Taking the Plunge (on Owning my First E-Bike)

Brompton Electric

In 2017, I wrote up my experiences after a test ride on a pre-production demonstration version of the Brompton Electric.

We published it in early 2019, as part of a series on the benefits of E-Bikes. I concluded that it was fun, had a few teething problems and that for the time being I was happy to continue with my "acoustic" Brompton.

Then in March 2019, I spent 3 days in hospital following a serious asthma attack and started to think again about E-bikes. The NHS care was excellent and I am still having regular visits for check-ups. With my various inhalers I can now do club runs and long day rides. But on cold evening rides back from meetings in the City my asthma and age are beginning to tell and riding was becoming a slog and no longer pleasurable. Early last year, I finally I bought a Brompton electric from On Your Bike who are now based up in Boldmere which is fortunately on the Cross-City rail line.

As well as a commuter bike, the Brompton Electric was an investment in future personal transport. I don't want to be driving for solo short urban journeys. Prior to COVID and "shielding", I'd used trains a lot with a Brompton and hope to get back to that. Meanwhile of course all my evening meetings have migrated to Zoom or Teams which means no commuting, shopping is on-line and, since March 2020, all my rides are purely part of my permitted "daily exercise".

So what is it like to ride and use? Just it being my first e-bike brings tremendous benefits of course. Boosted by those extra watts on a 20 mile hilly ride south of Birmingham I can get faster averages than on my road bike. I've tried replicating one of my old commuter routes. Hills are less of a challenge, you don't sweat as much and in fact in cold weather you need warmer clothing. It would be ideal for this sort of use. My Brompton is a 6 speed because I wanted to use it for some "touring" and be able to grovel home if the power ran out. Used as an e-bike you really don't need more than the 2 speed model and I find the torque boost better if I just toggle between two of the higher gears. I've done some rides with my heart rate monitor and find the average and maximum are much the same as on a road bike. I can still getting a good work out if I want just by going faster up hill. Obviously, the road bike is quicker on the flat and downhill being more streamlined and able to sustain speeds above the 15 mph Euro pedelec cut off. But for most trips the little electric motor more than compensates for the Brompton's upright riding position, weight and the rolling resistance of the small wheels.

This is my fourth Brompton since 1994. This time I had a rear rack fitted partly for more luggage capacity but mainly because I like the way the bike can be rolled around on its little trolley wheels at home, in offices and at stations. Something I've always found unsatisfactory with a L6 version. This means that I don't have to carry the admittedly heavy bike too often as long as there are lifts. The integrated lights, good mudguards etc make this a very practical bike for utility and everyday leisure rides. I've toured on my previous Brompton and really enjoy just riding this one around. I've not yet had the confidence to lock it up outside anywhere but like all Bromptons it is pretty easy to smuggle into buildings and meetings.

I spent ages reading up about e-bikes and there is a lot of choice now of excellent machines. Utility hybrids are the most common, the more expensive ones with crank driving motors and batteries integrated into the frame. Mountain bikes are another genre and there are some interesting lightweight road bikes with rear hub motors and integrated batteries and a degree of assistance for hills. Cargo bikes are becoming very popular in a range of sizes and payloads. The Brompton is a niche product much more expensive than cheaper Chinese folder imports and it has some drawbacks and compromises but if like me you like Bromptons then it is unique in its compact fold and flexibility of use. It takes up little space at home, fits into cars or trains although you cannot fly with the battery.

There are some drawbacks. Although a lot of development time and money was put into the development of the Brompton electric it is still essentially a conversion of a pre-existing design. The motor is in the front hub and the battery neatly integrated into the front pannier. The main compromise for me is that the payload is disappointing even with the rear bag (only10k) and carrier. You cannot put more than 6.3k in the front bag with the battery and I'm used to loading up the large front pannier on the standard Brompton and sometimes strapping a sports bag on top. Also having all the additional weight on the front means that the handling is less sweet than the normal Brompton and I found the vibration on rougher roads and tracks like Birmingham's resurfaced canal towpaths irritating. I've fixed this to some extent by lowering the pressure in the front tyre to get some suspension.

It is not recommended while riding to change between the assistance settings. This because the control is on top of the bag and you have to lean forward and look down. This is unusual for an e-bike, although, in practice, I find I mostly just use the second of the three levels which gives me plenty of oomph and a range of about 20 miles. I hardly ever use the top level of assistance, the bike is quite nippy enough at level 2. Level 1 conserves the battery but doesn't really cope with hills or headwinds.

There are alternative ways to electrify a Brompton especially if you already have one or buy a second hand one. Two British companies produce conversion kits which get good reviews in the AtoB magazine. The Nano Brompton has been around for some time and works much like the company model. More recently Cytronex have produced a kit which uses a quiet and effective Chinese hub motor and fixes the battery on top of the "crossbar" with an intuitive handlebar mounted control button.

But I'm happy with the Brompton, it was expensive but like my 17 year old acoustic version I could buy it from a trusted local dealer, On Your Bike, where Jon will maintain it and install software updates. Cycle mechanics isn't what it used to be!