The first edition of Brompton Bicycle was hugely popular with the legions of Brompton fans. The review below refers to the first edition, the 2017 revised second edition contains an extra 32 pages, with a whole new chapter on where Brompton may be heading in the future plus new coverage of early folding bikes in the U.S., more detail on military use of folding bikes and, of course, the low-down on new products and company developments.
Author signed copies by credit card on 01305 259998 or BUY NOW
Review by Tony Hadland
The only folding bike that people fold when they don’t need to.’ This comment on the Brompton sums up the genius of the design. Created a third of a century ago, the Brompton still sets the bicycling benchmark for compact portability. Now, David Henshaw has produced the book that many have long awaited – a comprehensive, readable, informative and beautifully illustrated history entitled simply Brompton Bicycle.
The volume is attractively presented, with numerous illustrations, some very rare, and the majority in colour.The Foreword is by author and TV presenter Adam Hart-Davis, who took to the Brompton whilst filming his television series ‘Local Heroes’, in the early 1990s. As Adam points out, ‘David writes clearly and amusingly … about the tortuous history of this superb bicycle.’
David briefly describes his own involvement with the Brompton – how he discovered it in 1991 and how it changed his life: ‘If it wasn’t for the Brompton, I might still be writing books about historic motor cars.’
A short history of folding bicycles then sets the scene. As early as 1878, Grout’s Portable ‘penny farthing’ highlighted the key factor of wheel size. In the post-Suez era, Alex Moulton’s development of 14-, 16- and 17-inch rims and tyres for adult cycles established the practical limits for wheel size reduction. Moulton had no interest in folding bicycles as such but the fact that some of his bikes separated for easier stowing stimulated interest in folders. David Henshaw recounts the nest of curates’ eggs laid by imitators of the Moulton, including Raleigh’s ironically named RSW Compact, the Russian tank of the folding bicycle world.
A groundbreaking development was the Bickerton – lighter and more compact that any previous commercially produced folder but flimsy and wobbly to ride. For some years, the Bickerton represented the state of the art in compact folding bicycles. As David explains, it was also the catalyst that stimulated Andrew Ritchie to try and do better.
Andrew is a gifted but shy person, who has successfully side-stepped publicity for most of his career, which makes his surprisingly cosmopolitan background all the more interesting. His ancestors include a Prussian Count and a Chancellor of the Exchequer. (Read the book to find out more!) Like Alex Moulton, Andrew graduated in engineering from the University of Cambridge, albeit a generation later. David highlights the inventor’s initial restlessness: ‘Andrew Ritchie had shown a flair for engineering design, but chose to move into computers; he had a talent for computer programming, but moved into the world of commerce.’ For a while Andrew even ran a business selling house plants door-to-door.
The story of the Brompton’s evolution is an heroic one, full of fascination, both in the technical ingenuity displayed, and in the human drama involved. For a private individual successfully to design and market a new bicycle is a huge and daunting task. It has led to at least one tragic suicide in the specialist bicycle world. That Andrew Ritchie succeeded is truly remarkable and you will need to read this book to understand just how he did it. The project was certainly not helped by the giants of the industry, such as Raleigh, who twice rejected the Brompton. Andrew Ritchie must surely be excused a little schadenfreude now that Raleigh no longer manufacture bicycles in the UK, whereas his output, made by British workers in a British factory, continues to climb, year on year, decade on decade.
As David Henshaw explains, by 1977 Andrew Ritchie had evolved the Brompton into the classic form we would recognise today. From thereon, Andrew demonstrated a remarkable tenacity.The earlier restlessness was harnessed, tamed and directed. Where other designers might be tempted to make frequent major changes, a key aspect of the Brompton story is the continuous incremental development and refinement of the design.
David’s book contains chapters on each phase of the Brompton’s history. There is also a section on Brompton specials and useful information on using and maintaining a Brompton.The appendices include a detailed chronology, a guide to serial numbers, and charts showing profit and sales figures. At the back of the book, there are short sections on Brompton people and making a Brompton. The book is comprehensively indexed.
‘Iconic’ is an overused and clichéd term, but it certainly applies to the Brompton. Brompton Bicycle by David Henshaw is the definitive companion volume. Whether or not you own a Brompton, you will find this an interesting and inspiring read. I heartily recommend it.
David Henshaw has edited and published A to B magazine, specialising in folding and electric bikes, since 1997 and helped Brompton establish its dealer network in the 1990s.
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