Add one more anecdotal sighting to your collection in the quest to turn it into a dataset…

  • Clifford

    Ah….there’s a Brompton dealer in Palo Alto (the original US distributer in fact), so I’m not surprised there….its my own city I was excited about seeing one in…… but thanks!


  • did

    There’s a severe carbon-fiber deficit in that little bike. Everything’s better if it’s made of carbon fiber.

    Only half joking,

  • boreds

    it sounds cool

    though I should add that even in my paved city I can feel a lot of bumps through what is ostensibly a mountain bike.

    Fortunately I can cycle all the way to work as it’s a small city but the Brompton sounds optimal for combining with public transport….

  • Alejandro Rivero

    It could be worthwhile to remember that a good bunch of the initial car makers were bike makers. Something went horribly bad at these times.

  • Lee

    I bought a folding bike several months ago after encountering one while doing an internet search regarding bicycles in general (sorry, I’m afraid the bike is one of those inferior brands, not a Brompton). I was immediately impressed with the possibilities of its use and have found that, in practice, I take advantage of those possibilities. I agree with Clifford that performance and stability issues do not arise and although I have not yet owned the bike long enough to compare a folder’s longevity to other bikes, I believe that the bike is built quite soundly. Furthermore, I’ve ridden the bike as far as twelve miles and have found it just as comfortable as a full-sized bike.

    Even if there were some issues in these regards, however, the convenience of folders would overcome them in my mind. Before purchasing this bike, I hadn’t ridden in years. Now, I commute to work, riding part of the way and then taking public transport the remainder of the way if necessary. Although many buses now have racks, I like the security of carrying the folded bike onto the bus with me (think rear end collision by the bus with another vehicle). I also find that being able to throw the bike into the trunk of my car more convenient than keeping a bike rack on the back of my car. As a result, I’ve ridden the bike a lot. For instance, when driving to congested areas with little parking, I often have more flexibility to ride to the fringes, pop the bike out of the trunk, and ride the remainder of the way.

    And, no doubt, there is a definite combination of “cool” and “geek” factors that cannot be ignored. I may own the only folder in my area (I’ve never seen any other around here). Some of my friends have given me grief over owning such a “contraption.” I have also received a lot of compliments and questions from people who are seeing the bike for the first time.

    For example, about two weeks ago, I was folding the bike outside my office in preparation for taking it into my office (did I happen to mention how nice it is to not have to rely on the security[?] of public bike racks?). As I finished folding the bike, I heard this young, female voice behind me say, “That bike is sweet. It’s gangsta.” I am 51 years old and probably the only more boring guy in America is John Roberts. I could hardly have expected to ever own anything that could be referred to as “gangsta.”

    I am assuming it was a compliment.

  • Paul

    I’ve been riding a Dahon Boardwalk D7 for about three months now and love it. (It may be an inferior brand, but at $300 is one of the cheapest good-quality folders available. Most are hundreds of dollars more. Still, it seems to be solidly built and is showing not much more wear than I would expect from an ordinary bike.) With some disassembly it fits into a 29″ Samsonite suitcase and comes in under 50 lbs, so I am able to bring it as checked baggage on an airplane without paying for oversize/overweight luggage. I’ve ridden it all over Santa Fe and Aspen and found it very easy to ride up the hills in both places. At home I use it to commute all the time (though it’s very flat here in central Illinois); it’s added a lot of flexibility to my commute, since if weather or evening plans have me catching a ride home in a bus or car, I can still use my bike the next morning.

    There is something of a ‘cool factor’ to these bikes, but there’s also a certain potential barrier to doing things one doesn’t see anyone else doing. I seem to be the only person in town with one of these bikes. (And the only cosmologist not using a Powerbook.) So I cope with the ‘warning — not fitting in!’ messages by telling myself that I’m getting people’s attention for a good cause. I’m glad to see others out there also see these things as a means of popularizing bicycle commuting. As gas prices continue to go up, I think the argument will become easier to make.

    Besides, I’m having a great time.

  • Tom Renbarger

    I must admit, reading through this post and its comments, and seeing the name “Brompton” prominently involved has caused the following couplet to run through my head for a while:

    “Ain’t nothin’ but a ‘B’ thang, baby
    One fold-up biker goin’ crazy”

    Anyways, having gotten that out of my system, the fold-up bicycle idea has piqued my interest, but I sense that I would have to get over the fact that the bike would cost about a third of the price of my (used, obviously) car. For some reason that I am presently unable to articulate, this could be a psychological barrier to buying a Brompton.

  • Clifford

    Tom Renbarger: Thanks for the couplet! That is not the best logic to use!Using the car as a measure of how much you should spend on a bike is an arbitrary metric. If you must bring up the relative monetary concern, then consider this. If you use it enough, it’ll pay for itself in the amount of gas you don’t use, the amount of parking you don’t pay for, and more importantly: the amount of fun you have, the better health you’ll have, the less time you spend looking for parking, the more people you’ll meet as a result of all the conversations you’ll start, and the general feeling of well being you’ll have from knowing you’ll do the right thing.



  • Clifford

    Paul, Lee! Much of what you say sounds just like what I say! I also find that it is great for beating parking issues. Just came back from shopping in Venice and Santa Monica wher eI just parked several blocks away for free and got the bike and its detachable front tote-bag out and hit all the shops I wanted to….

    See my earlier posts (see top of the main post whose thread this is) for my description of taking my bike to Aspen in a Samsonite case….etc.



  • Clifford

    Lee, Paul, others…Thanks so much for your comments and personal stories. So I’m not a nutcase (or if I am, I’m in good company!) It’s so great to know I’m not alone in this!! We’re way ahead of our time….I hope others join in one day soon!



  • Alejandro Rivero

    By the way, I was just thinking on another way to get into the tram… line.

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