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Old 06-28-17, 12:29 PM   #1
quicksilver2099
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Can a Brompton hold up to all-weather, daily, rough riding?

I used to have a folding bike, but today it died. I was only a year and a half old (maybe 1000 miles on it) and it was an FBIKE Direct. You've probably never heard of it because the company was only able to make the one model before "folding", but to make a long story short, the handlebar assembly needed to be re-welded and that weld job cracked after a week of use. So I'm chalking it up to a design flaw and am not going to sink anymore time and money into this bike.

My commute is three miles in the suburbs, wherein I fold it up, take a train to Boston, and then another 1.5 miles to the office. The train gets pretty crowded and more than once I've had sour looks or words with people who weren't happy that my bike was taking up precious floor space. So I've been looking into the brompton because others that take the train can fit them up in the luggage racks. I tried it with my old bike and it fell on my head halfway through the trip, so I am not doing that again.

My concern however is the Brompton durability. People love to recommend this bike, but spend enough time online reading reviews and articles and it becomes clear that there are two problems about this bike that I hear again and again.

The first is that people don't like riding it in the rain. The drive train is too close to the ground, they have to clean it often, and the steel frame causes people to worry about rust. New England weather is rough and I need something that will withstand rain, snow, road salt, and sand.

The second is the 16" wheels. Riding in the suburbs means riding on bumpy, potholed roads and sidewalks, without bike lanes, and even the occasional curb jump to get around obstacles. I'm concerned that even attempting a 16" folding bike in these circumstances is a mistake.

So if I'm going to beat the crap out of my bike, should I spend the extra money to get a quality machine, or should I just buy beaters and run them into the ground?
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Old 06-28-17, 12:46 PM   #2
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I had the same thoughts and I've been debating about going to a 16 inch wheel too, but one part of my commute is 12 miles and big hills. For you couple miles 16 inch wheels would be fine.
Have you considered a Downtube Mini? Aluminum frame and belt drive may overcome your objections.
I haven't ridden one, but image it would be similar to a Dahon curve I rode once. I didn't think it was too bad.
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Old 06-28-17, 01:15 PM   #3
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Most of my riding is urban which means train tracks, potholes, cobblestones, and alley litter. I also ride year round in all weather conditions and my Brompton does just fine. Granted Louisville doesn't use as much brine in the winter as Beantown but then I never had a problem with rust on my steel frames when I lived there back in the 80s.
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Old 06-28-17, 02:35 PM   #4
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I bought my 2013 Brompton S6L-X new. Have taken it on many (sometimes crowded)trains; no problems. New Jersey Transit, NYC MTA subway, Philly Septa, Japanese bullet train, Tokyo subway, etc.
Never had any issue riding in light or heavy rain; salted roads and light snow:
My Snowmobile by 1nterceptor, on Flickr

NYC has it's share of potholes, ruts, cracked pavement. The Brompton seems to handle them ok. I don't jump curbs/berms though. I've done some light off roading
with it as well; hard packed dirt, small gravelled paths, etc.
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Old 06-28-17, 02:50 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by quicksilver2099 View Post
My commute is three miles in the suburbs, wherein I fold it up, take a train to Boston, and then another 1.5 miles to the office. The train gets pretty crowded and more than once I've had sour looks or words with people who weren't happy that my bike was taking up precious floor space.
Considering the distances, and if it's not really hilly, the three-speed Strida (EVO) is a possible alternative worth checking before making a decision:
  • folded, it's kind of compact, although a bit less if choosing the 18" wheels instead of the 16"
  • the frame is in aluminum
  • it uses a belt drive
  • it has disk brakes
  • It's about the same price as the three-speed Brompton


Strida Evo vs. Brompton?

But it doesn't look like any store in Boston carries them :-/
STRiDA
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Old 06-28-17, 03:23 PM   #6
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Have a look at the UK forums CycleChat and YetAnotherCyclingForum - the folder sections are overrun with Brompton enthusiasts. I lived in a few places and the UK/London weather was the worst in terms of wet and gloomy, and there's lots of beat up roads and cobblestone there. I think the Brommy is more than up to the task.

I find the suspension block actually really comfortable once you have matched it to your weight well. I initially bought the firm block (because everyone said to) but it rode too harsh for me. I also have 700x32C gravel bike, and find comfort between it and the B, tends to just depend on air pressure.

10yrs ago I chose a Dahon Speed P8 over a Brompton due to price.... in hindsight that was a mistake. The versatility of the B has wowed me beyond my expectations when I bought it last year - it's the bike I would keep if I could only have one.
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Old 06-28-17, 04:28 PM   #7
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I have been riding mine almost exclusively for a couple of years and about 1/2 the time after that and it does fine until there is snow over a couple inches or ice. The fenders work very well and I always go to it when there is rain. In some ways it feels safer than a large wheel bike since it is so easy to get on and off, with a low center of gravity. It also can carry a lot of weight, either in the basket in front or a bag hung off the saddle back. I don't think the rims will last as long as they would on a 700c bike but they hold a true pretty well. Tires also wear down fairly fast, but that is to be expected from little wheels.
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Old 06-28-17, 09:41 PM   #8
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If you can, have a test ride. Get the 2 speed if there's not much hills on your travel, 6 if it's hilly. I tested an S2L and fell in love immediately. The compact fold is what makes people/non-bikers take a second look. I've ridden it in heavy rain, ugliest road you can imagine and a bit of dirt-it performed well. I brought it to a LBS last week for a bit of gear cleaning, now it runs smooth as new again.

Just replace the stock tires ASAP. I got a puncture on the 3rd day, that's how hard I ride it.
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Old 06-28-17, 09:56 PM   #9
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Thank you everyone. All great replies that have given me much to think about. Does anyone have experience with disc brakes on folding bikes? They seem standard nowadays on regular bikes, but a pricey option on folding bikes. Braking in the city on rainy days is always a challenge.

Last edited by quicksilver2099; 06-28-17 at 10:00 PM.
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Old 06-29-17, 12:30 AM   #10
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I would not make disc brakes a high priority. The go is to brake early on wet roads.

One other biggie - don't use the rear brake as a routine, especially on wet roads. The rear pads and rim wear *rapidly* while not giving much stopping power at all.
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Old 06-29-17, 02:56 AM   #11
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I wouldn't worry about rust, people pull out steel bikes from rivers and restore them and the frames are still strong. Even if you have some surface rust that actually forms a barrier and steel remains strong. An aluminium frame is far more likely to fail and a carbon frame even more likely. You can prevent rust easily anyway. Steel is a huge positive I think for a bike generally with often better ride quality.

The hub gears are all weather, it's a proven and simple design and not easily damaged and the wheels are very strong. Bromptons just seem to go on for years and years. It's not the best ride quality or weight and is not a performance bike. It excels in being extremely compact, durable and reliable.
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Old 06-29-17, 03:36 AM   #12
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Does anyone have experience with disc brakes on folding bikes? They seem standard nowadays on regular bikes, but a pricey option on folding bikes. Braking in the city on rainy days is always a challenge.
Riding down a steep hill on a rainy day on a Brompton… is indeed a bit of a challenge ;-)

Just FYI, if you want to splurge on a customized Brompton:


Brompton Disc Brakes ? Kinetics
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Old 06-29-17, 05:10 AM   #13
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... Does anyone have experience with disc brakes on folding bikes? ...
IMHO disc brakes are great on downhill race bikes because they handle overheating and fade better than rim brakes. However for typical street riding/commuting/touring the good old rim brake works great in all weather, is a simpler affair and is less costly. People often think that discs are better than rim brakes in the wet but I disagree. Use good quality brake shoes like the Kool-Stop Salmon and the brakes will bite quickly and with enough power for the tire to lose traction... alternatively use bargain pads on a disc brake and there will be a momentary delay in braking while water is being swept from the disc. However if you still aren't convinced and feel you want something for better wet weather braking then drum brakes are a better bet because unlike disc brakes they are sealed from the rain and aren't affect by it at all.

New tech and trends aren't always necessary... they are a profit generator for everyone in the retail chain, though.
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Old 06-29-17, 02:35 PM   #14
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+1 on the salmon kool-stops.
Used these as a replacement of my stock brakes (v-brakes) and was surprised at how much better the braking power became.
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Old 06-30-17, 02:39 AM   #15
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+1 on the drums. I have no idea why peopel do not use drum brakes more, especially in the front.
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Old 06-30-17, 12:08 PM   #16
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I have had my Brompton for 6 years now - my commute is 7 miles each way and I never miss a day - plus, a few long rides during the year (randonneuring). The is in Toronto so similar snow/ice/salt issues as you. In winter, I run Schwalbe Winters (studded), and I run Kojak's for the rest of the year. I almost never clean the bike, but I lubricate regularily. I have several spots with surface rust that I recently touched up (with Brompton's touch up paint) primarily on the rear triangle. I have worn through 7 rims - I use Kool stops or Swiss stops pads. I have had the hinge pin replaced once and I probably have another year left on the one I am riding right now. I have rebuilt the sturmey rear hub twice.

Reliability wise, I don't think Bromptons rank lower than most other bikes - I used to commute with a mountain bike and had as many repairs as the Brompton. I feel commuting year round on a bike is very hard on any bike. All the "cheap plastic" parts that everyone complains about have yet to fail on my bike.

BTW, my latest rims are CSS rims which are supposed to last longer but we will see. As well, if I did it again, I may go for a titanium rear triangle to reduce the amount of rust.
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Old 06-30-17, 04:36 PM   #17
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I have had my Brompton for 6 years now - my commute is 7 miles each way and I never miss a day - plus, a few long rides during the year (randonneuring). The is in Toronto so similar snow/ice/salt issues as you. In winter, I run Schwalbe Winters (studded), and I run Kojak's for the rest of the year. I almost never clean the bike, but I lubricate regularily. I have several spots with surface rust that I recently touched up (with Brompton's touch up paint) primarily on the rear triangle. I have worn through 7 rims - I use Kool stops or Swiss stops pads. I have had the hinge pin replaced once and I probably have another year left on the one I am riding right now. I have rebuilt the sturmey rear hub twice.

Reliability wise, I don't think Bromptons rank lower than most other bikes - I used to commute with a mountain bike and had as many repairs as the Brompton. I feel commuting year round on a bike is very hard on any bike. All the "cheap plastic" parts that everyone complains about have yet to fail on my bike.

BTW, my latest rims are CSS rims which are supposed to last longer but we will see. As well, if I did it again, I may go for a titanium rear triangle to reduce the amount of rust.
I've heard of Brompton's of a similar age not have any problems but then realistically I'm not sure many Brompton owners would do the miles you do, seems like you have done towards 20,000 miles on the bike. I've had my car getting on 4 years and still under 10,000 miles (yes well below the norm I'm sure).
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Old 06-30-17, 04:45 PM   #18
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Of the three issues, the 16" wheels are the only one I'd factor.

Worrying about steel rusting doesn't mean that it does, only that people think it might. The reality is that folks have been riding steel bikes for a century, and while they can rust, the paint does an excellent job, and rust is rarely an issue.

Likewise the drivetrain. Yes it's low, but all bikes have drivetrains directly in the spray coming off the front wheel.

So, 16" wheels. Obviously not a major issue, given Brompton user general happiness. But the smaller the wheel, the worse the performance on bumpy potholed streets. I don't know how your bike rode, but you can figure that the smaller wheel will be worse. Also consider that road shock caused by bad roads and exacerbated by small wheels may be why your weld failed.

I suggest you find someone willing to lend you a 16" bike for a test ride on your route. then you can make an intelligent decision.
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Old 07-04-17, 06:27 PM   #19
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If you are looking for a folder that has some suspension capability, the Reise and Muller Birdy is well regarded. It is expensive, as you would expect on a bike as well featured as it is, but it has a wide choice of drivetrains, disc brakes, full suspension, lighting options and folds fairly compactly (not as compact as the Brompton, but the wheels are larger.)
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Old 07-05-17, 12:03 AM   #20
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Yes. Next question.
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Old 07-07-17, 10:51 AM   #21
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+1 on the drums. I have no idea why peopel do not use drum brakes more, especially in the front.
The reasons I hear people give for not using drums instead of discs is that they aren't as modern (cool?) looking and the supposed weight issue, the front drum brake arrangement weighing more, about as much as a 12 floz bottle of water or 2 bananas or a thick cotton XXL t-shirt or a small text book or...

I weigh about 30 bananas more than the usual cyclist I've ridden with and usually commute with a backpack that adds another 30 bananas worth of weight at the very least so if you're like me and don't get worked up over cutting bananas then drums are a smart option.
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Old 07-08-17, 09:00 AM   #22
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The reasons I hear people give for not using drums instead of discs is that they aren't as modern (cool?) looking and the supposed weight issue, the front drum brake arrangement weighing more, about as much as a 12 floz bottle of water or 2 bananas or a thick cotton XXL t-shirt or a small text book or...

I weigh about 30 bananas more than the usual cyclist I've ridden with and usually commute with a backpack that adds another 30 bananas worth of weight at the very least so if you're like me and don't get worked up over cutting bananas then drums are a smart option.
I must admit i was thinking heavy and not cool too some years (and bananas) ago but one of the few advantages of getting older is we sometimes also get smarter... Been seriousely thinking of adding a drum brake wheel to my NWT just to make life simpler.

Built a trike last year and could choose between drums and disk brakes. I went with drums without even considering disk brakes.

This is the NWT and the Donky on a trip to the mountains. Donky with drum brake in front and coaster brake IGH in the rear:

Ready to go back by bad.mother@ymail.com, on Flickr

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