By Mike Smithson
The announcement in April of the new titanium Brommie range coincided with job changes which meant a commute, one or two times a week, from Bedfordshire to York. Each journey involves at least one, and often two changes, and I felt that my current main folder, a Trek 400 which I love, would simply not cope. The folding takes too long, the folded package is too small, and the dirty bits are on the outside.
At the time I had been considering the new Mezzo 9 speed which was lighter than the then standard L6, folded quite easily into a nice package and had gearing better suited to my 59 year old legs than my old Brompton – alas I could not find a bike to test and then along came the Brompton announcement about the new titanium models. The real clincher, for me, was the Brompton luggage system.
Under the new Brompton ordering system you can either buy one of half a dozen suggested models or have one made to your specification. My bike is essentially an L6 with reduced gearing, the new multi-position bars, the titanium seat post and the titanium forks and rear triangle. This seemed to offer the best balance in terms of price and lightness.
Cycle Heaven in York took my order on almost the first day that it was possible and I had to wait about eight weeks to get the completed machine. The delay was caused by some production problem with the new range which I gather has now been sorted.
This is my first Brommie with the new longer wheel—base and with the 6-speed hybrid gear system of which more later.
After ten days with the bike, eight train journeys and about 150 miles the bike is growing on me and I am impressed and also very irritated. The gear shifters on the new models are only slightly different from the old ones and are horrible. Instead of modern twist grip shifters found on almost all other bikes Brompton have stuck with their old-fashioned approach which require you to use your thumb and not your whole hand.
Gear-shifting, which should be slick and easy, is hard and requires a lot of strength to get the leverage required. Why Brompton boss, Andrew Ritchie, continues to put such appalling equipment on a bike costing more than a £1,000 beggars belief? This will be my first modification.
Taking it on trains
It's while carting the bike about at stations and onto trains that the extra £375 for the titanium parts really shows its worth. As I have got older I was finding the old model quite a handful because of the weight. The titanium slims it down by 3-4 lbs and makes this whole process that much easier. My Friday night run south on crowded trains on the East Coast main line when I have to compete for luggage space is much less daunting. It is relatively easy to put it on the top rack in the luggage area and, of course, there’s so much less to carry about at the stations themselves.
For this alone my titanium Brommie is a worthwhile investment.
On the Road
Riding the new machine bears little resemblance to what I have been used to. It feels so much faster and I reckon I am going at least one gear up compared with the old machines. That is a significant uplift. The light forks and rear triangle have a big effect on the handling. Steering feels much more precise and the ride much more smooth. It takes less out of you.
I had specified the new multi-position bars without having seen one "in the flesh" but I've not been disappointed. It's good being able to find different hand positions. My only worry is the location of the gear levers for when you have to turn the bike upside down to work on it. They seem very exposed.
The old Brommie problem – the gearing
The big problem with Brommies – the gearing – remains and for me a bike with a range of only 214% limits its overall functionality. The bottom gear, even on the reduced ratio machines, is 35 inches which for me is simply not lower enough. My Moulton APB Dualdrive gives a 21 inch and on one of my regular rides there is a hill where I need that
The best solution appears to be to fit a Mountain Drive which will increase the range to more than 500%. That is now on order though how quite I will cope with three separate gearing systems I do not know. The Mountain Drive will also eat into some of the precious titanium weight savings.
I will report on the bike again after the modifications have been made.
24 July 2005
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(C)2005 Mike Smithson
Last updated: 22 July 2005