On a rainy evening in late March, I rode away from Uptown Minneapolis’ Calhoun Cycle on a borrowed Brompton folding bike.
The tiny beast was mine to ride, as much as I wanted, throughout 30 Days of Biking; in return, I’d be tweeting, Facebook posting, and photographing my rides for Calhoun Cycle, for a promotion/fun time titled Meet Brompton. Full disclosure: I wasn’t paid for this promotion, and it was arranged, based purely on my questionable Social Influencer abilities, before I began columnizing for the Star Tribune.
To be honest, because there’s no other way to be, I didn’t believe I'd put many miles on the Brompton, a bike manufactured and designed in England by a family-owned company with limited but growing penetration in the U.S. market. In mid March, I’d just purchased a badass, quasi fat–tired Surly Krampus, and I own a beautiful Trek road bike, plus two other nice single-speeds. Why would I need a Brompton? That was strike one.
Strike two: My first impression of the Brompton was that it was dinky, small, and delicate. How could a bike so tiny brave Minnneapolis’ mean, er, streets, and get me from my apartment in the North Loop to my workplace in downtown St. Paul? How could it handle all of the obstacles I encounter every day?
Strike three: I was intimidated by the folding and unfolding process, which Calhoun Cycle employee Martha Garcés had demonstrated several times. It didn’t stick in my brain, despite a bunch of practice. So, I assumed this bike would be a novelty, that I’d try the Brompton out a few times in April and then leave it to gather dust while I rode bigger and more powerful bikes.
Boy was I wrong, gentle reader. As soon as I made sense of the folding and unfolding, and realized how well the Brompton fit into my life, I fell in love with it. Like, LOVE LOVE, so much so that I waited until the very last minute to return my borrowed beauty to Calhoun Cycle, and joked about tears falling onto it as I returned it, and imagined myself giving it a kiss goodbye.
Presenting the four highlights of my Brompton experience:
1. Riding around on a Brompton gets you a LOT of attention. I’m sort of an attention whore. Every time I took the Brompton out, somebody would always ask me about it, and I’d deliver my sales pitch. Look at how pretty and small it is, see how light it is, now watch me fold it and unfold it. Amazing! At one point, on a day that saw me out bicycling between 9 a.m. and 1 a.m., I’d given so many rapt listeners my Brompton spiel that I began to dread any more questions about it.
2. It truly does work for my life. I like the Brompton for the same reason I like the Nice Ride. It’s low maintenance, folding up at every destination, then becoming as portable as a tiny (albeit awkward and occasionally pedal-sharp) suitcase. Once you’ve folded it up, it fits just about everywhere. I put it under my work desk. I lugged it through craft breweries and supermarkets and department stores and restaurants. I sat it on my lap on the bus. And as soon as I was done, and back outside, I snapped it back open and I was off. Folding up means never having to lock. On top of that, the Brompton includes built-in lights, powered by your pedaling, so you needn't worry about carrying lights around either.
3. I became a master folder. Once I got a hang of the process, my early intimidation seemed foolish, and having to learn how to fold and unfold the bike seemed like something ESPECIALLY cool about the bike. A “look at this skill I’ve learned” benefit. The next step means folding and unfolding with panache, with just enough showmanship to make people go “OOOHHHH!” when you bust out the Brompton’s final snap into full bicycle mode.
4. I began to enjoy the way the Brompton was — to a certain manly men set, the sort who drive around in gigantic trucks and jeer at things out of their windows — threatening. I got a few cat calls while I was out on the Brompton. More than a few times, I made accidental eye contact with a pedestrian or driver and found myself face-to-face with a sneer. There’s a certain personality type that’s threatened by conveyances that are tiny and delicate, and the Brompton provokes that personality type. I’m proud to be on the Brompton’s side now.
I put many, many miles on the Brompton. Of the 500+ I rode in April, more than half were on the folding bike’s comfortable Brooks saddle, atop its robin’s egg blue frame. I took it on group rides. I rode it to work. I rode it on pavement. I rode it on limestone gravel. I rode fast. I rode slow. I folded it and carried it like a pro. And the Brompton handled it all, with English elegance. Will I own a Brompton of my own someday? Absolutely.
Above all, it’s just a pleasure to ride.
Calhoun Cycle – The shop that was kind enough to lend me the bike for the month of April.
Brompton Bicycle – The makers of my folding bike.
#meetbrompton – The tweets I posted about my Brompton adventure.
PHOTO CREDIT: All of the photos in this post are by Martha Garcés.