Having decided to buy a Brompton the next step was not completely straightforward. My local bike boutique in Sheffield, James Cycles, did have Bromptons in stock from time to time but my impression was that the staff were not particularly tuned in to the thinking of middle-aged customers and I wanted somebody who could provide a complete package.
Having shopped around the internet I found the website for C.H.White and Son of Malmesbury, also known as Carackers. This company offer a slightly idiosyncratic mix of products ranging from bikes to car luggage racks. However their bike business seems to be substantial and I cannot fault their service.
The clincher for me was that, while nobody offers discounts on Brompton bikes, C.H.White’s policy is to offer a useful free gift with each sale. Now I am usually immune to free gifts since they tend to be very cheap tat that the retailer could not get rid of any other way, but Whites appeared to be offering good value and it turned out to be so. With every Brompton they supplied a free heavy duty fabric Koffer transport bag, which was exactly what I needed for my trip, and with the Brompton front touring pannier they offered a free cable lock, which turned out to be a very good quality product, much superior to the one I had just bought from Halfords.
A further bonus was that Whites could supply the low geared version of the Brompton for no extra charge, most smaller dealers make an extra charge for the conversion but presumably Whites sell enough to stock both versions.
Encouraged by their prompt response to my email queries, I ordered my red Bromption L6 with a little trepidation since you don’t often entrust £529 to a small company you have never heard of at the other end of the country. However they were true to their promise and the bike arrived in three days.
I had it delivered to my workplace and my colleagues and I had a jolly half hour putting it together. There was a moment’s panic when we found one of the clamps that holds the frame hinges together was missing. Whites assured me that it had been packed separately, to avoid the loose clamp damaging the paint of the folded bike, and after a hunt I found it had rolled under a table in the excitement.
I chose the L6 version of the bike, rather than the heavier, more expensive T6 which comes with a rear luggage rack and dynamo lights. I felt I needed to save weight for my trip and, as it turned out, the luggage rack is a bit of a luxury since the front mounted pannier system is the best way to haul your stuff and I came up with a cheap, lightweight solution to the problem of extra luggage, as described in the equipment page.
The L6 has six speeds and, although it seems perverse to mix a 3-speed hub gear with a very basic 2-speed deraillieur (when manufacturers make 5 and 7 speed hub gears), the result makes perfect sense. The hub gear, just like the old Sturmey Archer three speed gear, is a well tried design, but technical factors mean that hub gear ratios must be widely spaced. The neat little deraillieur provides a ratio between each of the three hub gears so that your six gears are similarly spaced to a normal deraillieur bike, ensuring that you are never straining in too high a gear or spinning furiously in a low ratio.
I suspect that the result, once you have mastered the slightly idiosyncratic gear changing technique, is both lighter and more reliable than the more complex 5 and 7 speed arrangements on offer by some manufacturers, reflecting Brompton’s passion for getting things just right and not grabbing at the latest technology. No doubt this explains why their bikes still have relatively low-powered side-pull brakes although I would be very pleased to see more modern brakes in use.
You can get a Brompton in a range of colours these days, including shocking pink, but I couldn’t help feeling that the traditional colour for a Brompton was red and, apart from red being a jaunty colour, anything else was not quite true to the product. The pale colours looked weak and the darker ones made the unique shape of the bike invisible. So red it was and I have never regretted it. I feel pleased every time I see it and I get frequent comments on how good it looks.