Welcome to the alliterative first paragraph of this blog post about the Brilliant British Brand of Brompton bicycles, Brazed in Brentford. My Brother Tom, who first sold me a Brompton when I lived in Brussels, is a Brompton dealer in the West of Wild Woolly Wales. He was one of the founders of Brixton Cycles, who also sell Bromptons.
If you are reading this post and are anywhere West of Port Talbot, head over to Cardigan, where you will find New Image Bicycles and Tom will be happy to sell you a Brompton from Brentford, which incidentally are all painted in Cardiff, Cymru. For those who liked the West Woolly W-ness of the Welsh aspect of these Words, there is added pleasure in the knowledge that Brompton Wheels are built in Wolverhampton and that our family name is Wells and that I was born in Wimbledon! Wow or What!!!!???!!!!! Waffle, whatever…
Seriously, though, Tom and I headed to Brentford last Thursday for a dealers’ day at Brompton and were shown round the factory there, nestled in between the M4 roaring its way out of London and the Thames glistening by Kew Bridge, a stone’s throw away. We were welcomed by Phil and Ross of the marketing department, who showed us around the factory and explained the manufacture and assembly process. It was fascinating to watch the individual parts being hand-brazed with great skill and care. The brainchild of engineer-designer, Andrew Ritchie, the original Brompton design has changed relatively little since its launch in the 1970s, but the manufacturing process has been refined and refined, so the folding bicycle you buy now is a piece of high-quality living sculpture. And that’s why Bromptons are such amazing machines, as they bring together key aspects of art and life for the 21stcentury urban human. And they can also be put to the test in more rural environments, such as the Shetlands, where Joe Sheffer and Alastair Humphreys intrepidly cycled and canoed around the islands.
If you are half-way interested in art and design, the Brompton folding bicycle is a miracle of ingenuity, grace and playfulness. Tom sold me my first red Brompton about 10 years ago when I lived in Brussels. It went from Cardigan to London in the boot of a car, then unfolded and took me to Waterloo, folded and in a bag on the Eurostar to Brussels. On one of the several occasions I took it on the train from Brussels to Paris, as I unfolded it on the platform at the Gare du Nord and cycled away a little boy exclaimed joyously to his mother: “Regarde, maman! Le vélo magique!’’ Yes, indeed, Bromptons are magical, because like magic, they give you the freedom to go where you want, when you want and in great style and comfort. And they touch on the mythical magic of cycling that has been captured and expressed by authors such as Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman or Paul Fournel in Besoin de Vélo (Need for the Bike). An important part of the Brompton magic is the folding action, something essential, you would agree, for a folding bicycle. At the end of our dealer day, Katharine organised a Brompton folding competition, to see how quickly we could fold a Brompton to its transportable position. The winners came in at about 16 seconds, so I felt my honour was safe at 17 seconds. One of the Brompton boys showed us what it was really about by folding his in 8 seconds! Quicker than saying Abracadabra or waving a magic wand!
We also had a fascinating talk from Steve, the chief engineer, who made me realise what a dual challenge designing a folding bike is, from the safety and efficiency perspectives. When you ride a bicycle, it is easy to forget what high-tech machines they are, in terms of converting human energy into speed and direction. Cycling in London my average speed is faster than a car, a bus and sometimes even a tube or a train and at the same time my bicycle is a strong, safe and reliable vehicle that takes incredible physical punishment. Add to that the requirement that this functionality must be provided in a form that will fold down into the size of a small piece of luggage that will stow away easily on a train or in a small car boot, then you really are talking magic. The reliability of the Brompton manufacturing process is underpinned by a conservative warranty and quality control policy which ensure that the bikes are built to last a life-time.
Tom was interested in the work Brompton are doing to produce a production line electric Brompton. He is missing a leg and sometimes uses his Brompton as a kind of funky wheel-chair, so an electric version would be even funkier in hilly Cardiganshire. It’s going to be quite a challenge as they want an electric model to be retrofittable, so it may be quicker to buy a custom-built electric Brompton in New York!
After occasional hiccups in the manufacturing and delivery process, Bromptons are now comfortably producing 30,000 folding bicycles a year in Brentford, which are sold for the most part in the UK, Germany, Benelux, South Korea, Spain and France. They may not be as cheap as a conventional bicycle, but they are incredibly practical, have fantastic accessories that make you want to buy them all (watch out for the tool-kit that fits snugly inside one of the tubes!) and you can take them with you wherever you go. No problem for city-dwellers with no outside space to park a big bike, your Brompton will sit quietly in a corner in the tiniest flat.
One last word, the Brompton is named after the Brompton or London Oratory on Brompton Road in Central London, where Andrew Ritchie lived and designed the first prototypes. New to the Brompton Range, they have added the sartorial splendour of the Oratory Jacket, which I am saving up to buy. Like the bicycle, the jacket combines elegance with cycling functionality and will mean that you can arrive smart and dry at any occasion. Style, life and art all together; what is there not to love about a Brompton…
More photographs of our Brompton dealers’ day on my Facebook profile here.
For all your cycling needs in West Wales, be sure to visit:
New Image Bicycles and Bike Hire
29-30, Pendre, Cardigan, Ceredigion SA43 1LA
Telephone: 01239 621275