Review of "Brompton L3 Bicycle"

published 16/03/2002 | BNibbles
Member since : 08/10/2000
Reviews : 611
Members who trust : 176
About me :
So long and thanks for all the fish.
Pro Almost "full sized bike" rideability. Less likely to get stolen if stored indoors instead of in shed!
Cons Small wheels go down holes further = harder ride. Expensive unless you MUST have a folder.
very helpful
Value for money
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"5 Years Of Life With Brompton"

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride

I first wrote this opinion within a few days of buying my Brompton L3, and nearly five years and several thousand miles later, I stand by everything I said then.

It's a fine and useful machine as long as you don't think it's got any off-road capabilities. Half a mile in a ploughed field convinced me of this - for one thing the pedals are too near the ground to escape furrows! The purpose of this revision is to alert potential buyers to the fact that not only was the L3 up-rated to be an L6 with the addition of a 6-speed conversion, but that these days the equivalent model is called the M6L and sells for around £560.


Back to the plot.....

Question: What does a man whose job requires him to use a pushbike buy himself for his birthday, when his new car only has a very small boot?

Answer: A folding bike.

Yes folks, I'd seen the wear and tear caused to my trusty small hatchback by a full-sized mountain bike (admittedly, with the front wheel removed) and I'll be bu*****d if I'd let my new car go the same way.

Of course I could always CYCLE to the work locations (schools in the London Borough Of Richmond), but some of these involved a long ride on London's South Circular in the rush hour, and these days, I'm rather fond of life, what's left of it!

So some sort of folding bike it had to be, either that or a bloody-great rack on the back of the car, blocking out the rear view, or an expensive one on the roof. No ta!

I knew a bit about "folders" in advance, having been to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight one day when they were holding a Folding Bike Convention at the Winter Garden. A pal and I got talking to one of the sales reps, and this led to the trying out of many bikes.

From this, Billy Nibbles First Laws of Folding Bikes evolved.

1.To be any use, a folder has to FEEL like a full-sized bike, even if it doesn't LOOK like one.

2.To achieve this, the wheelbase, i.e. the gap between where the tyres touch the ground needs to be of similar length to that of a large-wheeled bike.

3.Also, the handlebars need to fall to hand in about the same position as per normal.

4.The saddle needs to come to about the same spot, as you'd expect to find it normally, with a full range of height adjustment.

5.And the pedals should allow for an almost straight leg at the bottom of their travel, whilst being close enough to the ground to allow at least one foot on the floor when standing still.

There are also certain "nice-to-haves" like a bike that feels steady when riding one-handed (i.e. when signalling - what did you think I meant, on the phone?).

It would also be nice if it folded up really small, so that it qualified as a piece of luggage on public transport.

Well, I've been riding a new Brompton L3 for the past few days, and it fills all of these criteria some of the time, or is it some of these criteria all of the time? I'm not quite sure yet.

At "a round of drinks" under £500 (now £560 with 6 gears), it's not the cheapest bike I ever owned, that's for sure, but its ability to fold up into its own shopping bag is what sold it to me ultimately.

So what's it like to ride? Well, apart from the fact that its little wheels go down pot-holes further, which makes the ride rougher, it feels much like I expected. The harder ride is exacerbated by the need to keep the Kevlar (bullet-proof? moi?) tyres pumped-up really hard.

Purist admirers of the conventional diamond shaped bike may also comment on the slight increase in "whippiness" induced by the somewhat more spartan frame, which manifests itself in a slight flexibility of the handlebars, but all in all, it feels normal like a Dutch-style sit-up-and-beg tourer with somewhat narrower handlebars - if they made them too wide, it would compromise the bike's fold-ability.

It is easy to ride steadily whilst signalling, except when negotiating pot-holes at the same time, and stops well thanks to Brompton's own design of brakes, both of which are callipers controlled by normal cables. (Some folders have a back-pedal brake to simplify the folding operation by reducing the number of front-to-back linkages) but I shun these as it's impossible to "kick-back" the pedals to a good starting position.

Decent mudguards, a softish saddle (now replaced by a traditional Brooks all-leather job), reflectors (essential to make it street-legal), a pump and a three-speed hub gear are included. It also comes with a folding left pedal, which makes sense of its total fold-ability - I'll come on to that later.

Having done most of my riding on road, I can safely say that I'm heartily sick of "9 gazillion" derailleur gears, and their intransigence to being changed just when you want to most, i.e when caught out by, or when standing at, traffic lights.

A hub gear like the good old Sturmey-Archer is much less fussy, (or the Sachs as now fitted), and only refuses to change if you are pressing hard on the pedals. Whether standing still, freewheeling or pedalling lightly, it just shrugs it all off and changes without dumping the chain in the process.

For that reason, I find this gear type so much more useful on a commuter bike more likely to be used in traffic than over the Porlock Hill, and with only three to choose from, I find I can concentrate on my own safety more. Because of the ease of changing, I use them every time I accelerate away from lights.

Now for the really clever bit - folding it up. (See photos)

For a start, the whole back wheel assembly swings in under the rest of the bike, coming to rest on a rubber bump stop and two castor-wheels. This is in fact its normal "parked" position, and takes non-believers somewhat aback, when they first see it happen.

"Mummy, that man's just kicked his bike in half!"

(The fact that the rear wheel assembly is hinged also allows for a modicum of rear suspension to be in-built, thanks to a rubber block between the two halves of the frame.)

Then you undo a couple of tough-looking clamps, the first of which allows the frame to swing round back on itself, and the second allows the handlebars to swing down. Both of these bits click into place to stop the whole thing trying to turn itself back into a bike with your fingers in there somewhere!

Last but not least, you lower the saddle, which also has the effect of locking the whole shebang together. Oh, I nearly forgot, this is where the folding left-hand pedal comes into its own, since this reduces the overall width of the folded entity by about 3".

What you end up with is a neatly tucked-in parcel over which you can slip the shopping bag and zip it up. The neck of the saddle provides a good balance point for carrying it, although without any form of shoulder strap, I'm not sure how far I'd actually want to carry it. My local bus stop is about 300 yards away, and that seems plenty!

Once you've got a folding bike like this one, all sorts of opportunities open themselves up, which might not with a full sized bike.

You can throw this in the car and drive off to a location where you've never ridden a bike before, without having to struggle with refitting the roof bars to your car, the awkwardness of which is inversely proportional to the likelihood of your bothering. Is this another "B N Law", I ask myself?

Likewise, using tomorrow as an example, when I have to take a bike with me for the on-road training of school children, the permutations of journey are greatly increased.

If it's raining when I leave, I could take the bike on the bus.

If it isn't, I could ride there, and then get the bus home if I'm knackered or if it's raining (or both!).

Yessiree, I'm certainly going to have to do some creative accounting to justify the £500, including selling my other bike, but all in all, I think I'll be doing more pedal-miles now, which is good for me (and the air you breath)

As it happens, I DID ride there as it wasn't raining in the morning, I wasn't too knackered to get the bus in the evening and have repeated the exercise three times since (approx 22 miles/day). This of course raised the obvious question from the management - "Let me get this straight - you paid £500 for a bike that you can take on the bus, and you've RIDDEN both ways?!"

Ho, hum, that creative accounting exercise just got a bit longer!


The standard hub-gears supplied with the Brompton are sourced from a German firm called Sachs, the old faithful Sturmey-Archer company having gone west a while ago. 3 speeds are all very well, and to their credit, Brompton will tailor the final ratios to your individual needs if you make a specific order. However, if this still doesn't meet your needs, some way of increasing the number of ratios available to the rider is wanted. This is where the L6, or in my case, an L3 with the conversion kit come into their own.

The kit costs £65 from Brompton stockists, and is designed to be fitted by the owner. Essentially, it is a two-speed derailleur set up, featuring two new rear cogs to replace the factory-fitted single gear, and a derailleur mechanism to shift the chain from one cog to another. Very comprehensive instructions are easy enough to follow and there are none of those unpleasant "Haynes Manual" surprises along the lines of "remove engine".

Fitting takes about 1.5 hours. The extra cogs double the number of gear ratios available to you, selectable by a new lever on the left-hand side of the handlebars. Since this uses up the very last place you could install a bell, the lever assembly has a bell built in! Neat eh?



Yes, it's still plugging away, with nothing really untoward in the way of expensive maintenance. I've broken two rear spokes and got quite adept at changing them without a full strip down of the back wheel. I've not had ANY punctures, so those Kevlar tyres must be helping. Just this week (27th July 2006), I've had a new bottom bracket fitted (that's the main axle the pedal cranks are connected to) as the old one was starting to knock each time my Olympian legs flexed their glistening muscles (steady girls, form a queue). I've also treated it to some new mudguards - the rear one gets very scratched if you stand the folded bike on anything but the most level of ground and the mudflap which forms part of the front one tends to wither and die on you!. Early on, I bought the official LED rear light, and the batteries last for months of my kind of riding.

The 'Kew Green' paint work is standing up fairly well apart from shoe scuffs to the crossbar and chafing from various cables. These have now been sorted, a) by banning kids from going anywhere near it and b) by strategic placement of plastic paint protectors courtesy of the car door guards sold by Halfords.

It's been a great little work horse and I trust it will continue to do so.

It's a local product - well to me it is anyway. The factory is 50 yards from where we take my wife's Smart for servicing. Somehow there's a kind of synergy there, especially as it fits the Smarts boot a treat, and it's always me that ends up riding the Brompton to and from the dealers after drop-off and before pick-up!

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Comments on this review

  • Theshadowreturns published 09/08/2006
    Well written review, hope you have plenty more miles to go.
  • jesi published 09/08/2006
    I'd like one of these (I think) ~ I had my first bike when I was 19 (paid $12 second-hand) stripped it down ~ including the "back-pedal" brakes ~ painted it and put it back together again ~ by feel (I hadn't watched how the back-pedal brakes fell apart) ~ two speeds: stop and go. I had taught myself on a friend's bike when I was about 11, but we had moved a year or so later. I haven't ridden a bike since damaging my knees in 1988 ~ so I don't know if I could really do it ~ but sometimes in my dreams I ride! ♥♥ ! ~ ~ .................................................................................................... ~ ♥ ~ jes ~ ♥♥
  • tallulahbang published 07/08/2006
    When I lived in Amsterdam those stupid back-pedal brake systems were all that were available and were responsible for me falling into a canal more than once. Great review and I'm amazed to learn that there's a folding bike convention. What a riotous event that must be. xx
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Product Information : Brompton L3 Bicycle

Manufacturer's product description

Road Bikes

Product Details

Long Name: L3 Bicycle

Genre: Bikes

Type: Road Bikes

Manufacturer: Brompton


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