Motoring matters — 24 May 2013

The story of the Brompton bicycle is much more than a tale of British engineering achievement.

It is a story of loyalty, passion and true
British grit of how a bright young engineering graduate with a dogged determination spent years trying to persuade a sceptical world that his ingenious little bike would
challenge the very way we all use urban transport.

For this Guest Post Eve Pearce writes that this tiny wheeled wonder that is still manufactured in London integrates perfectly with the London cab.

Cabs Form Part Of Integrated Transport Solution In London

When reading newspapers it is possible to form the opinion that cab drivers and cyclists do not get on. Competing for the same road space with vastly different vehicles is not a recipe for harmony. London leads the way when it comes to cycling in the United Kingdom, the streets are full of cyclists with differing objectives. Commuters speed to work trying to gain an edge over four wheeled transport whilst leisure cyclists take in the sights of the capital and the hard core try to emulate London born Tour De France winner Bradley Wiggins. The streets are also full of cycles, more than eight thousand are located in docking stations as part of a city wide initiative to make cycling accessible by introducing pay as you ride bikes in all areas of London. Affectionately known as “Boris Bikes” the distinctive machines were actually proposed by Ken Livingstone during his term of office before being enthusiastically embraced by the current London Mayor, Boris Johnson. There is another London cycling success story that has provided an integrated transport solution that links cycles and cabs for thousands of commuters across the city.

British Manufacturing Leads The Way

The Brompton bicycle is a modern British manufacturing success story. The company employs over one hundred and forty people in its factory in Brentford and manufactures a range of folding bikes that are exported all over the world. In London it is hard to miss commuters using their machines as the riding style is upright owing to the styling of the cycle. With smaller wheels than a typical cycle and folding joints in strategic places the cycle folds down into a small unit that can by carried in one arm without disrupting passers-by. The cycle is so small when folded down it can be deposited in the back of a London cab quite easily and this is the key to the success of Brompton as a manufacturer. Its users are not restricted in the same way other cyclists are. If they choose to cycle to work in a morning they are not obliged to cycle on the return leg. If they are not motivated to cycle or the weather is inclement it is easy to hail a cab and travel with the bike to any destination. A folding bike that compacts to the size of a small piece of hand luggage is the perfect solution for the occasional cyclist. Cab drivers do not have to worry about the terms of their taxi insurance because they are not carrying a bike in a way that affects other road users. There is no increased risk of liability for any driver carrying a passenger travelling with a folding bike.

Quality Ride

Despite its quirky looks and unusual riding style the Brompton folding bike offers a fun yet comfortable ride. The frame is resilient enough to cope with the streets of London and the addition of mudguards as standard protects riders from any spray thrown up during wet weather. There are many folding bikes on the market but Brompton is the most distinctive and in many ways a trend setter for that sector. Whilst the Brompton World Championships take place at Goodwood Motor Circuit, London has its own event, the Brompton Urban Challenge. One hundred and twenty five participants compete in an event that has an orienteering style format and encourages riders to use their skill and ingenuity to make the most out of their folding bike.

The Future

Whilst there may still exist some antipathy between motorists and cyclists in London, the development of London made Brompton in reshaping London as a cycling city has been exciting to watch. Londoners are now used to seeing riders pedalling furiously along the roads in that familiar style or scurrying along the pavement with a bike tucked under their arm. In many cities with a lower participation rate for cycling the machines still draw incredulous looks from passers by. In London there is probably no cab driver that has not had one in the back and in times of poor weather the London cabbie is the saviour of many stranded commuters. The Office of the Mayor of London announced in 2012 as part of the Olympic Legacy programme, ambitious plans to make cycling in the city even more attractive. The plans are several years from fruition but it is anticipated that cycling knowledge of London cabbies will be developed as demand for its services increases at strategic points on the London cycle path network.

Photo from Lady Fleur who when visiting London wrote an account of 48 hours in London with a Brompton Bike.

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