The Brompton B75 is a new take on the iconic British folding bicycle. The familiar commuting machine, may be the one you see most around the city, but here's the B75. Richard Peace has enjoyed the test, putting the B75 in the context of the Brompton brand.
What is the Brompton?
The Brompton folding bike is one of those iconic British brands that has succeeded largely because it is based on brilliant engineering design (following in the wheel-tracks of that other venerable British small wheeler, the Moulton).
Just why has it proved so popular and fought off just about all competition on the area of small-wheeled compact folders? Cycle historian Tony Hadland is an authority on folding bikes, and he has no doubts about how and why the Brompton succeeded where so many others have failed:
“The key to its success is that the bike rides reasonably well, is relatively light, well engineered, soundly constructed, and folds and unfolds quickly and easily. Any folding bike should do all these things but in practice, very few do. Most are deficient in at least one of these parameters, and some are deficient in all of them. With the Brompton, however, the original design compromises were exceptionally well balanced and over the years the detailing has become increasingly refined.”
Add to this the fact that Brompton has streamlined and expanded it’s production over the years to arrive at it’s latest London base, a bespoke factory in Greenford that is able to now output around 50,000 bikes a year, with plenty of expansion space to meet its target of 100,000 in 2022. They have also established a separate production line for their electric variant. In other words they have some economies of scale that should help keep prices in check on what is a unique bike with very many unique features.
It is a scenario that would have seemed incredible just a couple of decades ago. Throughout the noughties Brompton was continually fighting off competition, sometimes much bigger than itself. The Taiwanese giant Dahon gave it a serious run for its money but has largely disappeared from view in the UK. Even highly innovative designs like Riese & Muller’s Birdy and the funky looking looking Mezzo, both of which looked like they were to be dominant players in the market have faded badly since an intensely competitive period in the mid-noughties, leaving Brompton as the largest manufacturer of bikes made in the UK by some way.
What is the Brompton B75?
The basic design is the same magic-quick and compact fold-in-three that Brompton designer Andrew Ritchie came up with around 1975 – hence the name of this commemorative B75 model launched in 2019, almost 45 years after the original design emerged.
The B75 however is more about saving cash than weight and the idea of a stripped down, cheap as possible model harks back to the mid 1990s when Brompton flirted with the idea of a minimally kitted-out single speed called the C type, as a way of trying to combat the introduction of cheaper folders onto the market from other manufacturers.
Like the original C type, the latest B75 doesn’t come with mudguards and is also shorn of the very useful front luggage block and folding pedal (it uses plastic pedals compared to the usual metal ones too). The latter makes for a rather an awkward folded package, added to by the use of the extended seat pillar, originally designed as an option for taller riders, but adding to the height of the folded package. A non-pentaclip cheap and cheerful unbranded seat is used. Unlike the single-speed C type it does have three hub gears.
Though marketed as a ‘Limited Edition’ with it’s own unique blue colour and decal, in fact it is partly a convenient opportunity to utilise older stocks of parts, most notably the pre 2017 M-type handlebars which are a different profile to the modern M-type bars introduced in 2017. The latter have a ‘low-rise’ profile to accommodate the post 2017 integrated brakes and shifters. On that topic, the B75 brake levers are, in fact the pre-2013 models. Regular Bromptoneers will point out that the post 2013 version significantly increased leverage, providing better modulation and power.
All this means that, compared to post 2017 M-type models, the B75 has shorter slide-on grips (rather than 130mm lock on grips) and separate gear shifters and brake levers. The separate controls could in fact be a positive, until at least Brompton manage to fix the teething troubles they appear to be having with the integrated brake levers and shifters which can produce a rather ‘sticky’ gear shift.
There are some other differences too. The B75 has a smaller than standard 44 tooth front chainring and the standard issue Schwalbe Marathon Racer tyres lack the reflective tyre wall stripes found on other models. Small cosmetic differences include older bronze coloured brake calipers on the B75 in contrast to the modern black ones and a white rather than black coloured suspension block; the white block seemed at the harder end of the spectrum using the ‘squeeze test’ on my loan bike and the black coloured block fitted to other factory bikes by default is the softer option.
No doubt it will prove popular despite the above incongruities as the introduction price alone, £745, seems bound to attract those who thought a Brompton was simply too expensive for them; in March 2020 the price of the cheapest non-B75 model was £900 for the most basic single speed and £985 for the M3E, the nearest production line spec with folding pedal, luggage block and standard length seatpost and Brompton seat with pentaclip adjustment.
Adding folding pedal, front luggage block and mudguards to a B75 – to make it what I would class as a functional Brompton - at late 2019 prices means that for an additional £125 or so you can buy a bike functionally fairly similar to an M3L model for £870 – and an M3L costs £1060 on the Brompton bike builder as of March 2020. To make a standard folded package you would also need a standard seat pillar at £20 but that still makes upgrading good value.
On my scales the bike is not particularly light for a Brompton – but only a little more than a factory spec M3L, so about par for the course. If you decide you need a much lighter model you would have to opt for a much more expensive titanium variant (that is one with titanium forks and rear triangle), and the lightest three speed model is indicated to weigh under 10.5kg but costs £1640.
How Does the B75 Ride?
Not surprisingly pretty much like a Brompton! If you are used to riding a large-wheeled bike and hop off that and get straight on a Brompton it will feel to have strangely sensitive steering – but those used to riding Bromptons can vouch that they are nippy, stable at speed and turn on a sixpence. Once your coordination has adjusted to the handling it begins to feel normal. All this makes it the ideal city commuter bike. And of course there is that world-beating quick, compact fold.
Although not designed as such Bromptons have also been on numerous long distance tours, often inventively loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink. And whilst the small wheels might not prove themselves as efficient for hours of pedalling away at fairly constant speeds compared to bigger wheeled bikes, or as comfortable on rougher surfaces, they have proven exceedingly strong and reliable if kept well-maintained.
In terms of riding, the main difference between a B75 and a standard Brompton is the combination of the Sturmey Archer Standard Ratio hub gears and the smaller than standard 44 tooth front chainwheel, making it a particularly good pick for those who want a budget Brompton with good hill climbing ability.
By contrast current 3 speed and 6 speed production line models have a 50 tooth front ring as standard and Brompton single or 2 speed versions have a 54 tooth one.
If you decide you need a six gear model it’s not worth upgrading a B75, even though it has the braze on required for the two speed changer (six speeds are made up of a two speed derailleur and 3 speed Sturmey Archer wide ratio hub). In other words upgrading would involve buying a new hub, changer and sprockets too – far easier and more cost effective to buy the cheapest six speed, specced at 11.4kg on the Brompton bike builder at £1085.
This is the cheapest Brompton out there and the ‘upgrades’, adding what I would consider essential folding pedal, luggage block and mudguards, still makes it good value.
It’s just a pity that this model seems destined to be discontinued at some point as it is being marketed as a ‘limited edition’ ie available until stocks of the older parts they are using run out. If Brompton could hold the price and add the above items they would widen the appeal of the bike still further and that would help them accomplish their vision of making cities around the world run on Brompton power.