Invented by Cambridge University engineering graduate Andrew Ritchie in the mid-1970s and still built by hand in West London, the Brompton remains a true cycling icon. With over 100,000 bikes sold around the world, the classic design has been much refined over the years and is now available in a wide range of different set-ups, though always with the same super-compact, folded size that is the bike’s USP.
This ‘Superlight’ model replaces parts of the standard steel frame with titanium to reduce weight, and uses lighter wheels, while the low, hat bar offers a sporty riding position. Lights and mudguards add to its practicality.
Lifting the Brompton out of its box brought an instant smile of recognition. A familiar sight on any large town or city across Britain, this is a bike that needs no introduction. We were particularly struck by the vibrant hue paintwork of our test bike, but if red isn’t your shade, you can choose from a huge range of custom color options via the Brompton website.
On The Road
The tiny size when folded has always been one of the Brompton’s main attractions – its 555mm x 565mm x 270mm folded dimensions make it easy to take on trains, stick in the car boot or stow under your desk. The question is: has it achieved that at the expense of ride quality? There’s no simple answer, it’s a mix of positives and, well, not so positives…
The biggest gripe is the amount of flex in the frame – perhaps inevitable given the sheer length of exposed seat post and stem. At the front end, this flex is only really noticeable under heavy braking. It feels composed enough most of the time, helped by the MTB-style fat, wide S-type handlebars, which are significantly stiffer than the classic curved M-type bars we’ve used on Bromptons before. Being set much lower, they also enable us to adopt a nicely sporty, head-down riding position (though handle bar height is fixed, so shorter riders will find themselves more upright).
The flex is more noticeable at the rear end thanks to that long seat post, and this is exacerbated by the elastomer shock absorber block that sits between the rear triangle and main frame. It’s great from a comfort point of view, soaking up bumpy roads very effectively, but it can make it all feel a bit bouncy under hard pedaling efforts.
Twitchy is the only word for it. With a steep front end, small wheels and a fixed vertical stem that hardly offsets the handlebars at all, turning is much sharper than you’ll be accustomed to on a typical road bike. It takes a bit of getting used to, and riding at speed in a straight line can be a somewhat nervy, wobbly experience (best keep both hands on the bars at all times). To take a more positive view, this highly reactive steering makes the bike incredibly nimble and is a real benefit when weaving through traffic on busy city streets.
In fact, once you become attuned to its quirks, it’s seriously good fun around town. Being around 2kg lighter than the all-steel frame of traditional Bromptons, the Superlight is a wee bit sharper out of the blocks and a tad easier to drag up hills, but at over 10kg, it’s still not exactly a featherweight. But then again, since this is designed to be ridden on flatter city streets, weight shouldn’t be a major issue. The two-speed set-up keeps things pleasingly simple, with one low gear for zooming away from the lights, and a higher gear for general riding.
While the Superlight retains the same steel main frame as the standard Brompton, the fork and rear triangle are titanium, which matches the strength of steel but at a much-reduced weight. Another advantage of titanium is that it won’t corrode like steel: a huge advantage on a bike that’s likely to be used all year round, in all weathers, and not likely to be cleaned every day.
While it’s possible to mount a rear rack on it, we prefer the bespoke luggage mounting block fixed to the head tube. Although this only takes bags with the special Brompton bracket, there are plenty of options available, both from Brompton and third parties. Like most folding bikes, this takes a one-size-fits-all approach, although taller riders can opt for an extended seat post or a telescopic version.
Unfolding the Brompton is reasonably intuitive, and once you get the hang of it, pretty quick too – taking around 15 seconds. It has another neat trick up its sleeve for when you just want to park the bike and don’t need to fully fold it: flipping the rear triangle under the frame allows the bike to stand upright unsupported, thanks to a pair of roller wheels. When folded, the lowered seat post keeps it all locked together to prevent it unfolding accidentally, and those roller wheels allow you to pull it along the ground rather than having to carry it. The left pedal also folds to stay neatly tucked in rather than jutting out.
The Brompton drivetrain is mostly proprietary components. A bespoke chain tensioner-come-derailleur shifts the chain between a pair of sprockets on the rear wheel, operated by a simple trigger shifter. It’s possible to configure your Brompton with up to six gears by adding a Sturmey-Archer three-speed hub, but we love the simplicity of the two-speed system. The single 54-tooth chain ring may look oversized but this is to offset the effect on the gearing of the small wheels.
The standard ’high’ gear is a good middle-of-the-road ratio for all-round riding, while the ’low’ gear is good for pulling away from the lights, but if you want to make life easier on hills, you can opt for one of two reduced gearing set-ups (-7% or -19% compared to the standard gearing). Older Bromptons were notorious for their shonky brakes but the current dual-pivot callipers are much-refined items, while the alloy levers are sturdy and comfortable, with plenty of stopping power.
Brompton’s own-brand saddle is a well-padded perch that should suit most riders, bearing in mind that you’re unlikely to be doing very long rides on it. Similarly, the foam handlebar grips are fine for everyday use. Mudguards only add to the all-round practicality, and our test bike also came fitted with an excellent rechargeable Cateye Volt 300 front light, and a rear battery light with integrated reflector.
Wheels Like most of the other components on this bike, the wheels are Brompton’s own. While lighter than the standard Brompton wheels, they’re sturdily built with plenty of spokes for guaranteed reliability. The tyres buck the own-brand trend, being Schwalbe Marathon Racers, which combine a fast-rolling, slick tread with decent puncture resistance – ideal then for urban riding. Their 11/3 in width gives them just the right amount of volume to provide a comfortable ride on rough streets.
- Frame: Brompton Superlight steel/titanium
- Groupset: Brompton two-speed
- Brakes: Brompton dual-pivot callipers
- Chainset: Brompton, 54t
- Casette: Brompton two-speed, 12/16t
- Bars: Brompton S-Type
- Saddle: Brompton with hand grip
- Seatpost: Brompton Standard
- Wheels: Brompton 16-inch alloy, 28 spokes
- Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Racer, 16×11/3in
- Weight: 10.24kg