When ridden, the handle-bars, pedals and saddle are in the same position as a normal bicycle
|Founded||3 June 1976|
|Headquarters||Brentford, Greater London, England, UK|
|Key people||Andrew Ritchie (Founder and Technical Director), Will Butler-Adams (Managing Director)|
The Brompton folding bicycle and accessories are the company's core product, noted for its self-supporting compact size when stored. All available models of the folding bicycle are based on the same hinged bicycle frame and 16 inch (37×349 mm) bicycle wheel tyre size. Components are added, removed, or replaced by titanium parts to form the many variations. The modular design has remained fundamentally unchanged since the original patent was filed by Andrew Ritchie in 1979, with small details being refined by continual improvement. Ritchie was awarded the 2009 Prince Philip Designers Prize for work on the bicycle. In reviews of folding bicycles, the Brompton is often the winner.
All Brompton folding bicycle models share the same curved frame, consisting of a hinged main tube, pivoting rear triangle, fork, and hinged handle-bar stem. The main tube and stem are made of steel in all models. The rear triangle and fork are either steel or titanium, depending on model. The steel sections are joined by brazing – not welding. Wheels are 349 mm rim size, carrying tyres with 16" tread diameter. The handlebars and some peripheral components are aluminium.
A Brompton bicycle uses over 1,200 individual pieces, 80% of which are manufactured solely for the Brompton design.
As of 2010[update] the combinations allow one-, two-, three-, or six-speed gearing options to be factory-fitted, with higher or lower gearing available as an option.
The Brompton uses a combined rear fold and suspension design. During riding, the rear triangle rests on a rubber spring to provide suspension between the rear wheel and the main frame supporting the rider. The suspension block is kept in compression by the rider's weight. A factory-fitted firm suspension block is offered as an alternative to the standard block for heavier riders or those wanting a more responsive ride. There is no suspension for the front wheel, although the titanium forks of the Superlight versions provide a small amount of spring.
The elements which allow the fold to work are:
- a pivoting rear triangle, allowing the length to be shortened, whilst keeping the bicycle chain in the same alignment. There is a slight arch in the main frame to allow the wheel to swing under to the parked position;
- a chain tensioner arm capable of swinging through a wide arc, in order to control the full length of the chain during folding without the chain coming loose. In the folded position the chain is looped back on itself;
- a main frame hinge in the centre of the bicycle allows the front wheel to be swung around and placed against the rear wheel. As the front wheel also rotates freely for steering purposes, the front wheel remains pointing forwards even when folded;
- a handlebar stem with the hinge placed at 45 degrees to the rest of the bicycle allowing handlebars to swing through 180 degrees and lie parallel with the wheels when folded;
- a seat post combining variable height adjustment and locking. When lowered during folding, the base of the post locks against the lower stop disc preventing the folded package from swinging open;
- a folding pedal on the left-hand side.
The final folded package is 565×545×250 mm (22.2×21.5×9.8 in) and weighs between 9–12.5 kg (20–28 lb) depending on the configuration. The standard saddle of 2009 and later models acts as a carrying handle for the folded bike, with finger-grip ridges on the underside. With practice, folding and unfolding takes between 10–20 seconds, making the Brompton popular with commuters.
Models are named with two letters either side of a number to describe the handle bar type, number of gears and factory attached fixtures respectively. A suffix is appended to show the inclusion of titanium upgrades. As an example, the model code of "M3R" refers to classic "M" handle bars, "3" gear speeds using an internal hub and an "R" for having a rear rack. The same model making use of titanium for some parts would be "M3R-X".
|Handlebar style||Gearing choice||Fixtures[f 1]||Material|
|S||sporty||1||single speed||E||minimal; no mudguards, no pump||-X||optional lighter titanium forks, triangle and sundries|
|M||traditional[f 1]||2||two speed derailleur|
|P||dual height||3||three speed internal hub|
|R||mudguards and rear rack|
|H||upright||6||internal hub and derailleur|
- Until 2007, all Brompton bicycles had "M"-style handle bars, with the fixtures being "C" (no mudguards), "L" (mudguards) or "T" (rear rack and dynamo lighting). These roughly map to the present "E", "L" and "R" models. Only "3" or "5" (later "6") gears were offered, and this was written after the type. A late 1990s "T5" would be similar to a present "M6R", while a "C3" would be close to the present "M3E". The old marketing terms were Companion, Lightweight and Touring.
All models may have the wheels on the corners of the rack replaced with larger eazy wheels, to aid pushing when folded and to give greater heel clearance than the stock rollers. All models can choose to have no lights, lighting powered from battery, or two variants of front wheel hub dynamo.[t 1] Seat posts can be swapped between standard length, extended or telescopic for tall riders (each with an aluminium equivalent). Bicycles are offered in four colours at no additional charge: Black, White, Orange and Cobalt Blue. Other colours, raw lacquer, and titanium are available at extra cost. Titanium areas are left unpainted, in their natural titanium colour. The standard Brompton saddle can be substituted by a Brooks B17 Special leather saddle ladies' or men's versions. Non-titanium models have braze-on fittings for holding the supplied Zefal HP compact high-pressure bicycle pump.
All models may have the front luggage block fitted to carry cargo, this is fitted to the main frame (rather than to the forks or handle bars) to avoid interference with the steering. The hub dynamo option uses a special narrow-width SON XS hub dynamo fitted at the centre of the front-wheel and manufactured by Schmidt Maschinenbau.
A full "superlight" variant uses titanium to save weight, combined with lighter wheel components. The option replaces the rear triangle, front forks, seat post and other smaller parts. The main frame structure remains steel. This upgrade represents the largest cost increase of any upgrade, and reduces some variants to below ten kilograms in weight. The titanium rear triangle has no provision for mounting a pump, and a pump is not supplied with titanium models, saving approximately 75 grams (2.6 oz).
Tyres can be swapped at any point between kevlar-based Brompton green or lighter, faster Schwalbe Kojak. Whilst no longer factory fitted, Brompton bicycles originally used Raleigh Record tyres and continued to do so on the lower end model until the 2000s. Aftermarket tyres include the Schwalbe Marathon Plus, a heavy but very puncture-resistant model.
- Until 2009, bottle shaped tyre dynamo were used as the standard permanent lighting solution. New bicycles have a choice between Brompton-specific Shimano or SON XS hub dynamos.
A small saddle bag can be fitted behind the saddle for the Brompton cover and any tools or spares. Most of the handlebar types can also accommodate standard handlebar bags.
When fitted with a front luggage block, Brompton offers a choice of folding basket, large touring pannier (the T-bag), two variants of bicycle-messenger style flip-over bag (the S- or the larger C-bag), a waterproof option available in two colors manufactured by Ortlieb, the cotton duck canvas bike bureau known as the "City Folder" from Carradice, or a leather attaché case (the A-bag) can be attached to the bicycle. These bags internally share a common design of luggage frame, which can also be used separately. In the case of the Carradice bag, this frame must be purchased separately from some retailers.
Design changes have generally been introduced so they can be retrofitted on earlier models.
- Rear rack
- Redesigned in the 1990s using cast aluminium
- Five-speed hubs
- until discontinuation after the close of Sturmey Archer in 2000
- Handlebar stem hinge
- switched to a jig-brazed system
- SRAM hub
- rear triangle changes to suit SRAM hub after the close of Sturmey Archer
- Allowing 6-speed (2×3 evenly spaced gears)
- Main tube hinge
- In 2003, the introduction of a new machined hinge on main tube increased the wheel-base by 30 millimetres
- Handle-bar clip
- reinforced wire clip providing increasing gripping to secure the handle-bar stem when folded down.
- Two alternative handlebar designs; the original handlebar being redesignated as the 'M' type.
- Titanium parts
- saving approximately 1 kilogram combined
- Dual action calliper brakes
- later fitted as standard to both the front and back wheels
- Rear triangle clip
- Allowing the rear-triangle to be clamped, to prevent automatic folding when the bicycle is lifted whilst unfolded. For example, when being carried up steps.
- Wide range hub
- Brompton Wide-Range (BWR) hub with a wider gear ratio spacing, more suited to the Brompton's smaller wheel size, since 2008
- Non-folding pedal
- new right-hand non-folding pedal designed to increase robustness and balance the folding pedal.
- notch added to prevent over folding of left-hand folding pedal
- Upright handlebar
- since 2012 Handlebar style "H"
Further modifications are provided by some Brompton dealers or skilled individuals, the most prominent examples being:
- Rear hub
- Alternative hubs all tend to be wider than the narrow Brompton rear triangle allow, necessitating extensive stretching and modification work
- Shimano Nexus seven- eight- or eleven-speed hubs.
- Fourteen-speed Rohloff Speedhub.
- Sturmey-Archer XRF8 eight-speed hubs.
- Vintage Sturmey-Archer medium or close-ratio internals, which can be screwed straight into the OEM hub shell
- Rear axle
- Derailleur gears either in addition to, or instead of the standard internal hub gearing
- Bottom bracket
- Schlumpf Mountain Drive: Fitting a Schlumpf Mountain Drive to the bottom bracket to give a selectable 250% reduction, thereby doubling the number of gears available to two-, four-, six-, or twelve-speeds
- Additional front derailleur chain-rings as from on a mountain bike
- Oversize, or elliptical ("egg") rings giving higher possible top-speeds for extremely fit riders
- Front wheel hub
- Electric motor, combined with a battery bank attached to either the rear rack, or stored in the front pannier
- Pantour suspension hub
- Dynamo hubs. Brompton now offer a narrow-width SON XS or alternatively a Shimano dynamo hub as standard factory supplied upgrades
- Custom-made luggage using the Brompton luggage frame
- Rear luggage attached to the seat-post
- Contact points
- Leather or other handlebar grips; replacements need to be approximately 95-100mm wide compared to 130mm for other bicycles
- Upgraded saddles: Brompton offer a branded Brooks B17, but any saddle can be fitted if the Brompton "Pentaclip" adapter is used
Brompton owners and designers with suitable engineering expertise have tried to improve the design, although there is limited scope to do so as any additions attached are likely to compromise either the final folded size, carried weight or folding action.
- "SP". In the United Kingdom, builder Steve Parry specialises in producing a range of customised bicycles designated SP, which are based on the Brompton and use many Brompton components. Typically, these machines might combine a seven-speed derailleur or the 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub, V-brakes, carbon fibre seat post and a suspension handlebar system, although the exact specifications will often be agreed with the purchaser prior to building.
- "Brekki" recumbent upgrade kit. A collection of add-ons formerly offered by a German cyclist, Juliane Neuß, to convert a basic Brompton into a recumbent bicycle design at the cost of a larger folded package and heavier weight. The kit does not fit the current Brompton, which has a longer main frame.
- Ultimate Folding Bicycle. Leonard Rubin's on-going development (in Portland, Oregon) involving wholesale replacement of virtually all original Brompton frame components with titanium or lightweight versions. The result is a sub 8-kilogram bicycle with a Brompton fold and luggage compatibility.
- "Nano Brompton" an upgrade to convert a basic Brompton to an electric bike by adding a front 250-watt 2-kilogram electric hub motor. The battery pack is either mounted on the handlebars, or using contact strips embedded in a modified front carrier block.
- "Brompton E-Freedom" – an upgrade to convert a basic Brompton to an electric bike by adding a powerful electric front hub motor to the Brompton, with nano-technology batteries, the whole kit (incl motor, battery, controller & throttle) adds only 3.2 kg to the overall bike's weight.
In 1976 Andrew Ritchie founded the company, named after the Brompton Oratory, a landmark visible from his bedroom workshop where the first prototypes were built. At the time he was working as a gardener. Ritchie obtained backing from friends and sought to license the design, but after five years began manufacturing the bicycle design himself. Production ground to a halt in 1982 after which Ritchie continued to explore possibilities for continued manufacturing whilst undertaking other jobs.
Finally in 1986, again with backing from friends and former customers, enough was raised to resume production on a larger scale. With a bank loan underwritten by Julian Vereker (founder of Naim Audio), production was restarted in a railway arch in Brentford. By early 1988, mass-production Brompton bicycles were once again in circulation.
In March 2009, Brompton Bicycle achieved a record monthly turnover of just under £1 million; the employees were rewarded with fish and chips. In the same month, the company stated that it was hoping to continue a 25% rate of growth; partially enabled by switching to just-in-time stocking for some of the parts being sourced from suppliers, and by having those suppliers hold the stock until it is needed rather than parts living for periods at the Brompton factory.
In the Queen's Birthday Honours of 21 April 2010, the company was awarded two Queen's Awards for Enterprise, in the Innovation and International Trade categories. This was the second time Brompton had won the International Trade Award, they first received it in 1995. It is very rare for a company to receive two of these awards in one year.
Clones and licensing
In 1992, Brompton agreed with Euro-Tai in Taiwan to allow the manufacture of a licensed copy of the Brompton bicycle for distribution in Eastern Asia. A joint venture company called Neobike was then established to manufacture them. Brompton Bicycle in the United Kingdom would loan tools and drawings, and be paid on a per-unit royalty basis.
By mid-1992, Neobike had recruited three senior research and development employees from Dahon, another folding bicycle company, and had started to produce other designs and copies in addition to the official Brompton design. Brompton's licensing contract with Euro-Tai/Neobike lasted approximately ten years until it expired on 31 December 2002. By this time, five senior Neobike employees had been convicted and jailed for stealing trade secrets from Dahon and Ritchie had previously stated that the franchise contract had been "under review", there having been quality issues with the Asian-built Brompton bicycles. Euro-Tai and Neobike failed to return the Brompton-specific tooling loaned by Brompton Bicycle. One week later after the expiration of the official licensing agreement Euro-Tai sold its controlling stake in Neobike to YTE Manufacturing, an aluminium supplier that was already involved with producing frames for Neobike.
At the 2003 Eurobike trade show, Neobike exhibited their—now unsanctioned—clone of the Brompton, offering it to potential dealers within Europe. Neobike-produced copies of the Brompton bicycle were then imported into The Netherlands branded as the "Scoop One" and "Astra Flex V3". Later, Neobike's interests in its copy-bicycle business were transferred to an entity called Grace Gallant Enterprises, for sale under the brand "Flamingo". Between 2004 and 2010, several batches of copies were imported into the European market: into the United Kingdom under the name "Merc", into Belgium, and into Spain as the "Nishiki Oxford". Taiwanese-manufactured clones bear the model numbers FL-BP01-3/FL-BP01-7 standing for Flamingo, "Best Persuader", 3-speed/7-speed.
A court case was held at the Groningen civil court in the Netherlands on 24 May 2006, which ruled that the industrial design of the Brompton folding bicycle was protected by copyright. Additionally, the Neobike-provided manual had included direct copies of those drawings found in the Brompton user manual. The Brompton Bicycle Limited v Rijwielbedrijf Vincent Van Ellen BV ruling held that there was creative flexibility in the design for a bicycle beyond those choices made purely for functional reasons; in the Brompton case this included the M-style handlebars, curved main frame tube and the cable-placement. Each of these were noted to be distinctive design decisions that another manufacturer could change without compromising the ability to create a functional folding bicycle. Such a level of perceived similarity was therefore likely to cause "confusion in the market" under the Dutch copyright law, Article 13. Neobike did not choose to appeal and Brompton Bicycle was granted the right to have all of the imported bicycles destroyed with an injunction against future imports by Neobike's distributors.
In June 2010, Brompton Bicycle gained a further injunction against the import of the unlicensed copy Brompton models into Spain, this time under the name "Nishiki Oxford Bicycle". The case was decided on the basis that Grace Gallant predecessors' had not returned all of Brompton Bicycle Ltd's drawing and toolings upon the termination of the earlier Eurotai/Neobike franchise agreement.
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