Continuing my top five gadgets – inspired by Stephen Fry’s list of his personal 100 Greatest Gadgets.
My number one is number 21 for the QI host and is just the folding bike, to me it is the Brompton. More specifically it is my Brompton.
If it is possible to have an emotional attachment to an inanimate (not living as opposed to non-moving) object, then my Brompton is it.
It is my favourite bike to ride. It’s three speed Sturmey Archer hub gears are sublime. In ten years I’ve had next to no trouble with them – the same can’t be said of any derailleur gear I have ever had.
The three speed also allows you to churn a serious speed using them. I used to love the faces on fellow London cyclists on their big expensive uprights when I used to cruise by. In inevitably provoked the lycra louts to try to overtake, It made them angry, it made them tired. This of course made it an even more joyous experience when you could sit on their back wheel, effortlessly keeping up with them.
I like the way people who have never seen a Brompton stop and stare when you fold it. It’s a bit like how I imagine people reacted when they saw television for the first time. All open-mouthed and appreciative.
It’s a bike that makes you feel special. I’ll probably never ne rich enough to own a top of the range road bike or create one bespoke like Rob Penn, but the Brompton makes me understand what that kind of ownership feels like.
I also like the history of the bike. The Brompton is a fantastic story of creativity, it is an example of tenacity and most of all it is a demonstration of the ability of engineering to tackle difficult problems.
Andrew Ritchie, the inventor of the Brompton, has a story worthy of Hollywood. If they can make a movie about a naked calendar they can make one about a folding bike inventor.
Ritchie wanted to make a better folding bike. Not just one that folded in half (anyone can do that) but a bike that folded as compactly as possible and was still fun to ride.
Ritchie set to work. With no shed in which to tinker, he did the next best thing and knocked up prototypes in his bedroom. But having hawked it round any number of bike manufacturers and finding no takers he decided to go it alone. The result is a massive British success story of which we should be proud.
You can read about the history of the bike here
Owning the Brompton is like being part of a club. Everytime I see a fellow owner, it makes me happy. If I ride by someone on a Brompton I smile at them and nod. It’s very rare that other riders don’t do the same.
I am a Brompton nerd and proud to be so.
Other posts in this series: