The Lure of the Crappy-riding Bicycle

I had a Brompton for a little while – a decade-old M3L that I enjoyed using. But I found the ride quality to be generally unacceptable. Used to riding premium bicycles, the little quirks of the little bike got on my nerves and built up into intolerance. The Brompton comes in one size, and I find (just my opinion!) them to be twitchy, uncomfortable over distance, and shit for climbing. And in San Diego, you climb.

I sold it to buy a Bike Friday Tikit, which I loved. It rode more like a real bicycle and had standard-components, which I favored over the Brompton’s proprietary pieces and closed-system. At the same time, the Tikit’s fold was larger (as is well-documented and discussed), but not by much. I got used to the ride, and enjoyed it, but it still wasn’t like my other bikes. So it left the stable and went to a good home.

Now I find myself wanted a Brompton again – something my wife and I could both ride as a city bike to do quick errands and keep in the car trunk. I’m ready to accept its limitations. How did this happen!?

Riding the Velíb around Paris had me thinking about the trade-offs that may come with incredibly useful but poor-riding bicycles. No one would say that the Velíb is a fine machine. It does the job, engineered for durability and theft-prevention. The fit isn’t ideal, its heaviness makes it sluggish, and it doesn’t plane (!). But it does the job, and once you accept its limitations, it becomes rather magical and delightful.

I’m thinking of the Brompton the same way, as I’ve seen a few bounce around Paris. It does the job, and then tucks away underneath the cafe table.



  1. Travis

    I’ve been thinking about a folding bike for multi-modal commute and ease of occasionally putting in a car. Why would you be re-considering the Brompton instead of the Tikit that you enjoyed?

  2. Eric P.

    The dissatisfaction is one main reason I sold my Bromptom this year. As a bike, it has great quirks, and seems quintissentially British. Like a mini Raleigh 3 speed. However, after the ride in San Diego with the Riv group, I was more exhausted than I’ve ever been. And that was an easy ride. Not sure that would have happened if I was on a big bike. (Should have taken you up on the Kogswell offer.)

    All that said, there is something nearly magical about a Bromptom when everything is working together. The feeling is right in a totally wrong sort of way.

    • Esteban

      Eric – I would have *loved* to buy that from you — bug your friend about it for me — I’d totally buy it from him if he isn’t riding it much!

      yea, that was a difficult ride for the Brompton, for sure. You did great, though!

      • Eric Platt

        Lanny (the current owner) is using it quite a bit. He’s a beer wholesaler and often travels with the bike. It’s easy for him to get it checked through without complaint.

        The only reason I even survived the ride was Derrick gave me one of his water bottles. No idea why I dehydrated so much.

        Have thought of shipping a bike if we go to San Diego again. Either that or buy one from Velo Cult and then ship it home.

  3. Esteban

    I already have a full-sized travel bike or two. So if I need to take a trip with a good-riding bike, its hard to beat the Velo Cult or Rivendell Road Custom.

    With the Brompton, once you accept its limitations, both my wife and I can ride it (me 6′ her 5’3″), it has the simplicity of the 3-speed, and it gets so damn small. I really don’t care how it rides at this point.

  4. Travis

    So, the Tikit is better riding, but the Brompton folds smaller and adapts to more riders. Is that the executive summary? Thanks!!

    • Esteban

      Yea – if you want a better riding bike, the Tikit is the clear winner. But its still nothing like a full-sized bike – what happens, though, is that you get used to it. Keep in mind that I ride mostly custom bikes, so my judgement of ride quality when I talk about the Tikit is likely different from most people. Its a great bike.

      One of the downfalls of the Brompton in ride-quality is the one-size-fits-all. Buy different sized people can ride the same bike… So, again, once that give-and-take is accepted for what it is, it becomes enjoyable!

  5. Chris

    My wife and I were Paris a couple of years ago, leaving our Bleriots (following ownership of a Riv Road and Rambouillet, Bruce Gordons, Ritcheys; even a Tikit) behind.
    Having nothing but fun on the Velibs for weeks, for hours per day, we reassessed the punctilious (BOB) trail/Brooks/handlebars/cork/twine scrutiny. I couldn’t get the Velib saddle to quite the right height (6’1″); forget about stem adjustment. A cm off on my custom bikes would surely affect back and wrist comfort, there were no so complaints on the funky Velibs.
    Then we started noticing the Bromptons around the city. I have never seen one in person. Returning to the states, we bought one, then another, then realized we no longer used the other bikes.
    We’ve done multiple day tours through the Bay Area, wine country, and frequent San Diego every few months for extended weekends.
    Esteban, I highly recommend you go for six speeds, and that you select the P model, and then swap out the bars for the M version. Your wife should go for just he M version straight up. And don’t forget the Ergon grips. Careful, or you’ll migrate to a WTB Laser saddle, too (quelle horreur)!
    Full disclosure: I prefer the ride of the Brompton to my old Tikit — just didn’t like the stem flex … or the fold … or that the tires roll on the office carpet … or the long drop in the derailleur … or that it doesn’t wheel as nicely with the bag … or that the bag is not as nice as the Brompton’s … or that folded Brompton fits behind the front seat a Corolla … I’ll stop.
    Now, Bromptons (new) were not that much more in Paris than they are in the states, at least when we looked (tempted now?).
    Or, if you’re back next time we’re in Del Mar, you’re welcome to try ours while we’re out surfing. But to do that, you have to provide a post, with images and description, from L’As du Falafel in the Marais.

  6. Pammie

    I did the same thing – I teach environmental law and travel quite a bit to teach by plane on occasion – I’ve loved the Brompton the first time I broke it out at my hotel. I have an M6R lower gearing raw. I loved your post – you know what got me to buy it? Riding around the bike share system in DC. Spending all that time on a heavy bike – I totally see the advantages. Plus, the Brompton is superb for air travel. And, biking up Diamondhead two months ago – I stayed with a local peleton on their morning ride – much to their chagrin.

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