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Old 03-23-06, 03:24 AM   #1
Fear&Trembling
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Dear All,

On a previous thread it was alleged that A to B magazine (a periodical dedicated to folding/electric bikes) was a) biased as it was beholden to its advertisers, and b) was, or had been affiliated to the UK bicycle manufacturer, Brompton. As this thread questioned the integrity and impartiality of the publication and its editorial team, I contacted the magazine as I felt they ought to have the right of reply.

I have posted the editor's response in its entirety:



It's certainly true we have a fairly close friendship with Brompton, but
we also have a close relationship with Mark Bickerton of Dahon UK; Mark
Sanders, designer of the Strida; John Kawecki of Giant; Amba Marketing,
and numerous other suppliers and distributors. Anyone who reads A to B
will know we rave on and on about the Giant Lafree electric bike, but I
see no-one is accusing us of receiving under-the-table payments from
Giant.

I will lay every possible card on the table, because I think it's
important to be open. In 1993, when Brompton was a three-man band I
visited to pick up a bike for a story my brother was writing, and got
chatting with designer (and at that time almost everything else) of the
Brompton, Andrew Ritchie. Like Mark Sanders, Mark Bickerton, etc, Andrew
went on to subscribe to the magazine and we became friends - the folding
bike world is small and everyone knows each other.
A year or two later Andrew asked if I would be willing to demonstrate the
bike at a couple of trade shows, because I knew it well and his tiny
company had no staff for that sort of thing. I really enjoyed doing this,
and would gladly have done it for nothing (they kindly paid my travel
expenses and a small payment for each day). I should add that they never
asked me to sell anything, and just expected me to talk honestly as the
editor of 'The Folder' as it then was, about the merits of folding bikes
in general. Getting bike shops to stock ANY folding bike was quite a
struggle in those days. That's the nice thing about Andrew - he's very
proud of his bike, but he's also completely honest and open, and lets it
stand or fall on its merits. Generally, it stands very well.
The last time I helped him out like this was some years ago, and they now
have loads of staff for shows (I assume), and in any event, I'm much too
busy. I never expected it to be brought up as evidence of how corrupt I
was!

I have to admit I love the Brompton, and I think Andrew is one of the
best bicycle designers around today. If you think that's biased, ask Dr
Hon, the man behind the Dahon range, the designers mentioned above,
Richard Ballantine, Mike Burrows... It's simply a superb machine. I've
been told that these rumours that we're somehow in the pay of Brompton
started life with another folding bike manufacturer. I don't know if
that's true.

Am I corrupt? I don't think so. I have spent many unpaid hours helping
other manufacturers get their folding bikes and electric bikes off the
ground. If I had a financial interest in Brompton, I would be most
unlikely to do that sort of thing! (Graham Herbert, designer of the
Airframe, claims it was my enthusiasm that got him to put the bike back
on the market in Mark 2 form - hardly something a 'Brompton Cronie would
do).

* When we test a bike and ask to keep it - either because we want it, or
need it on long-term test - we buy it, usually at trade price, which is
fair enough because we have no dealer to provide back-up, warranty work,
etc. This applies to Brompton just like any other manufacturer. We have
never been bribed with goods by a quality manufacturer.

* We speak by email or on the phone with Brompton staff ocassionally, but
no more so than staff from other key manufacturers. They do us no special
favours!

* I think I'm right in saying that Brompton has only ever placed one
advertisement with A to B (they were advertising for a member of staff).
They don't need to advertise, because the shops do it for them with great
enthusiasm, as any reader of A to B will realise. We have never received
any payment of any kind (apart from that mentioned above) from any
manufacturer at any time.

* Advertising revenue is of very little concern to us - it really is a
small part of our income, and when you throw in the late payers,
suppliers of dubious copy and all the other problems, it's hardly worth
doing.

* The Merc? Unless it has changed out of all recognition, the one we
tried was a shoddy, wobbly, heavy and expensive load of old rubbish, made
in China by engineers who appear to have (badly) measured the vital
statistics of a Brompton. It's a first class, rip-off of a timeless
classic. I find it hard to believe anyone is willing to put in print that
they prefer it, but that is of course their right in a free country (I
assume the person was emailing from a free country?). The only thing I
will say in the Mercs favour is that Steve Parry has used a bare Merc
frame as the basis for an ultra-light Brompton, and he says it's very
good. He's a good engineer, so I'll take his word for it.

* One criticism that's sometimes thrown our way is that we are very black
& white - we either love a product or hate it. I guess that's fair
comment, but you don't read a magazine to get a bland whitewash: you want
to know what the tester found a joy to ride, and what flopped. Yes, we're
usually keen on Bromptons and Giant electric bikes, but we've got very
excited about some distinctly wild cards too - anyone want to accuse me
of accepting bribes from Oyama for the Victor review? Or from Dahon for
our Helios SL rave? When testing products, you do have to keep an open
mind. If you do this, a clear, reliable impression will take shape. I
have made several mistakes in this business, but I am relatively happy
that I have been fair and unbiased in the way I have treated all sorts of
products, some of which were positively dangerous and others that made my
want to shout out loud for the sheer joy of riding them.

David Henshaw
A to B magazine

Last edited by Fear&Trembling; 03-23-06 at 05:38 AM.
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Old 03-23-06, 05:54 AM   #2
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Hmmmm! yes but it is undeniably true that AtoB is become more and more about electric bikes, train info and and family photos. I used to look forward to the next issue (as I still do with Velovision) but I'm really starting to consider the next subscription.
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Old 03-23-06, 08:19 AM   #3
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@ Fear and Trembling:

Very classy to enable some hearsay! Many props to you for that!

Also very classy of A to B peeps to respond so in depth, respec'. It seems more of a matter of them really liking what think is good and being vocal. I do find it telling that they rave on many other (competing) bikes. I don't agree a 100% with their estimation of the Brommie but in light of what they wrote i can not fault them for having a intense liking/opinion. We need to be carefull to not accuse people of anything untoward unless we are VERY sure.

I happen to like harsh as heck reviews, i want to know what sucks as long as it is fair/balanced/motivated. A to B slags of a lot of folders that indeed are terrible, so many thanks for that, for protecting the interests of newbies and more experienced people.

Lastly it would not even make sense from a 'corrupt'/money perspective to slag of Merc, isn't Merc under license to Brommy? And doesn't that then mean that the more Mercs are sold the better it is for this alledged 'Brompton Triad' since they get more revenue? Or do i err?

In any case let's not divide ourselves and make it even more difficult for folders to become more accepted.

Ride on.
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Old 03-23-06, 12:05 PM   #4
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I am glad they had a detailed response. I still am concerened when anyone becomes too close to a manufacturer that they become in effect almost a part of that organization. I still think that it should be "A to B(rommie)" magazine.

However in light of their response I do have more respect for their magazine but I am generally less interested in its content over the last year or so.

However for the people's general negative remarks against the Merc, it is really a Brommie in so many ways as you all know so that if you hate the Merc then you should hate the Brommie. It is basically a C type with a lighter frame and more stuff. It isn't like they don't put a good hub in it either, it has a Sturmey Archer. If the basic frame is good enough for Steve Parry to use all the other things are rather trivial or easy to replace if desired. With the cost savings you could swap out a lot of parts.

Anyway I do appreciate that A to B(rommie) to the time to reply in depth. I still would caution people to interpret their comment through how close their relationships are to the companies they test. I personally prefer the format of Consumer Reports Magazine in the US. They have NO relationships with the products they test nor do they take advertising from them or their agents. This reduces the risk of conflict of interest.

Unfortunately my experience with respect to magazine such as this is not very good. Years ago I subscribed to a motorcycle magazine in the US called "Cycle World". After a few years they should have just renamed it to "Honda World" as all faults of the Hondas were glossed over but if the Kawasaki or Suzuki that was a competitor to a Honda had the same fault it was the end of the world as we know it.

I appreciate that the magazine was founded by enthusiasts and that is a plus but when your hobby becomes your business then you need to watch that you don't make improper decisions based upon your enthusiasm rather than business ethics.
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Old 03-23-06, 12:18 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fear&Trembling
Dear All,

On a previous thread it was alleged that A to B magazine (a periodical dedicated to folding/electric bikes) was a) biased as it was beholden to its advertisers, and b) was, or had been affiliated to the UK bicycle manufacturer, Brompton. As this thread questioned the integrity and impartiality of the publication and its editorial team, I contacted the magazine as I felt they ought to have the right of reply.

I have posted the editor's response in its entirety:



It's certainly true we have a fairly close friendship with Brompton, but
we also have a close relationship with Mark Bickerton of Dahon UK; Mark
Sanders, designer of the Strida; John Kawecki of Giant; Amba Marketing,
and numerous other suppliers and distributors. Anyone who reads A to B
will know we rave on and on about the Giant Lafree electric bike, but I
see no-one is accusing us of receiving under-the-table payments from
Giant.

I will lay every possible card on the table, because I think it's
important to be open. In 1993, when Brompton was a three-man band I
visited to pick up a bike for a story my brother was writing, and got
chatting with designer (and at that time almost everything else) of the
Brompton, Andrew Ritchie. Like Mark Sanders, Mark Bickerton, etc, Andrew
went on to subscribe to the magazine and we became friends - the folding
bike world is small and everyone knows each other.
A year or two later Andrew asked if I would be willing to demonstrate the
bike at a couple of trade shows, because I knew it well and his tiny
company had no staff for that sort of thing. I really enjoyed doing this,
and would gladly have done it for nothing (they kindly paid my travel
expenses and a small payment for each day). I should add that they never
asked me to sell anything, and just expected me to talk honestly as the
editor of 'The Folder' as it then was, about the merits of folding bikes
in general. Getting bike shops to stock ANY folding bike was quite a
struggle in those days. That's the nice thing about Andrew - he's very
proud of his bike, but he's also completely honest and open, and lets it
stand or fall on its merits. Generally, it stands very well.
The last time I helped him out like this was some years ago, and they now
have loads of staff for shows (I assume), and in any event, I'm much too
busy. I never expected it to be brought up as evidence of how corrupt I
was!

I have to admit I love the Brompton, and I think Andrew is one of the
best bicycle designers around today. If you think that's biased, ask Dr
Hon, the man behind the Dahon range, the designers mentioned above,
Richard Ballantine, Mike Burrows... It's simply a superb machine. I've
been told that these rumours that we're somehow in the pay of Brompton
started life with another folding bike manufacturer. I don't know if
that's true.

Am I corrupt? I don't think so. I have spent many unpaid hours helping
other manufacturers get their folding bikes and electric bikes off the
ground. If I had a financial interest in Brompton, I would be most
unlikely to do that sort of thing! (Graham Herbert, designer of the
Airframe, claims it was my enthusiasm that got him to put the bike back
on the market in Mark 2 form - hardly something a 'Brompton Cronie would
do).

* When we test a bike and ask to keep it - either because we want it, or
need it on long-term test - we buy it, usually at trade price, which is
fair enough because we have no dealer to provide back-up, warranty work,
etc. This applies to Brompton just like any other manufacturer. We have
never been bribed with goods by a quality manufacturer.

* We speak by email or on the phone with Brompton staff ocassionally, but
no more so than staff from other key manufacturers. They do us no special
favours!

* I think I'm right in saying that Brompton has only ever placed one
advertisement with A to B (they were advertising for a member of staff).
They don't need to advertise, because the shops do it for them with great
enthusiasm, as any reader of A to B will realise. We have never received
any payment of any kind (apart from that mentioned above) from any
manufacturer at any time.

* Advertising revenue is of very little concern to us - it really is a
small part of our income, and when you throw in the late payers,
suppliers of dubious copy and all the other problems, it's hardly worth
doing.

* The Merc? Unless it has changed out of all recognition, the one we
tried was a shoddy, wobbly, heavy and expensive load of old rubbish, made
in China by engineers who appear to have (badly) measured the vital
statistics of a Brompton. It's a first class, rip-off of a timeless
classic. I find it hard to believe anyone is willing to put in print that
they prefer it, but that is of course their right in a free country (I
assume the person was emailing from a free country?). The only thing I
will say in the Mercs favour is that Steve Parry has used a bare Merc
frame as the basis for an ultra-light Brompton, and he says it's very
good. He's a good engineer, so I'll take his word for it.

* One criticism that's sometimes thrown our way is that we are very black
& white - we either love a product or hate it. I guess that's fair
comment, but you don't read a magazine to get a bland whitewash: you want
to know what the tester found a joy to ride, and what flopped. Yes, we're
usually keen on Bromptons and Giant electric bikes, but we've got very
excited about some distinctly wild cards too - anyone want to accuse me
of accepting bribes from Oyama for the Victor review? Or from Dahon for
our Helios SL rave? When testing products, you do have to keep an open
mind. If you do this, a clear, reliable impression will take shape. I
have made several mistakes in this business, but I am relatively happy
that I have been fair and unbiased in the way I have treated all sorts of
products, some of which were positively dangerous and others that made my
want to shout out loud for the sheer joy of riding them.

David Henshaw
A to B magazine
Why bother replying. You will always get people complaining. I previously was a subsriber to Ato B and was very happy with what I read. I own a Brompton for 6 years, along with other bikes. It works very well and I have no doubt will last me a life time. The things are very well put together. All magazines have to live in the real world, issuing occasional opinions which some like and some don't like. The Brompton fulfills a very useful niche for a lot of people. Nothing wrong with promoting good product sensibly
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Old 03-23-06, 02:11 PM   #6
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its a fine line them editors have to work on

lets say this , I consider the folder folks a notch about the "regular" riders ...meaning we can pretty much decide between wishful thinking and reality ....

having said this , I usually like an even heavy opinionated editor, which sticks to his guns and is not afraid to touch even tricky situations better than a totally political correct outfit, which usually doesnt have any heart ...

for example I like Sailing Anarchy over most over sailing websites or magazine , its somewtimes rough out there in their forum but nobody can say that the editor doesnt have a big heart for the sport .....

in the bike biz,, we all remember ZaP Espinosa from Mountain Bike ... he was a prick at times, but after he left the magazin it went from blah to nothing .... just to much correctness .....

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Old 03-24-06, 04:22 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by v1nce
Lastly it would not even make sense from a 'corrupt'/money perspective to slag of Merc, isn't Merc under license to Brommy? And doesn't that then mean that the more Mercs are sold the better it is for this alledged 'Brompton Triad' since they get more revenue? Or do i err?
I am fairly sure you err. Brompton do not license anything AFAIK, after getting burnt with Neobike.
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Old 03-24-06, 06:21 AM   #8
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So what is the story with Merc then? Are they legally copying design (patents no longer apply) or are they truly pirating. I am not saying i am necessarily oppossed to either (depends on circumstances) but if ever i would consider giving a company my cash i'd like to know which one it is.
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Old 03-24-06, 06:33 AM   #9
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I've been told that Brompton did indeed licence the technology but that it was only supposed to be used on the Asian market
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Old 03-24-06, 11:12 AM   #10
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Well, whatever the Merc's market, as it has been confusing to figure out to say the least, it sure did NOT help Brompton that Steve Parry modified one and is showing it off.

But maybe that's Steve's plan? To get B. to see that subtle and radical changes can be made to the original design?

However, if you ask me, I don't think the Merc's specs are all that impressive: it looks all gadgety and heavy, so I'm not surprised they had to use an aluminum frame. Also it kind of takes the fun out of upgrading - what more would you add to that bike? Jet rockets? Automatic folding mechanism? iPod Hi-Fi for the rear rack now that there's a kick stand?
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Old 03-24-06, 11:39 AM   #11
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spambait11- I agree with your post in general however I think the Merc becomes and even better platform than it was before to begin to modify. It actually expands upon my choices. Considering what all it has it isn't heavy. If you want it lighter strip off stuff and it will weigh less than a Brompton. The heaviest Brompton is ~about 27+ pounds. That is what the Merc is at AND it has a front bag and a carrier block as well as a kickstand and derailleur. I like what they have done and it saves me money from buying the upgrades later.
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Old 03-24-06, 12:23 PM   #12
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Wav - I have no problem with people like you who understand what they're getting in a Merc: you have Brompton modification experience, did the research, and have assessed, for your needs, what you can put up with and what you cannot.

I guess B.'s current plainness (i.e. not super highly modified) agrees with me more, except I also think that front carrier block should be a standard item, as you have mentioned. Hopefully B.'s sales are not going to be too cannibalized by the Merc's presence.

Looking forward to your review about how it rides.
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Old 03-24-06, 02:33 PM   #13
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Actually I hope that Merc will have a negative effect on B's sales. Not because I want to punish B either. It will force them to begin to innovate again and not rest on their laurels. I want sort of an "arms race" but with respect to folders. Dahon has the new Curve coming out that has both a 3spd and 5spd variants rolling on 16" wheels. The next year could be interesting.

I think there are good design elements of the Brompton or I wouldn't have bought one in the first place (ok make that a total of 4 and if you count the Merc as a quasi Brompton that is 5). I just feel that some areas of execution are left wanting and considering the price of the product they should be better. Brompton has had a long time to recoup tooling and development costs of the frame as it hasn't fundamentally changed (other than a slight increase in wheelbase) over the years. I would like to see them do more. I don't mind spending a fair amount of my money on a good product if it is well engineered.
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Old 03-24-06, 04:19 PM   #14
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Agree fully with Wav. I am all for that Arms race too. At the very least i think Brommie should work on adding V Brakes, decreasing a bit of the pork/weight and trying to work a bit more toward standardization in some components. I think if they don't it is only a matter of time (maybe 6 to 36 months) before someone boots their butt by coming up with a folder that is better overall (not necessarily in every area).But i do wish them very well regardless of their choices.

Can you tell me more about that Dahon? Price range, weight add fold/size?
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Old 03-24-06, 05:28 PM   #15
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Yeah, I knew you'd fully agree with him.

As long as you keep in mind that Brompton is a small company comparatively, and that it is unreasonable for them to take on the likes of Merc (most likely), Dahon, Giant, Trek, etc. While I agree that there should be room for some improvement, I'm glad they don't have 10 new models every year - talk about diluting your line and, most likely, quality.

Besides, I think B. is trying to be more accommodating by offering a la carte bikes. I just wish they'd find fixes for things like keeping the hinge bolts from being able to screw all the way out, or modernizing to dual rail seatposts without making you buy a pentaclip. Furthermore, I wish they'd sell wheelsets or hubs, find a more elegant solution to the clip which holds the front wheel to the chainstay when folded (instead of sticking it on the fender stays), and get rid of those nasty brake levers which are a pain to adjust and which don't fit modern brake cable heads. Those, to me, would be significant enough changes for now.
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Old 03-24-06, 11:50 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wavshrdr
Dahon has the new Curve coming out that has both a 3spd and 5spd variants rolling on 16" wheels. The next year could be interesting.
I'm wondering if it will look something like this:
http://tinyurl.com/jsrvr
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Old 03-25-06, 12:32 AM   #17
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Here is the direct info but no photos yet:

The Curve
"Our newest entry in the ultra compact commuter category. The Curve SL is designed for the multi-modal commuter whose commute includes a segment on rail or bus. The Curve SL is ultra light but features everything a commuter would want, including a 5 speed hub, mudguards, comfortable but fast rolling Schwalbe Big Apple tires and Dahon’s new Micro Pitch drive train."

I love my Big Apples! Since they are a 16" size maybe I could put them on a Brommie too if the erto is the same.
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Old 03-25-06, 01:21 AM   #18
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If Schwalbe (ever) puts one out in that size .... oh yeah!

But I've heard of people having problems even mounting Scorchers, and they're only 1/8" wider than B.'s own 1 3/8" tire (rubbing problems, I've heard, though I don't know what it was they were rubbing against - fender, fork, brakes, etc.).

However I think I read somewhere that someone from A to B was able to mount them on a B. successfully. That's as much as I know about that magazine.
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Old 03-25-06, 02:05 AM   #19
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@ Spambait

Is Merc a big company then? Much bigger than Brompton? The changes i am proposing could be accomplished with minor alterations of the current models and would only increase their quality and they could continue to offer the exact same range of models and options, only improved.

I am not suggesting they should try to compete or mimick the big boys at all, i am suggesting they improve their 20 year old product/frame that has seen very little in terms of design improvements over those 2 decades. I am suggesting they take a leaf from what even their clone/pirate competitor seems to manage just fine and one from the many many modders that have improved their Brommie substantially. I am all for english reliability, keeping it simple and knowing what you get but there is limits to this, there comes a point when you have to improve and innovate. English three speeds roadsters were never really bad to begin with but minor improvements and tweaks gradually made them into the pinnacle of british bike engineering and reliability,... untill the times changed/they stagnated and people could buy other bikes that were 'better' insome ways.
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Old 03-25-06, 09:30 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by v1nce
@ Spambait

I am all for english reliability...
I didn't know there was such a thing!

I grew up on a lot of British products such as their cars. I had a few Loti (Lotuses?), TVR's, Triumphs, MG's and Jaguars. I had their motorcycles; Norton, BSA and Triumph. While I loved them dearly the world reliable and English ususally did not belong together in a sentence with positive relationship to each other. Lucas (the electrics manufacturer) was known as the "Prince of Darkness". A common joke was "Why do the Brits like warm beer? Because the have Lucas refrigerator of course!" My Jaguar had the dreaded "Jaguar diesease". By that it meant it overheated every day it even looked to be sunny. I guess the extral thermal energy overloaded the rather meager cooling system that obviously was designed for the UK temps. Heaven forbid someone might buy a Jag outside of the area and dare to drive it on a sunny day with the top down.

So based on my past experience with British transportation I was really quite reluctant to even buy a Brommie. Since my background was aviation I have to admit that one of the main reasons I bought one is that I had/have great respect for the aircraft they built during WWII, Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and the Mosquito and the incredible Merlin engine. So I knew the had some good engineers but reliability was still possibly an issue. Fortunately nothing has fallen off so far or otherwise crumbled in my hands. As usual there were a few funky UK specific design elements that I have mentioned before.

Anyway I know that B could make these improvements quite easily and at minimal cost. I would like to see the company survive but they have made such minimal changes that I think they should do more than a few minor incremental improvements. I don't want to see 30 new models a year but in some way I think ala carte is a terrible idea. I appreciate the thought but it does have some downfalls too.
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Old 03-25-06, 01:21 PM   #21
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I could have sworn I read here that Merc was started by a co-founder from Neobike, Taiwan makers of the B., and that Neobike was successfully sued by Dahon for IP (international patent?) infringements, so they broke up.

I also thought B. got Merc to stop selling in Europe (or stop selling period, for that matter), though they allowed them to sell off their remaining stock (info Brompton newsgroup). Thus I was highly surprised to read about Wav being able to obtain what sounds like a new model, as if they were still doing R&D or were still in business. No financial interest in any of these parties, just an interest in the folding bike world.
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