Throwing Away My Bicycle Was The Best Decision I Ever Made!

A long-time cyclist’s review of the Brompton Bicycle.

me by Meghan Willis

by Aaron Tsuru (Patreon / Instagram)

***AUG/2018 UPDATE! I have now switched from my Brompton to a Tern! CLICK HERE to read why!***

It dawned on me the other day… I’ve been riding bikes for a very long time. From big wheels to training wheels to my first dirt bike to my first ten-speed, steel, aluminum, and carbon, department store mountain bikes to fancy bike store road bikes, tandems, hybrids, fixed-gear, single-speed, 10, 12, and more speeds than I can know what to do with, when you tally it up, we are closing in on nearly 40 years of riding bicycles.

photo: me crossing the finish line after the Tour de Cure 100 mile bike ride.

Oy. That’s a long ass time and goodness knows how many miles (no Strava apps in the 70s, I’m afraid).

But, as a cyclist in NYC, things are different. Long-distance road cycling became rather boring — I can only do so many laps in a park or ride the same 15 mile ride to ride the same ride in Jersey so many times before I want to shoot myself in the brain. So I took up running and fortunately, I love it. So while I do miss my 60, 80, and 100 mile bike adventures from the days of yore, my “weekend warrior” problem was solved. Check done.

Commuting by bike was still good though, but with space being tight, thieves getting better, dogs pissing on my bike & lock, random people fucking with my bike during the day, and being beholden to the bike (if you ride it in, you ride it home, can’t leave it overnight), managing my commuting cyclocross bike started becoming a chore. A lot to maintain, a lot to care for… basically a “thing” to worry about. When your commute goes from 20 miles to 7.5 miles each way (and that’s the long way), it’s a whole lot of thinking for a relatively short amount of time on a bike.

Also, this bike was the cheapest decent cyclocross I could find a number of years ago — originally my snow bike (snowclocrossssss!!!), it was upgraded to commuter status after the steel vintage road bike was ready to be sold — it was starting to show it’s age.

So, long story short (too late), I was ready for a change. And no, I’m not commuting on the carbon Felt. That’d be stolen in 5 min. After some soul searching, consulting online and with friends and loved ones, I came to the conclusion that my options were as follows:

- Do I go back to single speed from the days of yore? No. Unlike Ted Cruz, I and these gams like science. I go over bridges and up hills, my legs want to spin. One gear means of the three possibilities (up a hill/bridge, down a hill/bridge, on the flat) I only have one correct gearing for a good cadence.

- Fine, what about going to a 3-speed? Thought about this long and hard. A cute little internal 3-speed urban bike would be great, but I’m not sold on internal hubs and their shifting dependency (see my brutal accident story here) and it doesn’t solve the bike commuting issues mentioned above.

- Okay, so? You’ve gone this far, how about just modify and simplify the current bike, STFU, and just keep on trucking? Take it to a single gear up front, go to a flat bar handle bar (aging hands, want a better grip for commuting), get a good tuning and fresh parts, and carry on! Sounds good! Orrrrrrrrrrrr…..

- Scrap the big wheels and go to a folding bike.

After a 3 mile test ride at BFold in Manhattan. I was a smitten kitten and I bought a black Brompton S2L.

Okay, why a Brompton?

Well, of all the folding bikes, the Brompton seems to be the one that folds up the smallest so I can store it under my desk at work (and it takes up like no space in the apartment). The Brompton is renowned for it’s quality, endurance, and simplicity. Regardless if you like them or not, these are wonderfully built & engineered bikes. People who get Bromptons love their Bromptons.

So, size and quality in check, why the S2L? Let me break it down for you:

The S- is the more aero, less upright flat bar set up. I still want to go fast after all and I’m rather used to being hunched over my bike peddling away. They also have M (medium classic height), H (pretty much upright), and P (an “all of the above” handlebar). As an ex-roadie, the S was the way to go.

The L- is for the fenders. Never was a fenders person, just slapped on the quickie one for rainy days, but I figured, it comes with it ready to go. so why not, right? The first week I had the bike, it rained pretty much every day. Good call, I’d say.

The 2- is for two gears. It keeps the bike lighter (seriously, the 3 speed goes to an internal hub that’s a pound heavier), simplifies the set up, and I’ve learned I can live with 2 gears, 1 gear for getty-up and 1 gear for go! They also do a single speed (nope for me) and a 6 speed. In my opinion, you really only have 3 options, single if your life is flat like in Florida. 2 if you got a few hills here and there, and 6 if you are doing some distance involving rolling hillsides or other varying terrain. The 3 speed, while classic, is the odd duck out, imo.

So I got my bike. Bfold was kind to show me how to fold and unfold, got me all good to go, and for past 3 months and nearly 700 miles I’ve been riding nothing but #mybrompton!

One thing I’ve found as a Bromptoneer is that people love to a) look at you on your bike (seriously people, eyes up here!) while you pass by and b) ask you about the bike everywhere. As you are folding or unfolding it, at lights, or in the middle of riding! I could be going up a hill and I’ll hear “hey, how’s that thing ride?” lol

Hence this review!

So, the million dollar question: how DOES this thing ride?

In a word, great! In more than one word, it generally rides like it’s full-sized sistren. Meaning, if I pedal at my normal cadence on the normal gear, I go as fast as I did on my road bike. And if I have my saddle at the right height, I’m sitting on the bike in pretty much the same position as I did on my road bike (barring adjustments for the different handlebar shape). In other words, I feels like I’m riding a bike, like it has my whole life.

But…. there are differences! Those little 16 inch wheels do make for a different ride, for sure. The biggest differences are:

  1. Quicker off the line. Light turns green and I’m off! Those little wheels take less energy to spin up (i.e. they have less inertia), so you get moving faster! It’s kind of fun when a spandexed Fredly roadie shoals in front of me at a light and when the light turns green, they are literally left in my dust.
  2. You need to pedal more. The same thing that causes them to speed up faster causes them to slow down faster. Less momentum means if you want to maintain that 22mph on the flat road, you got to keep on pedaling where as on the big wheeled bikes, once you built up that momentum, it’s easier to maintain it.
  3. Steering is a little twitchy. Those little wheels means a sharper point of contact on the road and a smaller radius of weight distribution within the wheel, so things are a little bit more sensitive. This is great when you are weaving around NYC stuck traffic, but I do feel more compelled to keep both hands on the grips at most times. If I’m bombing down the Williamsburg Bridge at 35mph, I’m much less inclined to deal with an itch or some sweat or whatever!
  4. Things that go bump in the night go more bumpy all day now! Those little wheels fall deeper in a hole than a bigger wheel would. For example, a 8 inch wide pothole would consume half a Brompton wheel but only 1/3 of a road bike wheel! Both would suck immensely, but you’d definitely feel it more on the Brompton. Brompton compensates some with a little bit of suspension in the back, but still… The first week of riding, my back was a bit more sore than usual as I adjusted to the new bike (and had to re-find my fit). I’ve also become a lot more aware of crap on the crappy NYC crap-covered crappy roads.

That’s it! Other than that, I’m just as fast as I was, I ride just as much as I did, but I’m having 200% more fun than ever before! AND I gain all the benefits of riding the most compactable folding bike.

It fits under my desk at work.

No more 10lb lock covered in dog pee! No more frozen solid bike buried under snow in the middle of winter! No more delivery guys locking their shitty bike on my bike and scratching it up! No more competing for your favorite bike lot spot with that other commuter (dude, this was totally my spot first)! yay!!!!

If suddenly @tsurubride wants to go out for dinner in the city, I can just leave my bike right there under my desk, subway, run, or ride a citibike the next day and there’ll be my bike under my desk waiting for me in the morning! Or hell, take it with me on the subway that night! Need to run an errand after work? Ride to the store, fold it up, carry it inside, shop, come out, unfold, and ride! BAM!

It takes up like no space at home.

Milo our cat in a cardboard box for scale.

And like I said before, the bike is fast and fun! At just over 20lbs (and with these gams) I’m flying up the bridges, passing all the fixie kids and most all the roadies to boot!

Apparently that’s my huffin’ & puffin’ for air face as I climb the Williamsburg.

Another huge plus is maintenance. Flats are easy to change in “kickstand mode”, the 2-gear system is simplicity incarnate, and wiping down & lubing up the bike is a 5 minute job. I was super slack about that on the full-sized bikes, but the Bromptons are so easy to clean, I’ve actually enjoyed it after a particularly rainy week!

As I mentioned earlier, besides the questions I get from strangers now, the other side effect of riding a Brompton are the gawkers. People love to watch me ride my bike now! Either that or they just like the better view of these sexy gams? I’m thinking it’s the bike though.

Usually the stares come with a smile. Sometimes, when I riding alongside a car I’ll get a smile and maybe a nod or thumbs up, they seem amazed I can go their speed (a common thought about small-wheeled bikes). Overall, Bromptons seem to bring a tiny bit of joy to most people’s lives as I scoot along.

Speaking of the smiles. One last thing that may take some getting used to for a some people. The overarching idea of “riding a silly little bike”. For people with emasculation issues or maybe “purists” of some kind, this could be a hump to get over. Here’s what I’ve found. Over the years, every time I’ve gotten a new bike, about 2 weeks into it, I’m pretty much totally used to it, new muscle memory, the works. You get on the old bike and it suddenly feels weird and foreign.

Humans are both resistant to change and highly adaptable at the same time. We lose our shit when a website changes a font, but 2 weeks later we forgot what the old font looked like.

Just as every time before, 2 weeks into the Brompton and I’ve forgotten what my old bike felt like until I had to ride it back from the bike shop one day and it felt like I was attached to a ginormous unweilding device! The point is, you will adapt and riding the Brompton will be your new norm. I promise.

And yes, maybe if you are aggressive in your thinking of what a bike must look like, you’ll feel like you are riding a clown bike at first. But, when you really get down to it, aren’t all bikes kind of silly to someone? Whether you are spandexed up and hunched over a $10,000 carbon bike or sitting upright like a 90 year old piano teacher on a 50lb Dutch bike or in a suit making your way along 5th Av on a Citibike or a fixie kid with your knees popping out as you try to stop going down a hill (or worse, you do that weird swerve/skid thing, fuck man, tires ain’t cheap), we all look silly to someone.

So just find the right bike for you and ride! With the Brompton in NYC, I have.

This bike has completely rejuvenated my love for cycling (and my Disposable New York photo series) but in a completely different way! It’s not about getting the 80 mile bike ride in, it’s about exploring the city on my Brompton!

I find myself taking the long way home more often and the extra long way home and even the extra-extra long way home! 5, 8, 11, 20 mile bike rides are an absolute blast!

So much so that in the months since switching to the Brompton, I’ve sold off my road bike and literally put my stripped down Fuji cyclocross bike on the curb for free or for trash (it was gone in a few hours).

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I have only one bike and it’s my Brompton S2L (though now I kind of want a 2nd one with a different configuration for super chill days and to share with Megs for bike rides and trips)…

*love*

Who knows, maybe one day you’ll see me at the Brompton World Championships!

;)

Cheers & keep riding!

Aaron Tsuru

(Patreon / Instagram)