Brompton Toolkit – Ouch!

Last year I was very pleased to be given one of the new Brompton toolkits as a birthday present. It is a beautiful thing, cleverly designed to fit together into a neat package that slots into the open end of the bike’s frame tube when unfolded. I wanted one as soon as they were announced, not because I needed it but because it seemed to be an elegant way of removing clutter (bag of tools under the saddle) from an elegant bike.



The photos come from the website of the design company, Goodwin Hartshorn, who created the product and are to be congratulated on an elegant assembly. Whether they or Brompton were responsible for making sure the product actually worked is not clear so it might be only one and a half cheers for Goodwin Hartshorn.

Sadly the product does not work. The first time I used it I encountered two serious problems. I wanted to remove a wheel, then change a tyre, probably the most common use for this kit.

Removing the wheel was impossible and I had to get out a normal spanner. I may have overtightened the wheel nuts when installing the wheel but that’s not unusual and I have never had a problem removing the nuts with my usual tool, a small adjustable spanner slightly longer than the one in the Brompton kit. When I applied force to the Brompton spanner the little black knurled wheel on the hand end bit into my hand very painfully. (you can see the wheel at the right hand end of the spanner in the photograph)

This problem was so bad that I just couldn’t move the nut. The combination of a short lever and sharp protrusion brought me to a halt and I had to go back to my trusty adjustable spanner. It’s worth commenting that one of Brompton’s folding bike competitors, Tern Bicycles, produce a very elegant and highly regarded integrated toolkit suitable for most bikes. They have solved this problem by designing the tool to fold out and create more leverage, then they provide a soft sleeve to store the kit and it is intended to slide over the extended part to ensure a comfortable grip. Not sure how well that works but they make a very clear claim that it does. Incidentally I have reasonably strong hands but at 65 years old my hands and wrists are more sensitive to stress than when I was younger, so I’m probably a good representative of the less able majority rather than fit young mechanics.

NB, I’ve since found a way round this. Although the toolkit instructions don’t mention it, you can use the spanner while it’s still inside the plastic case and that make a comfortable handle. I never considered that option as the head of the spanner is set quite well into the case but from a quick check it looks like you can apply it top the Brompton wheelnuts without a problem.

So on to the tyre fitting problem. I was replacing an old Marathon Tyre with a new very tough Marathon Plus, which is quite a stiff piece of rubber. The old one came off without tools, although small wheel tyres are more difficult (big tyres have more stretch in them). It’s quite easy to remove them when you have the knack of holding the bead on one side down into the wheel rim while working the tyre bead over the rim at the opposite side of the wheel.

However the Marathon plus was a tougher proposition altogether and I use the levers included in the kit. Almost immediately one of them snapped, there’s an obvious point of weakness where the metal core of the lever stops short of the tip and the short plastic tip just snapped off exactly at that point.

Broken lever 1Broken lever 2Broken lever 3

You can see from the photos (click for bigger ones) that the plastic tip extends quite far beyond the metal core, around 5mm.

Apparently Brompton have acknowledged that they have a problem with this and have a solution, from photos I have seen of replacement levers their answer seems to be to make the lever with the narrow tip wider and the wider lever narrower to compensate. That sounds sensible but my broken tip was on the wider lever so it’s not a solution. Luckily I had some old metal levers which did the job. If I had been out on the road relying on the Brompton kit I might have been stranded by these two defects. Worth noting that the Tern toolkit has metal levers.

One of the things I learned in my career as a designer was that a weak point, in this case because there is an abrupt change in the structure, cannot be fixed by strengthening the material. You have to change the mechanical feature that is causing the problem. Maybe Brompton have extended the metal right to the tip but since they have not said anything about it, just keeping the design but making it wider will not help as my experience with the wider lever shows.

So sadly this toolkit is an elegant confection but, as it just doesn’t work, that’s all it is. It costs £48 in the UK, a lot of money for one of my family to spend on me and I am embarrassed now that I put it on my birthday present list. The problems I have encountered seem to be down to testing, if Brompton are not prepared to give their products serious testing before launch they don’t deserve our support. If they had given one to an owner like me it looks like they would have found the flaws in minutes.

At the moment it appears that the toolkit is not available in the shops, I looked at several of the UK shops that specialise in Brompton products online and it’s out of stock or not listed. If it’s been withdrawn so they can fix it well and good but meanwhile I feel ripped off and won’t be interested in a replacement. I now feel very attached to the little bag of assorted tools in my saddlebag. I’ve chosen them all based on my experience and have complete confidence that I’m ready for any problem.

You can find a good descriptive review of the toolkit, explaining all its features, on the Dirty Brompton Blog by Fernando Ma in Arizona.

Here’s a good video review of the Tern toolkit.

Update 28 November 2013

Earlier this year Brompton supplied me with replacement (identical) levers with instructions on how to avoid breakages. Today I’ve had a phone call from Brilliant Bikes saying that they now have the new improved design levers from Brompton and a pair are on their way to me free to replace the old ones.

So this has been a sorry one year saga but Brompton haven’t walked away from the problem. My general feeling is that I would still not buy the Brompton toolkit as it’s a bit too inflexible compared to a general kit but it’s still a beautiful thing and if you like the idea of a purpose-built kit that hides away in the frame this is the one that there is.

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14 Responses to “Brompton Toolkit – Ouch!”

  1. Roibeard Says:

    Disappointing to hear this – the toolkit looked the part! Picking up on the Dirty Brompton review, is using the 15mm spanner whilst still in the kit a likely solution for comfort (and maybe leverage)?

    They also note that the metal in their tyre levers goes right to the tip (although with a plastic coating), but I can’t tell if that’s a redesign, product variability, or simply a difference in description – “short plastic tip” versus “plastic coating”.

    Definitely a pity, as it looked a lovely neat solution – I though Brompton had design decisions fairly well sorted, with form following function.

    Incidentally, I ended up with an M6R-X…

  2. Nancy L. Seibel Says:

    Thanks for posting about this experience

  3. BigCam Says:

    That’s a real pity. I was intending to get one of these toolkits but they sold out before I could. Now I’m wondering if I should!

  4. Jeff Frost Says:

    Thanks for the hint about the tern tool. Having a Bike Friday I face many of the same issues regarding small tyres. And both the rear wheel of our BF tandem , and the Bionx wheel on our Bilenky Opus IV need a wrench to remove. I’ve found with a bit of patience the thin nylon tyre levers work really well, even on the 12” tyres for the BF trailer. They do however wear down quickly, and it is important to use 3 levers to effectively change the tyre.

  5. chrisrust Says:

    I’ve just realised that the casing of the toolkit makes quite a good handle, as Robert has suggested, and that probably solves the ouch! problem. Pity the instructions for the toolkit don’t explain that.

  6. Noel Says:

    I obtained this toolkit as soon as it was available, expensive yes, but I beg to differ from you as it does work.
    Brompton certainly have never included an illustration to show that the metal cover is intended to act as an extender to the 15mm spanner, presumably because they thought it was obvious. NYCE posted a video sometime before the toolkits were available clearly showing this particular use.
    I don’t understand why anyone would attempt to use that spanner with the rachet against their palm. I learnt in my late teens or early twenties to wrap something around anything that I had to use which would cause me considerable discomfort.
    The tyre levers are intended to be used together for one lifting action, with the wider lever apparently then being slid round the tyre to bring the rest over the rim. I personally haven’t worked out how release the tyre just by sliding a lever around it, but can vouch for the levers working to remove a Marathon tyre without breakage (unfortunately more than once due to the patch not working satisfactorily – probably due to the nature of the tube failure rather than the patch, but I think I will revert to traditional patches & adhesive).
    Looking at an image from someone who had managed to break both levers suggests that the curved ends are plastic (I doubt it would be possible to satisfactorily run the metal to the very end of the levers with the present shape/thickeness of the ends). Whether Brompton’s modification to the lever design has done this remains to be seen, but it is likely there will be some individuals even so that attempt to use them beyond their design limitations

  7. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks Noel, I agree that the tool is more usable than I originally thought but this is a consumer product, not a tool for trained technicians so it has to explain itself. I realised straight away that the spanner needed something to protect the hand but it was not obvious that you could use the plastic sleeve.
    Similarly with the levers, I use a low stress technique for removing tyres and can usually fit or remove a Marathon without levers. The Marathon Plus was a stiffer proposition so I used the levers as well as my usual strategies. If the Brompton levers are intended for a special technique not obvious to a general consumer the company has a responsible to explain that.

  8. Keith Says:

    I left a message on the Dirty Brompton Blogspot ( about a pdf file hidden deep within the Brompton website explaining how to properly use the Brompton Toolkit tyre levers, but I now see that this issue—and that of the correct use of the 15mm spanner—have already been fully discussed here.
    By the way, I agree with you that it is very surprising that Brompton did not explain this in instructions accompanying the toolkit.

  9. stuart lloyd Says:

    Thanks for posting this. I too fancied putting this on a present list assuming Brompton would put as much testing in to this as the bikes.
    Can’t beat park 3 pack plastic levers, never managed to break one yet.

  10. chrisrust Says:

    I had a phone call just today from Brilliant Bikes, who supplied the toolkit last year. They’ve just received the new version of the tyre levers and were phoning to check my adress before sending my free upgrade.
    So well done Brompton for taking the problem on and as usual Brilliant Bikes are brilliant.

  11. Henry byrd Says:

    £48 quid! Brompton are ‘avin a larf! I have a neat little toolbag strapped tightly to the seat rails. You can hardly see it. It carries a spare tube, tyre levers, two spanners, allen keys, some stick on patches and latex gloves. I have also swopped every screw head on my bike for allen-type socket heads so I don’t need a screwdriver. The whole lot including the little bag came to just under £15..

  12. chrisrust Says:

    I’m very glad you are happy with that. Personally I wouldn’t trust those fancy stick-on patches.

  13. Henry byrd Says:

    I feel the same way Chris. That’s why (unlike paucity of the Brompton kit), I prefer to carry a tube. The patches are for the unlikely event of a second puncture.

  14. John French Says:

    My local bike shop finally got these back in stock, and it looks like they have redesigned the tyre levers to be made entirely out of metal.

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