Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Brompton B75

I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Superman, and today we're going to have a look at the Brompton B75, a relatively cheap folding bicycle from Brompton, of Greenford, way out there in Zone Four on the Central Line.

I say relatively cheap. It's £745, which isn't pocket change. The price has been steady since the B75 was launched in June 2019, and on a pragmatic level Bromptons depreciate gracefully, so as long as mine isn't stolen or crushed I imagine I'll be able to sell it on for a modest financial hit. It has to be said that £745 is quite low for a posh folding bicycle.

As I write these words the B75 has sold out, but I imagine the elves that work in Brompton's factory are being whipped to within an inch of their lives by their supervisors, so by the time you read this review I'm sure you'll be able to buy one. B75s are apparently assembled from a stockpile of older spare parts, so presumably it will have a limited life, but perhaps Brompton will replace it with a modified B75 that has modern parts. Who knows.

EDIT: A month later the B75 remains out of stock, and people have started flipping theirs on eBay for £900 because the Great British public is wary of public transport. Will Brompton ever make the B75 again, or will they come up with a completely new budget model? I learn from the internet that Brompton made a similar budget bicycle back in 2003, the C3, which also came without mudguards. Back then it sold for £380, but then again the average house price was only £120k and Freddos were 10p (they are now 25p), so that's in line with inflation. The government likes to say that inflation is under control because laptop computers and drones have crashed in price since 2003, but you can't base economic theories on relatively new and emergent technologies.

These two clamps hold it together.

This paragraph originally had a short dissertation on Queen's "Bicycle Race". Some bands responded to the punk revolution by stripping down their sound and singing about unemployment and urban decay, but Queen were above all that. Instead they released a compact mini-symphony about riding a bicycle, with a video that had dozens of naked women doing circuits around a racetrack. It was recorded at great cost in Nice and Montreux because that year they were tax exiles.

In his review of the song's parent album Dave Marsh of Rolling Stone famously described Queen as "the first truly fascist rock band". He was of the opinion that Queen were contemptuous of their audience, which may or may have been true, but in my opinion it doesn't matter. As long as the music is good who cares if a band likes you?

The B75 is available in a bluey-green colour that looks blue in the shade and green in the sunshine.

I think the problem is that Dave Marsh is American. He comes from a society where public figures are expected to pretend to be your great pal, even though they live in gated mansions with private security guards. Because America doesn't have a class system and everybody is equal.

At the National Technical Museum, Prague. This lady looks like she knows precisely what she has and could overtake you no problem.

That isn't the case in the UK. British artists are expected to hide away in an ivory tower. When they try to talk to the public it feels grating and insincere because they have nothing in common with us.

Hahaha, "nipple".

British actors look down their noses at the hoi polloi, and artists and writers only mingle with the working classes when they want to buy drugs or have rough sex. Even I am not immune to this. When I am not filling my uncircumcised foreskin with cocaine, or hanging out with Deliveroo drivers on Hampstead Heath I like to fantasise about being mean to you, dear reader. But my heart isn't in it. I just can't bring myself to dislike you, because you're rare and precious and you have exceptional taste.

I really do want to see you succeed, because there is room at the top and the view is fantastic. I realised at an early age that unless I elevated the mass of humanity to my level I would be eternally lonely, but I'm digressing here. Let's get back on topic. Enough of Queen. Enough of being sexually aroused by the smell of pee. Enough of that.

The B75 is a folding bicycle made by Brompton of London, England. The company only sells one pattern of bicycle, so the B75 is more or less the same as any other Brompton, but the specification is fixed. It has a three-speed hub gearbox, a single-post saddle, an older model of brake lever, no basket, no mudguards, no titanium, blue/green only. To paraphrase Syd Barrett it doesn't have a basket, although there is an optional luggage block, but it does have a bell that rings, and it looks good.

When they are spooked Bromptons fold down into a compact shape in the hope that predators won't see them.

Why did I buy a folding bicycle? So that I can carry it about the house, and also on the train, in the office etc. Why a Brompton? The factory is in London, so it's easy to visit; "buy once, cry once"; the bikes have a good reputation; parts are widely available; they hold their resale value.

Why a B75? Three reasons. The price was nice. The delivery quote was seven to ten working days, versus almost two months for a custom Brompton, and for the record it was delivered on the tenth working day. There is incidentally free delivery in the UK.

The deciding factor was that apart from the handlebars the B75 has the specification I wanted from a Brompton anyway, e.g. a three-speed gearbox and nothing else. I wanted the simplest, lightest Brompton that didn't use custom parts, so that if I decide to take it somewhere exotic there is at least a chance that parts might be available locally.

Bromptons are available with a bunch of different components. Ignoring smaller things such as the luggage blocks and mudguards (and expensive options such as titanium forks) the most substantial options are the gearbox and the handlebars. I wanted S-type sporty handlebars, which are low and straight; the B75 has M-type bars, which rise up in a U-shape, but I've got used to them. There are also H-type bars, which rise higher still, and P-type handlebars which look like a flattened O and can be ridden high or low. I can get used to the B75's handlebars.

The other major variation is the gearbox. Single-speed with a freewheel, two-speed, three-speed, or six-speed. My commute involves a bit of city driving, followed by a hill, followed by a straight, so I felt that a single-speed wouldn't be much fun. The two-speed also struck me as too limiting. Three speeds seems ideal.

The six-speed is apparently a combination of the two-speed gear unit with a three-speed hub, giving two sets of three gears, but I'm worried it would be just one more thing that might break. The B75 has a standard-ratio three-speed hub, but the pedal chainring has 44 teeth instead of 50, so it's slightly better at hill climbing. The B75 also has an extended 580mm seatpost as standard. I'm just under six feet tall and at maximum height the extended post suits me fine. I've since tried out a standard seatpost, which is 520mm, but it was torture; I couldn't stretch out my legs. If you're taller than six feet Brompton also sells a telescopic model that adds an extra 17.5cm. The B75 also comes with a mount for a pump, but no pump.

What's it like to ride? I have to admit that I've never ridden a Brompton before, or anything with a hub gearbox. The gearbox pleasantly surprised me. Unlike a Derailleur unit the B75's Sturmey-Archer hub doesn't have things hanging off it, and it doesn't make a loud clack when the gear changes. It's a lot easier to keep clean. It does however make a fairly loud tick-tick-tick in cruising gear, but that's apparently normal for hub gearboxes.

Can the B75 pick up women? It has a total carry weight of 110kg, so they would have to be very small.

The gear ratios have a limited top speed but I found that on the lower end even fairly steep inclines were do-able, with a bit of puffing. I would not have expected a bike with such tiny wheels to be any good on hills. According to my Garmin eTrex I cruise at 13.8mph on the flat, 18.8mph downhill. The low top speed isn't a problem given that the B75's suspension is fairly stiff, which means that unless the road is glassy-smooth riding at high speed isn't much fun. I found myself cycling around potholes and drain covers rather than cycling over them. I would not want to mount the kerb with a Brompton. The steering is frisky. Acceleration is excellent.

The folding mechanism is simple, once you learn the drill. You lock the saddle up, tilt the front wheel slightly to the left, turn the pedals so that the right pedal is to the rear, then lift it up. The back wheel tucks under the frame and it all fits together. It has a little pair of wheels on the suspension block for transport. One of Brompton's most popular options is a folding left pedal, and after carrying the folded bike I can see why; you have a choice between holding the bike close to you but having the left pedal dig into your body, or holding it away from you and spraining your arm.

Security? I'm sceptical that any kind of security will work, so I haven't bothered; the B75 never leaves my sight. It's too easy to carry off.

Any problems? At first it felt as if the seatpost was sinking into the frame, but after a week of commuting the sensation stopped, so it may well have been a delusion brought on by alcohol. The suspension is a rubbery white block that fits between the frame and the rear wheel, which means that when going over bumps it feels as if the bike is bending front-to-back instead of bouncing up-and-down, but again I got used to this.

At around 11kg it's too heavy to carry long distances, but of course you can just unfold it and wheel it around. I have only had mine for a month, so if it falls to bits in the near future I will update this article. EDIT: A month later it has not fallen to bits, although I did have to adjust the gear selection cable slightly because it had come loose. I couldn't select first gear.

Of note the bike comes packed in a big cardbox box and requires a little bit of assembly, essentially screwing in the left pedal and fitting the seat and bell. It comes with a spanner. The joints were pre-greased, and after setting up the bike it appeared to be in good shape so I took it for a ride; it didn't require any more tweaking. Brompton offers an initial three-month / 100 mile service, which is nice of them, so at some point I'll have to pop along to their store and have it looked at.

EDIT: The service went without a hitch, although the store was still under coronavirus lockdown so I had to book way in advance. The bike pictured above was on display in the engineering room, downstairs. It's number 18, part of the first batch of 400, handmade in presumably 1981.

It's interesting to compare it with modern Bromptons. The early clamps make sense from an engineering point of view - I imagine that keeping the frame together was one of the most significant worries early in the design - but they're very bulky. It appears that the rear luggage rack is integral. In common with all pre-2004 Bromptons it has a shorter wheelbase, so the bend in the frame is more pronounced. Beyond that the basic idea is much the same because the human body hasn't changed much since 1981. Albeit that people are larger now. But Bromptons can take a load of up to 110kg, so I have a wiggle factor.