I started writing 16incheswestofpeoria after I bought my Bike Friday tikit. Sixteen-inch wheels are pretty unusual; I thought I might find something to pass along to readers. Surprisingly, not so much.
Yes, the tikit is a bit odd compared to the typical offerings of central Illinois bike shops, but the oddness is pretty much limited to its appearance. It’s a bit quicker steering than a bike with larger wheels but the brakes and derailleur work the same way. In three years, I’ve covered the tikit’s construction in Eugene, Oregon, and the replacement under warranty of the folding riser. That’s about it, though I have to add it’s the first bicycle I’ve transported in the passenger seat of a Mazda Miata.
With a lot less personal experience, I could say the same about the Brompton folding bicycle made in London. Sixteen-inch wheels, yep, a little strange. But as far as the mission is concerned, it’s the same: get on and pedal. The last time I rode a Brompton, several years ago at Calhoun Cyclery in Minneapolis, it had a shorter wheelbase. That machine was definitely optimized for the fold, not so much the ride.
Today, the Brompton’s wheels are a bit farther apart, which increases stability, and many of the parts, including rims (double-walled), cranks (bolt-on chainring) and brakes (dual pivot), have been upgraded.
This past weekend, I rode two Bromptons from Element Cyclesport in Oak Park, Illinois. A blue SL2–the designation indicates straight bars, fenders and two-speed drivetrain–and the store’s Brompton Demonstrator, which is a white MR6–rise bars, rear rack, six-speed–with a Demonstrator decal.
The SL2 was parked in the folded position when I first saw it. It’s been a while since I handled a Brompton. I couldn’t remember the first step to unfolding it. But I’m okay with staring vacantly until the answer pops into mind.
You have to raise the seatpost. Ah, yes: the bicycle unfurls. Now, it’s just a matter of flipping the rear end of the bike into place, tightening a couple of twiddly knobs and you’re off to the races. Well, not the races, unless you were in Washington, D.C. recently, but definitely the neighborhood.
Thoughts based on two admittedly short, flat test rides: the 2-speed derailleur is a sweet shifting unit. That’s the benefit of having only two cogs: flick the shifter to one cog or the other; no finesse necessary.
The six speed is just as nice a setup. The same derailleur used with the SL2 is combined with Brompton’s BWR internal 3-speed hub, a Sturmey-Archer variant. Intellectually, I know the BWR adds a bit of weight and probably some internal resistance, but I didn’t notice either issue on the flats, and I’m going to guess that the lower gear ratios of the 6-speed more than make up for the weight when it comes time to climb hills.
Handlebars? The flat bar of the SL2 is tempting. It’s a very clean look, but the sit-up-and-beg position of the M-style handlebars (or H-style, they could have been the tallest handlebars Brompton offers) on the 6-speed Brompton is a great match for city riding–and my personal flexibility. I’m not faster with one bar than the other, so as far as I’m concerned, there’s no downside to taller bars.
What surprised me? I really like the rear rack on the Demonstrator. It makes for a great kickstand when the bike is half folded. Or maybe I should say I don’t like not having the rack. Without it, you have three parking wheels, two behind the seat and one on the fender, which isn’t really a stable parking solution, more of a pointed reminder that you should have bought the rack and picked up that all-important fourth parking wheel.
Here’s the other thing about the rack–it eases the transition from unfolded to folded. When you release the rear end of the bike, via a lever near the seat post quick release, and lift, the seatstays, chainstays and wheel pivot around the bottom bracket, and the wheels at the back of the rack engage the ground first. It’s a smoother operation than my tikit, which needs a little foot action to avoid beating up the back fender.
Element Cyclesport occupies an attractive corner store front in Oak Park. Once I saw the location, I had to agree with the online commentator who bemoaned the store’s prior occupant. It is amazing that a realty company would reserve some of the town’s best real estate for itself. A bicycle shop is a much better use of the space. Especially a shop with smiling employees who greet customers right away.
With a half hour to spare, I only had time to review the Bromptons and buy a pair of gloves. But the shop is definitely worth another visit. If you go, consider combining your journey with a visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It’s one to three minutes down Chicago Avenue, depending on whether you ride or walk.
Note: If you drive and want to make the same ridiculous mistake I did, try motoring during the week from Palos Heights to Oak Park along Harlem Avenue. If that doesn’t have you despairing of the sad state of the built environment and condemning the solipsistic ignorance of the phrase “America’s love affair with the car,” nothing will.
Post Note: Check out The Brompton Diaries’ coverage of the 2014 Brompton US Championship. The colorful owners are definitely fans of the brand.