A quirky English folding bike has achieved cult status with a specific appeal to urban cyclists
People who love Brompton folding bikes really love them, enough so that they’ve been described as a cult.
Jo Johnston, who lives in Berlin and works with disabled children, says that as soon as she bought one of the small-wheeled, compact commuter bicycles, she felt part of a “club.” And that was before she founded a meet-up group that takes rides around the city and its environs.
But the machines are about more than being “in the fold,” a term Brompton enthusiasts like to use. More and more of us are living in cities, and those cities’ infrastructure is groaning under the pressure. Folding bikes, say their fans and designers, can combine with mass transit to make sense of living in a metropolis.
Typical riders take a train into town from a suburb or a neighborhood on the city’s outskirts, and use a folding bike to cover the last miles to work. The bikes are built for lives lived in tiny apartments with little storage–they fold up small enough to fit under a table or on a shelf. They speak of autonomy, but instead of expressing the need for escape to open fields and mountains—as sports bikes might—they’re knit-up with city life.
Brompton is by no means the only folding bike brand. But it is the largest of any bike brand in the UK. This, plus its unusual London-based manufacture, its rise on the streets of the UK capital and now further afield, its distinctive shape, and its cultish vibe all drew me to the brand.
Keen for the publicity, Brompton lent two bikes to the Quartz London office. And now I understand more why Johnston sums up her experience riding a Brompton in one word: “Freedom!”