Brompton is one of those brands that has Britishness baked into it; it's the reason why the bike has become a status symbol amongst China's metropolitan elites and why 75 per cent of Bromptons are exported. But it was always hard to tell whether riders loved the idea of the bike more than its reality. On paper, a folding bike is a no-brainer for city commuters short on space, but packing in so many mechanisms while keeping the bike light has proved more than a little challenging.
If you’ve ridden a standard Brompton then – say it quietly – you’ll know that despite their massive success they do have a tiny bit of a weight problem: not that it’s polite to talk about these things any more. At 10 to 13 kilos (depending on the model and fittings) the steel version can be a bit of drag when it comes to lugging it about certain stations or when you’ve got lots of stairs to negotiate. Such a drag in fact, that for many, my guess is, that the weight is more than just an irritant it’s a deterrent.
But that's all about to change. The new ‘Brommie’ is just 7.6 kilos – that’s about half the weight of my three-year-old or a third of your airline luggage allowance – making it significantly lighter than my normal bike. But crucially my usual bike doesn’t possess Brompton’s urban-superpower of being able to fold up.
Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator these new folding prodigies are made of titanium, not something that’s easy to fashion. Because of that titanium – as well as the carbon fibre forks, handlebars and steel-reinforced seat-post, and the rest – the new Brompton isn’t just incredibly expensive but it also weighs 25 per cent less than the original steel-framed version.
Brompton's new T-line is to bikes what Tesla once was to electric cars: both are pioneers in their field, and they consequently come with a luxury price tag. Brompton's newest range could make the folding bike concept inescapably practical for almost anyone - just don't expect to pick one up on the cheap.
Rather like the Tesla the titanium Brompton is pricey – the T Line Urban I borrowed was £5 shy of £4k. But as Brompton’s boss, Will Butler-Adams tells me – ‘if it lasts me 20 years it’s better value than an iPhone.’
In Apple Mac terms £4k is about three and a half laptops in today’s money, which is probably 20 year’s worth. If you don’t drop one. Much like Dyson - that other emblem of modern British engineering - Brompton are banking on customers investing in a product that is built to last.
But the T Line’s elan doesn’t just come from its svelteness. Perhaps because of cost the company has taken the opportunity to upgrade the components – they’re slicker and do what they’re told faster, more neatly. As a result the gear controls on the normal Brompton suddenly feel a bit meh, and the pedal pops off at the touch of button on the T Line Urban (rather than folding in a way that scuffs your fingers), and the clamps that lock the frame in place are somehow weightier and more pleasingly engineered.
Couple the unpainted raw titanium finish (it doesn’t rust) with the black carbon fibre bits and pieces, and the outcome is aesthetically stunning, with the haptic appeal of a Ferrari.
Go for blast around town and you soon discover that foldability no longer equals inflexibility as far as road surface is concerned; I went from road to towpath and then back on the tarmac and the bike felt as though she was born for it. Being lighter, it requires less oomph to get going, even on rougher terrain. It’s rigid, responsive and goes up hill with ease – those small wheels gobble up the gradient.
In other words, this is a seriously good piece of kit: it enjoys all of the benefits of the Brompton folding bike with none of the pre-existing defects. You don’t need to be Hulk Hogan to whisk it around Waitrose or up the stairs of your maisonette.
So how do you get your hands on one? Well that’s a limiting factor. Brompton’s first batch of 450 were all snapped up inside a week thanks to a ballot of 28,000 customers who had signed up to buy one. (There’s clearly a few others around, such as the one I borrowed and the one that the boss has – he says he puts it in the overhead locker when he flies).
The good news is that Brompton is working on the next T-Line release: all the frames are made at their factory in Sheffield. But you can see that at this rate, even when they can lay claim to being the biggest titanium frame maker in Europe, it will take a long time to put bikes in the hands of everyone who covets one.
The advice, then, is to get your name on the list. Because believe me, it’s quite the steed. You will feel like Shergar on wheels.